The History of 911


​​​​​Marengo County Emergency Communications District

What is 911?

When you’re faced with an emergency, the more you can do to save time, the better.  That’s why you should always call 911 whenever you need

emergency help from police, fire departments, or an ambulance or all three. 

Even a very young child can learn to recognize an emergency and know how to dial three easy digits. Always teach your child when to call 911, their

home address, and phone number. However, a child should only call 911 if the adult is not physically able to.  The 911 dispatcher needs to speak with an

adult to get all the necessary information that is needed.

Call 911 24 hours a day 7 days a week from any telephone, including, pay phones, cell phone, and telephone devices for the deaf.  And the call is always

toll free.

Examples of When to Call 9-1-1:

       Heart attack or stroke                                   House fire                                        Domestic violence      

                                          Burglary or theft in progress                         Car accident                                    Breathing difficulty

                                          Choking                                                        Chest pain                                       Bleeding      

                                          Drowning                                                      Electrocution                                   Drug overdose/poisoning

                                          Gunshot wounds/stabbings                            ETC.   

Examples of When NOT to call 911:

                                          To check on court date                                     To check on a ticket                         To check on a warrant                                        

                                          To check on the weather                                   To check road conditions                  When your power goes out  


                                          To see if an certain officer is working                ETC.   

The Nation's First 911 Call*

The following is a brief recount of the events surrounding the placing of the nation's first 9-1-1 call.

Before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, (June 2, 1875) public safety was served by town criers. A town crier would walk the streets of a town

and cry out for help in emergency situations.

In the 1950's, independent telephone companies were very common in the United States. If you wanted the police, you dialed the police station. If you had a

fire, you called the fire department. If you needed any emergency help, you dialed the individual you needed, or you could dial " 0" and get the operator.

Then he or she would ring the persons you were calling for.

In 1958, Congress called for an universal emergency number. At this time, the President's Commission of Law Enforcement and the F.C.C. started arguing

over a single easy to remember number. This was due to the large volume of emergency calls going to telephone company operators. A person may be

calling for emergency help while the operator was giving information on the number of Aunt Betsy in Louisiana or Uncle Charles in Oklahoma, which lead

to delays in emergency responses. Telephone companies were facing the problem of how to separate emergencies from general business. For over ten years

the idea was discussed and argued about among the different agencies who wanted to receive the calls. Police said they should answer all calls, the Fire

Department felt they were the better choice, some even felt the local hospital was the best answer.

According to a report in the Fayette, Alabama Times Record  commemorating the 25th anniversary of the historic event, B.W. Gallagher, President of

Alabama Telephone Company, said he was inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal.  He read that the president of AT&T and the FCC had

announced that 911 would be the nationwide emergency number.  Being a bit offended by the fact that the views of the independent telephone industry

had been overlooked in this decision, Gallagher decided to make the Alabama Telephone Company the first to implement 9-1-1.

Gallagher consulted with Robert Fitzgerald, inside plant manager for the Alabama Telephone Company, who examined schematics of the company’s 27

exchanges.  Fitzgerald chose Haleyville because its existing equipment was best suited to be quickly converted to receive 9-1-1 calls.  Fitzgerald then

designed the circuitry and installed the first 911 system in less than a week. Working with Fitzgerald to achieve this goal were technicians Pete Gosa,

Jimmy White, Al Bush and Glenn Johnston.

In the early stages, the city fathers were skeptical of 9-1-1 calls being answered at the police station. They, like persons in Congress, were afraid that the

city might not have the personnel qualified to answer "all out emergency calls".

Haleyville, Alabama introduced the nation's first 9-1-1 system which was located at the police station. Alabama Speaker of the House, Rankin Fite, made

the first call from another city hall room. It was answered by Congressman Tom Bevill on a bright red telephone located in the police department. Also on

hand was Haleyville Mayor James Whitt, Public Service Commission President Eugene (Bull) Connor, and B. W. Gallagher. So on February 16, 1968, the first

9-1-1 call was made.

* Information was obtained from  Alabama Chapter of NENA