What’s Your 20?

When people call 911, it’s important that they give a clear location as to where they are, and it’s equally important for EMS workers to be able to let dispatch or other units know their location, or their 10-20 in radio speak. Out here in the Last Frontier, however, describing a location can be a little tricky. Historically, a 911 call would come in and the caller would say something like, “ turn east on the dirt road that’s 1 mile north Willow Mountain, go 3 miles and turn south at the road that has the dream catcher hanging on the gate.”  It may sound silly, but the system actually worked pretty well, as everyone knew they needed to give detailed directions to 911. Recently, however, the Rio Grande Council of Governments assigned everyone in Brewster County a physical 911 address with the goal of improving response time. Well, it may have been a good idea, but as my father is fond of quoting, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.” There is little to no consistency in the addresses that were assigned because people were allowed to make up their own road names and house numbers. You can imagine how well that worked. Sometimes we are dispatched to an address that no one has any idea how to get to. In a 3000+ square mile service area, this can be a bit of a problem, so we end up calling the reporting party and getting directions based on distances, directions, and long-time local landmark names.Cock Rock

I was reminded of this today as I was driving The River Road on my way to Marfa. A while back, I responded to an MVA on that stretch of road, and had to call dispatch to request extra resources. We were about 50 feet off the road, in a mesquite thicket, and I could hear the radio traffic as dispatch repeatedly gave the other responding units an official address that made no sense and they desperately tried to figure out exactly where the crash scene was. Finally, I got a minute to get on the radio – “We’re on the river side of the curve on Hwy 170 at Cock Rock.” Success! It’s a landmark known by every river guide, TxDot worker, or emergency responder who has ever driven on The River Road. The responding units immediately knew my exact location, and replied that they were 10 minutes out. Occasionally, low tech options are the best.

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