The first 911 call celebrates its 40th anniversary

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RBC — Americans know they can dial 911 in times of emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and get someone to respond to their particular situation. The first 911 call was placed 40 years ago Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. in Haleyville, Ala., by the Alabama speaker of the house Rankin Fite to U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill at the city’s police station.
The development of emergency phone numbers has an interesting history. In 1937, Britain implemented its 999 emergency phone system in response to phone calls that were delayed reporting a five fatality fire. Subsequently, Britain’s first 999 call was placed at 4:20 a.m. July 8, 1937, to report a burglar. As a result, the 24-year-old burglar was apprehended.
In September 1958, New Zealand implemented its 111 emergency number. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, debuted North America’s first 999 system in 1959. Canada later converted its three digit emergency number to 911 in 1972. Australia’s 000 emergency number went into place in 1961.
President Lyndon Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice issued a report in February 1967, recommending that police departments have a single number to call and that eventually this number will be in use nationwide.
AT&T announced its designation of 911 as a universal emergency number at a Jan. 12, 1968, press conference in Washington, D.C.
To this day, speculation on the selection of 911 as the universal number still surrounds the number. One potential selection method was a random computer generated number by AT&T. Other possibilities were modeling the number after Britain’s 999 three-digit number, followed by the ease of dialing on a rotary phone as well as other technical switching considerations. No official documents outlining the selection of 911 have been uncovered.
The bright red phone that was used to answer the first 911 call in 1968 is now in a museum in Haleyville. However, a duplicate phone is still in use at the police station today.
Nome, Alaska, Huntington, Ind., and Puyallup, Wash., implemented their 911 systems later in 1968 and early 1969. Gustine, Calif., and Odessa, Texas, followed by installing their 911 systems in 1970.
The Federal Communications Commission recommended that 911 be implemented nationwide in 1972. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until Oct. 26, 1999, that President Clinton signed Senate Bill 800 designating 911 as the nationwide emergency telephone number.
Our local communications centers in Meeker and Rangely answer hundreds of emergent and non-emergent calls every month.
Undersheriff Michael Joos and the Meeker Volunteer Fire and Rescue responded to the state highway shed at County Rd. 8 and Highway 13 in Meeker Feb. 7 at 10:51 a.m. The original call reported that a vehicle inside the shed was on fire. When Undersheriff Joos arrived, two state employees were using a front end loader to pull out a snow plow that had visible flames under the cab and between the cab and dump box.
The fire crews were able to extinguish the fire before much damage resulted. The investigation that followed determined that the snow plow was not being operated at the time of the fire. The source of the fire appeared to start in the battery area of the snowplow.
Deputy Clay Caldwell assisted Trooper Mike Heath of the Colorado State Patrol at 18500 County Rd. 5, Feb. 15 at 9:39 a.m. with a roll-over accident. The vehicle left the icy roadway and rolled down an icy embankment, anding on its left side. An extensive extrication of a female occupant followed. Due to the conditions at the time, Careflight was unable to land at the accident scene. The female victim was transported by ambulance to the Rifle Airport to rendezvous with Careflight. Colorado State Patrol investigated the accident.