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Seniors Shy Away from Calling 911 Emergency

VICTORVILLE, Calif. -- The emergency 911 telephone system was set up more than 35 years ago and has helped countless people and saved many lives, but there are still those who do not use it when it really counts.

"Especially seniors seem to be timid about calling 911," said Art Bishop, deputy chief of the Apple Valley Fire Protection District. "Many times they will call friends and family out-of-state before they call us."

Helene Dearmon, 56, of Hesperia found herself in a similar situation. Dearmon called her son on June 20 to tell him that she may be going into diabetic shock but he was not certain of her location.

He called emergency services at about 3 p.m., but his mother was not located until almost 4:30 p.m. when Sheriff's Service Specialist Pam Balsitis found Dearmon in her vehicle in the Carl's Jr. parking lot near Bear Valley and Hesperia roads, according to San Bernardino County sheriff's Hesperia station officials.

She was located after her cellular phone company advised the closest tower was at Bear Valley Road and Fifth Avenue, and after Dearmon was able to give a better description of where she was, officials said.

She was taken to Desert Valley Hospital.

The delay in getting her treatment could have been avoided if she would have called 911 from her cell phone, according to Sgt. Ken Lutz.

Hesperia station officials also encourage people with special medical needs to activate their cell phone's GPS service in order to more quickly locate them.

Part of the problem with seniors not calling 911 is that they do not think that their problem is an emergency, said Rita Gay, investigator with AVFPD.

"We have had incidents where friends have to convince these seniors to hang up and call 911 for help," noted Bishop.

Another factor is that people believe that they will be billed for the aid.

Unless they are transported to a hospital by a private ambulance company, people will not get a bill, Bishop said.

"We want to encourage people to use the system for help, that is what we are here for," said Bishop.

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