Jun 10, 2010  •  In NYC, Personal

How Do You React in Emergencies?

I am fortunate enough to have never been in a situation where I’ve had to dial 911. However, I have witnessed plenty of emergency situations involving other people that would warrant such a call.

That being said, I hardly ever pick up the phone to make that crucial call. Because the few times I have dialed 911 on behalf of others, I was shot down by the operator. “We’ve already received calls about this incident, ma’am.”

That, or I act like the idiots depicted on this graph:

While the graph above is meant to be humorous, I also find it to be sadly true. Because how many of us really call 911 every time we see a situation requiring emergency help? Or, better yet, how many of us rush in to help?

Last month, a 23-year-old Queens woman was brutally beaten and raped, leaving her braindead and eventually taken off life support. What makes this incident especially heartbreaking is not the fact that she had immigrated to the U.S. just two months prior in order to pursue a law degree, but that as many as a dozen people witnessed the perp dragging her to an alley, heard the screaming, and yet managed to mind their own business. Ultimately, one person called 911 to report the crime which (luckily) led to the arrest of the man before he was able to get too far.

Just a month prior, a homeless man stepped in to help a woman who was being mugged and got stabbed himself. Surveillance tapes show that the wounded man lay bleeding on the sidewalkfor over an hour — while pedestrians walked by and ignored him. The man died alone on the sidewalk.

It is plain to see that both victims could have survived if someone had stepped in, or at least called the authorities in a timely manner. In the case of the homeless man, the woman whom he was defending witnessed his being stabbed, ran off, and never called the police.

I fully understand that the world can be cruel, and that New Yorkers prefer the “mind your own business” approach in their everyday lives. And to be perfectly honest, if I had witnessed either events, I probably would have: a) assumed someone else had already called 911; or in the case of the homeless man, b) assumed he was just another bum looking for attention.

Seeing the chart above reminded me of these two incidents and forced me to reevaluate my attitude toward emergency situations. I am saddened by my jaded, callous attitude towards those who may need my assistance. I want to change. I make a vow to not fall victim to the bystander effect.

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6 Responses to “How Do You React in Emergencies?”

  1. Zahraah says:

    I saw a woman get hit by a car in the city, and I remember the noise and saw her go down metres away, I had my phone in my hand, and straight away called emergency – I then looked up, and saw that of a crowd of about 30 – and some passers by only 2 others had their phones to their ears. I still went through with the call, and I’m not sure I was the 1st one to get through, but I could not assume that people were calling emergency, Someone checked to make sure the woman was breathing, another person was talking to the driver but I will never forget looking around in those seconds afterwards how many people just didn’t react at all, and I looked around expecting to see in this day and age 30 phones to peoples ears, and the intencity that the rest were staring told me that – none of them had even checked to make sure someone else was calling help.

  2. Jessica says:

    Wow. Those examples really do illustrate the bystander effect. I’ve dialed 911 twice — once, as in your situation, the house fire had already been reported. The second time was when I came home to my apartment and found an old lady I’d never seen before shivering and sleeping. She asked for a cup of water and for me to dial 911. I did, but I might have just walked by if she hadn’t been right in front of my apartment. I wonder if I would have singled her out as needing help on a city street scattered with homeless people. I never found out who she was or what happened to her.

  3. I’ve dialed 911 a number of times when I’ve seen car crashes – I actually came upon a pickup truck that was lying in a ditch upside down, and I was the first person to call. He must have crashed just seconds before I came upon him. I’ve called 911 when I’m seen drunken fights, and I had to call 911 when someone threw a rock at my windshield – that was the scariest, because it was me. I wasn’t hurt but there was glass all over me and a hole in my windshield. I saw the rock coming flying out from some bushes on the side of the road, and I was the only person around within a good mile or so. We had a gal in our doctor’s office faint and I had to call an ambulance for her. All in all I’ve probably called 5 times? Maybe 6?

  4. CaitStClair says:

    I hate the bystander effect. I cannot fathom not calling or doing something, especially the first example. That makes me sick. That said, I’ve never had to call for emergency services so I can’t really say for sure how I would react but I have had some emergency responder training so I think I probably wouldn’t hesitate.

  5. birdie says:

    i witnessed a fight at the bus station once and i dialed 911 after it escalated into something more violent. i was afraid that they might pull out a gun or something. there were a lot of people just standing there and looking. i think i was the only person who was calling the police. unfortunately, my call never went through to 911! i couldn’t figure out why. it wouldn’t connect for some reason. Luckily the fight broke up after a while and no one was seriously hurt. but i still wished that i had done my part and alerted the police sooner. next time, i would dial 911 immediately, hopefully it will connect me.

  6. I have had to call 911 a few times for my own family. My middle daughter’s birth was something of an emergency, and we called 911 to help get her delivered and get her breathing. Also when a piece of metal went through my husband’s foot, and when my youngest daughter got ahold of an empty container of charcoal starter (we live on a corner lot and, believe it or not, people actually throw their trash into our yard!) and we thought she’d drunk it. Thank God, she had only inhaled some fumes.

    I have only been around to call 911 for someone else once. I was driving home with my kids one night when an accident occurred right in front of me. I pulled over, called 911, and then went to check on both of the drivers. Some other people stopped to help, too. One of the drivers, a woman, had a cut on her face and was visibly frightened, so I stayed with her until the ambulance arrived. I didn’t stay to talk to the police though, since I didn’t actually see the accident and couldn’t offer any information about who was at fault.

    Oh, actually, my husband and I also called the police one time when we saw a man come out of a convenience store with a beer, get into the car with a pregnant woman in the passenger seat and an unbuckled child standing up in the back, and drive away while drinking the beer. Seriously.

    My BIL was on the news once because he called 911 to report a drunk driver. He was following the drunk while on the phone with 911, and reporting the man’s dangerous and erratic driving as it happened. Then the police pulled the guy over — and let him go.

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