The popularity of such shows as “Rescue 911” and the increased coverage area of the 911 telephone system in the United States prompted the members of Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue to create a program for showing children–especially those ages four to 12–what to expect when they call 911. Often, children are the only witnesses to an accident or illness involving an adult or another child. Educating children at an early age on how to access the 911 system and how to answer the questions the dispatcher will be asking them will result in earlier notification, response, and victim treatment.

While having children memorize and recite the number is important for retention, proper use of the 911 system requires the callers/witnesses to think about what they see and to be prepared to answer some basic questions about the emergency. Role playing using a 911 simulator can guide callers through the process and increase their confidence through familiarity. A 911 simulator used by the Arvada (CO) Volunteer Fire Department was featured in the June 1993 issue of Fire Engineering. That simulator uses Ameritech`s MerlinTM Phone System. Since this system is not available in our area at this time, we had to come up with another method of developing and implementing an effective 911 simulator.

We formed a team to build our 911 simulator and established criteria to help us determine the parameters of our system. We felt it was important to have a variety of scripted scenarios that could be used to provide continuity and diversity of training. We also wanted a wooden structure that would isolate the “caller” from the “dispatcher” so that eye contact could not be used to anyone`s advantage. In addition, the structure had to be portable enough to set up and take down in a short period of time and easily transportable from a utility truck to a school in one trip.

Team members agreed on a drawing and submitted the plans in proposal form to Chief Ron Engle, who supported the project. Materials were purchased and construction began. We worked on the project in the evenings on our scheduled duty days.

The finished product breaks down into three sections, each measuring six feet tall and four feet wide. The sections are framed by two-inch by two-inch wood studs covered in 18-inch plywood. Two sections attach to each other to form an eight-foot back wall, and one section attaches to the middle of the front of the simulator, dividing the front into two sections of equal size. This dividing wall has a drop-down shelf on each side. One side is made to look like a dispatch center, with a computer terminal and a telephone on the shelf and a large section map of the city on the wall. The other side looks like an average home, complete with curtains and a “window.”

The window is a frame with a space behind it where we can slide in one of a number of emergency pictures. The emergencies vary in nature, and each has specific responses that the dispatcher will try to get out of the caller. (A high school art student from the Livonia Public Schools drew the pictures.)

A telephone is hooked into a telephone jack on each side of the simulator wall. The caller, after “looking out the window,” picks up the telephone and dials 911. The dispatcher (one of our real dispatchers) answers and asks the caller questions about the “emergency.” (Our local phone company service center provided a service representative who helped us hook up our simulator phones.)

We first used the simulator during our annual Fire Prevention Week open house, which drew nearly 3,500 people. The simulator was an immediate hit, with children asking for repeat turns to “call in” different emergencies. The unit held up well and received praise from users as well as parents.

We plan on taking the simulator to area schools and libraries. Teaching people what number to call, when to call, and what information to give the dispatcher could mean the difference between life and death. n

The 911 simulator teaches children what number to call, when to call, and what information to give the dispatcher in an emergency. It is used during open houses and at area schools and libraries. (Photos by author.)

THOMAS E. KIURSKI, a 15-year veteran of the fire service, is a firefighter and director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. He has an A.S. in fire science, a B.S. in fire and safety engineering technology, and an MPA.

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