LIANE HANSEN, host:
Today we celebrate an anniversary of a telephone number that every American should know by heart.
Unidentified Woman: Fox 4603 for trouble breathing. 407 North...
HANSEN: That's the emergency call center in Arlington, Virginia, where operators dispatch fire, police and other emergency services, to callers who have dialed 911. And the nation's first 911 call was made 40 years ago this weekend.
In 1968 the nation's largest phone carrier, AT&T, announced an ambitious new endeavor. It was going to create an easy-to-remember national emergency number that people could call from anyplace in the country. Public safety officials had been pushing for such a number for several years, but some in the telephone industry had mixed feelings about the announcement.
Mr. BOB GALLAGHER (Former President, Alabama Telephone Company): We were overlooked as far as participating in the decision making.
HANSEN: That's Bob Gallagher. In 1968 he was president of Alabama Telephone Company. It was one of the many small independent carriers operating in the shadows of AT&T, which then controlled nearly 80 percent of the U.S. telephone market.
Although Gallagher resented not being included in the planning, he supported the idea. He persuaded his boss at the parent company that they should try to be first.
Mr. GALLAGHER: So I told him I think we can do a 911 system and beat AT&T out. And he said, go get them. And off we went.
HANSEN: Gallagher's team chose Haleyville, Alabama as the site for the project, and completed their work in less than a week. When they were finished, any locals who dialed 911 would reach a bright red phone in the police station. Alabama's speaker of the house christened the new system on February 16th with a ceremonial 911 call.
Pat Halle(ph) is a spokesperson for the National Emergency Number Association.
Mr. PAT HALLE (National Emergency Number Association): It's grown from a service that started with one call in 1968 to a service that enables almost 250 million 911 calls per year. It's really a life-saving technology and I don't really think you can have anything more important than that.
HANSEN: Of course not everyone who dials 911 is calling about a life or death matter. In fact, some of the calls are frivolous. We asked Commander John Crawford of Arlington, Virginia's 911 communications center if they get many of those calls.
Mr. JOHN CRAWFORD (Virginia 911 Communications Center): Well, it's a good percentage. People may be calling to get the national weather service information or can you tell me if this road is blocked or that road is blocked because my husband or my wife are late for dinner, whatever the case might be.
We're a full public service agency. You know, they say that police and firefighters are first responders, and I would challenge that.
HANSEN: Commander John Crawford of Arlington, Virginia's 911 communications center. This weekend is the 40th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call.
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