Cold food, dirty laundry and other non-emergency 911 calls

Cold fast food doesn’t necessitate a call to 911. But in recent weeks, absurd 911 calls about broken washing machines and cold takeout have proven that some Canadians don't seem to get it.

Peel Regional Police say less than 60 per cent of calls they receive are actual emergencies

A man called 911 this month because his McDonald's order was cold. (Elnur/Shutterstock)

Cold fast food doesn't necessitate a call to 911. But in recent weeks, absurd 911 calls about broken washing machines and cold takeout have proven that some Canadians don't seem to get it.

Ontario's Peel Regional Police released an actual 911 call where the caller asked for police assistance because the washer and dryer at the laundromat weren't working properly.

The call was part of a public education campaign this spring to emphasize the importance of calling 911 only in a real emergency.

But in recent weeks, it seems some just aren't getting the message.

'Hangry' callers and other food-related emergency calls

Recently, the Ontario Provincial Police said a woman dialed 911 because a restaurant was taking too long to serve her pizza.

Officers were called to the restaurant in Elgin, 125 km southwest of Ottawa, and found what they described as a hangry customer waiting for her pizza. That story went viral and was reported around the world.

Food issues seem to be a common theme in Canada. In Hamilton, a man called 911 this month because his McDonald's order was cold.

In Halifax, the RCMP responded to a 911 call from a 12-year-old upset with the contents of the salad that his parents made for him.

In fact, the 12-year-old called twice: once to complain about the salad and again to check on when the police would arrive. In Nova Scotia, this kind of improper 911 use could result in a $697.50 fine.

No central database to track non-emergency calls

Diane Pelletier, director of the New Brunswick 911 Bureau and chair of the Canadian Next Generation 911 Coalition (referred to as NG-911), says releasing these types of calls to the public helps to raise awareness and make people think twice.

"When you see it in print, people usually go: 'What? Really? People have actually called to report such a thing on 911?' And it makes people think, 'Oh, why would I call 911?'" said Pelletier.

As a reminder, Pelletier says you should only use 911 when there's a life-threatening emergency or something serious, like breaking a bone, with nobody around to help you.

Diane Pelletier is the director of the New Brunswick 911 Bureau and chair of the Canadian Next Generation 911 Coalition (referred to as NG-911). (Jocelyn Downey)

Pelletier says while non-emergency calls are always an issue, there's no central Canadian database to track them all accurately.

"You'd have to sort of get every agency across Canada to kind of agree to code: 'Oh this is a code one type of call, like being a pocket dial. Or this is a ridiculous or frivolous call, that's a number two,'" said Pelletier.

While there may not be national stats on non-emergency calls to 911, Peel Regional Police say less than 60 per cent of calls they receive are actual emergencies.

Using smartphones to improve emergency services

Pocket dials are a common problem in the smartphone era. But the devices also help because now you can call more easily wherever you are in an emergency.

NG-911 is looking at how to improve the services available through our devices, including sending texts and videos, which could end up making it even easier for people to use 911 for non-emergencies.

"It's possible because with a text you're gonna have different kind of parameters," said Pelletier. "But that's what the experts right now—like with working with the CRTC and emergency services working group and the coalition as well—we're all sort of trying to look at how are we going to deal with these types of calls."

The CRTC says all next generation 911 services must be available to Canadians by the end of 2020.

A video by Peel Regional Police to illustrate why you shouldn't abuse 911.

About the Author

Jason Osler

Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.

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