If they can’t find you they can’t help you …

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By A.M. Sheehan

COUNTY — You like your privacy. You don’t like the new house number the town gave you. You can’t be bothered.

Then your house catches fire. Someone you love is in need of an ambulance. You need law enforcement. Minutes matter.

If your home is not clearly marked and easily seen from the road, those minutes could stretch to 10 or more, says Oxford County Regional Communications Center Director James Miclon.

Far too often, those who listen to a scanner will hear the emergency responders say something like, “We think we are at [address] but there is nothing here.”

Then they might have to turn around (and in the case of a fire engine or ambulance this is not so quick a process) and go back, trying to locate the address of the emergency. If it is a fire but there is no smoke or flames showing or it is dark, this would be more difficult.

Miclon has issued a public request that everyone clearly mark their property:

“Oxford County Regional Communications Center in conjunction with county first responder organizations law, fire, and EMS are asking property owners to take the time to properly post and display their correct address.”

“Many citizens don’t have their buildings marked with correct address information,” says Miclon. This can be a serious obstacle and delays the arrival of first responders during emergency calls.

“Our 911 emergency equipment is the most up to date, but the use of VoIP, cellular phones, and other communication devices sometimes do not give precise or accurate caller and- location information.”

Miclon says that is why the first question asked by 911 dispatchers is ” ‘911 what is the address of your emergency?'”

“It is essential that we clearly understand where you are, in an effort to dispatch the proper emergency service quickly and correctly the first time, we don’t get do overs.”

For example, he explains, people get annoyed when we ask them for detailed information about their location as well as the many other questions the Emergency Medical Dispatch system (EMD) prompts the call-taker (the person who answers 911) to ask.

“What they don’t realize,” he continues, “is that from the moment we get the address, another dispatcher has already started fire/rescue or police to their location.” Every bit of information the call-taker gets is relayed immediately to the responders.

The 10 percent of the population that still uses a “landline” or hard wired phone system, will have whatever address the phone company has on file show up on the call-taker’s screen. So make sure your phone company has an up-to-date physical address.

However, for those with cellphones, all the 911 center may see is the tower the phone is pinging from. And, if your cellphone originated out of state, (the area code for your cell is not 207),  the 911 call may be answered by a 911 center in that state. If this is the case you will need to clearly state your full physical address including state and county.

Miclon says call-takers will get a former name for a road because a caller doesn’t like the new name. Or references to landmarks that no longer exist. Where something used to be doesn’t help if the responder is new to the area!

Miclon says, “We have the most [available] up-to-date call centers in the country here in Maine.” But, he notes, they are only as good as the information given them.

Emergency Service Communications Bureau, which oversees the states 26 Public Safety Answering Points (911 Centers), has listed several tips on its website. www.maine911.com/posting_address, which are very useful.

  • Remove any old numbers from the structure and mailbox, always place your number on the structure, and if you are not sure of the correct number call your town office, as each town has an addressing officer. Post your number on the both sides of the mailbox.
  • If the number on the structure is not visible from the road and the mailbox is not next to the driveway, place a post with the number at the driveway’s entrance.
  • If the mailbox is located at the end of a private road, post the number and the road name on both sides of the box. This limits potential confusion caused by numbers that appear out of sequence.
  • Posted numbers should be high enough so that snow does not cover them.
  • Numbers on the structure should be a minimum of (4) four inches high and a contrasting color.
  • Reflective materials improve visibility.
  • Put driving directions next to each telephone for easy reference for the person calling 911.
  • Do not place numbers on utility poles or town signs.

Miclon urges everyone to help out first responders by making their homes easy to find.

“It is very important,” he says.

asheehan@sunmediagroup.net