January 10, 2013 · 5:18 PM

You hear an unusual noise in your home, and you investigate.

You find your spouse in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs. There’s no sign of consciousness, and skin colour is poor.

You call 9-1-1, but there’s a delay in response to your emergency because several people have called the dispatcher just before you did to ask idiotic, inappropriate and/or time-consuming questions.

Emergency medical dispatchers at the BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) answered more than 394,000 9-1-1 calls last year.

Many involved life-threatening situations, but some just distracted dispatchers from handling legitimate emergency calls.

Some examples from BCAS:

• I think my house is infested with fleas. Can someone come and check it out?

• I can’t get through to my cell provider. Can you help me?

• My husband is driving me crazy. I need you to take him away.

• I need you to get hold of my doctor for me -- the office is closed.

• I swallowed toothpaste. I didn’t spit it out. Will it make me sick?

• There's a dead crow in my yard. Could I get West Nile disease from it?

• I don't need an ambulance, but if I do, how much does it cost?

• I have a doctor's appointment in the morning. Could you call me at 8 so I'm not late?

• What’s the phone number to the hospital nearest to me?

• I’m out of beer.

Let’s be clear, people. The 9-1-1 number exists for more than 240 dispatch staff to deal with legitimate emergencies in B.C.

Alternatives to requesting an ambulance include contacting the 8-1-1 tele-health service, accessing a walk-in clinic, making an appointment with a family doctor or visiting a hospital emergency department if necessary. Hospital emergency departments triage all patients who arrive, including those by ambulance.

Please remember this the next time you think about calling 9-1-1. Somebody else’s life could be at stake.