49 years ago today, the first-ever 911 call took place in Haleyville, Alabama.
When Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite dialed those three digits, he was connected to Congressman Tom Bevill, who was waiting for the call at the local police station.
The occasion marked the first successful implementation of ‘911’ as a designated telephone number for reporting emergencies.
The push to establish a universal emergency number began in 1957, when the National Association of Fire Chiefs advocated for the use of a single telephone number to report fires. The United States Congress began exploring the idea in 1958.
By 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended that a single number be established nationwide for all emergencies, rather than having multiple telephone numbers for different types of emergencies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eventually got involved and met with AT&T in 1967 to put the rubber to the road.
“9-1-1” became the established emergency code because of its brevity and uniqueness. No other area code, service code, or office code had been assigned yet to this three-digit combination. Most importantly, it was easy to remember.
AT&T continued its work toward unveiling the first 911 system, which it planned to debut in Huntington, Indiana. However, in a bit of a technological arms race, the independent Alabama Telephone Company rushed to implement its own system. It did so in Haleyville, AL, in February 1968, beating AT&T to the punch.
By 1977, 17% of the United States had 911 service. Today, nearly all municipalities have access to a 911 emergency communication system.
Here, in and around Madison, emergency calls are processed by Dane County Public Safety Communications, which provides dispatching and centralized communications services for the Madison Fire Department, along with the Madison Police Department, and Dane County Sheriff's Department. Additionally, it serves 21 law enforcement agencies, 26 fire departments, and 21 EMS agencies throughout Dane County.