By Steve Sedlis, Contributing writer
Most people who encounter an emergency really want to help, but are reluctant. Some are worried about media coverage, interacting with authorities, legal hassles, or backlash from those involved. But the big reason people don't stop to help, is because they don't know what to do, and are fearful of doing more harm than good.
So how can you be ready?
First of all, you have to decide that you no longer will stay on the sidelines when something happens. Even if it means finding a phone and calling it in, that's more than many people do. But even before you do that, there are some things to keep in mind:
1. The No. 1 factor in rescuing someone is the safety of the rescuer. For example, if you can't swim, don't dive in to save someone who is drowning. If you aren't trained or equipped to intervene in a particular situation, back away or get out, go to someplace safe, and call it in. If you get hurt or killed, you can't help anyone else.
2. The standard reporting questions apply -- who, what, when, why, where and how. You are the eyes and ears on the scene; 911 personnel need specific information to enable them to send the right help and in the right strength. Where are you? Name of the place? Floor or apartment number? What did the bad people look like? How many? Where did they go? What kind of car? Plate number? Any hazards the responders need to know about? Fluids, gases, smoke or fire? Weapons? Is someone hurt? Are they conscious? Bleeding? Breathing?
Put yourself in the place of a responder. Whether police, fire or EMS, you want to know where you're going and what to expect before you get there.
Don't hang up until the 911 operator says you can. If you don't know exactly where you are, stay on the phone until responders reach you. If you speak a foreign language, an interpreter can be contacted for you to speak with. Many 911 centers have the technology to accept text messaging from cell phones or PDAs.
3. While you need to be in a secure location out of harm's way, be available for responders to interview you. Don't walk or drive away. Be as specific as you can in answering questions, but if you don't know, say so. Don't guess or speculate. If this is a criminal matter, you may be called as a witness in court. Don't fear this; it is an integral part of the justice system. Everyone involved will help you along the way.
4. In medical situations, the operator may have a set of instructions to help you in administering aid to someone sick or injured. This is the real deal; your involvement before responders arrive may make the difference between life and death. Ask anyone who has successfully performed CPR or delivered a baby. They will tell you what joy is.
5. Learn what to do. Attend classes offered by your local police, fire and EMS providers, the American Red Cross, local hospital, or other agencies. Professional rescuers rely on their training to keep their heads in an emergency. You can too.