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The First 9-1-1 Call is placed on Feb.16, 1968

February 12, 2018 | Authored by

Photo credit: Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri

“I think our town is unique because we’re the home of the first 911 call. Our citizens are proud of that fact, and it’s something we treasure. Millions of lives have been saved in the last 47 years because of that call.”

Mayor Ken Sunseri, Haleyville, Alabama 2015

February 16th marks an important date in first responder history. On this date in 1968, the first 9-1-1 call was placed. Once upon a time, town criers announced emergencies. In 1877, police call boxes were introduced in the United States, but the country lacked a unified emergency call system.In 1958, Congress called for a universal emergency number. The idea was discussed for more than a decade, with various agencies arguing over who should receive the calls. The National Association of Fire Chiefs called for a consistent emergency number where fire departments could receive emergency calls, while local police departments said they were better equipped to handle the calls. Some hospitals even weighed in saying they should receive the calls.The president of AT&T and the FCC announced the nationwide emergency number would be 9-1-1. Soon after, the president of Alabama Telephone Company, B.W. Gallagher, decided to make his company the first to implement 9-1-1 emergency calls. He determined that Haleyville, Alabama had the best equipment to quickly convert in order to receive 9-1-1 calls.

Robert Fitzgerald, who also worked for the Alabama Telephone Company, designed and installed the first 9-1-1 system in less than a week. A bright red rotary phone located in the police station took the first 9-1-1 call. It was made by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite. Congressman Tom Bevill answered the phone from the police department with a simple “hello.”

Today an estimated 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 operators in the United States. As many as 80% or more of those calls are made from a wireless device.


Category: Artifact Spotlight

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