By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE — About 200 Selinsgrove area elementary students are getting a crash course this week in learning how and when to dial 911.
Snyder County 911 Coordinator Chad Aucker said it’s important for the public to use the system properly because the agency’s 25 dispatchers handle about 26,000 calls a year, including about 15,000 that require the involvement of police, fire and emergency medical services.
While most calls are emergency-related, Aucker said, the center off Route 522 in Penn Township gets its fair share of nuisance calls, including requests for information on community parades and even the location of a public chicken barbecue.
Sometimes, the local police get involved.
A few years ago, a Selinsgrove area student playfully dialed 911 on a cell phone while riding home on a school bus.
The dispatcher was able to pinpoint the student’s location and sent a borough police officer to intercept the bus. The officer ended up having an educational conversation with the student and his parents.
Putting an end to non-emergency calls that use up valuable resources requires constant education, Aucker said.
Elementary teacher Cindy Davis took her kindergarten class to the center Thursday morning.
“All they know how to do is dial the number, so knowing what happens on the other end is a good lesson,” she said.
The students each had a chance to make a mock phone call to a dispatcher. Several were unaware of their home addresses, prompting part-time dispatcher and Selinsgrove borough police officer Mark Wolfberg to stress the need for children to learn their addresses or at least landmarks near their homes.
Another group of kindergartners is scheduled to visit the center today.
Changes in technology are happening rapidly, and Aucker said soon 911 centers will be able to receive emergency calls, even photographs of incidents, by text, which likely will require additional manpower.
With even wider access, he said, the need to clamp down on non-emergency calls is increasingly important.
Quick thinking by dispatchers helped clear traffic last week through Selinsgrove and Northumberland and get a woman suffering from a stroke to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville from Kreamer within 26 minutes.
Aucker said emergency responders were able to close the bridge at Selinsgrove — which was already down to one southbound lane due to construction — and allow the northbound ambulance to pass.
In the meantime, though, dispatchers fielded a flurry of calls from people calling 911 to question the closure of the lane.
Those calls should be directed to the state Department of Transportation, Aucker said, not 911.