Lights flashing. Sirens blaring. Emergency crews on the run. Comforting sights and sounds to those needing help. But the time between the call to 911 and the arrival of an emergency team can seem like an eternity of fear and indecision when someone is ill or injured. Minutes count in an emergency, and what people do before EMS arrives makes a significant difference to an injured or ill person, according to Kathy Perkins, chief of the Bureau of Emergency Management at the Texas Department of Health (TDH). When you call 911, Perkins said, “you access the emergency care system and its personnel, available by telephone everywhere in Texas 24 hours a day. But until a trained team arrives, there are things people can do to help.” Recognizing an emergency is the first step in getting assistance for an ill or injured person. Most people consider auto crashes, severe chest pains, obvious broken bones and serious burns to be emergencies. But not all emergency situations are so apparent. Call 911 immediately if any of these conditions are present: ‘ Serious bleeding; ‘ Unconsciousness; ‘ Neck or spine injuries; ‘ Signs of a heart attack including uncomfortable pressure or fullness in the chest or chest discomfort with light-headedness, fainting, sweating or shortness of breath; ‘ Unexplained paralysis; ‘ Burns; ‘ No indication of breathing; ‘ Choking; ‘ Broken bones; or ‘ Head, chest or abdominal injuries. Common sense and knowing the victim also are important to assessing an emergency. “Factors such as stressful events, a pre-existing medical condition or abnormal behavior may signal that a person is in an emergency situation,” Perkins said. How you make the 911 call is also important. Stay calm or have someone else make the call. Give the 911 dispatcher any information requested. This information usually includes the address or location of the emergency, your name and the telephone number at your location, name of the injured or ill person and information about the illness or injury. Stay on the phone with the dispatcher until you are told to hang up. Send someone to wait near the street or in the parking lot to direct the ambulance to the victim. Do not move the injured or ill person unless the person is in immediate danger. Do not allow the person to eat or drink anything or to smoke. Keep the person calm and still. “While we can be proud of the emergency medical services in Texas,” Perkins said, “prevention is still the best way to avoid needing help.” Safe, healthy life-style habits include: ‘ Wearing seat belts and buckling children into child safety seats; ‘ Being sure that all children 12 and under ride in the back seat; ‘ Driving at safe speeds; ‘ Avoiding alcohol and drug use while driving; ‘ Keeping immunizations current; ‘ Eating right and exercising regularly; ‘ Keeping guns and poisons locked in a safe place. To receive a copy of TDH’s brochure “When Minutes Count: A Citizen’s Guide to Medical Emergencies,” contact the TDH Bureau of Emergency Management at 1100 W. 49th St., Austin 78756, or call 512-834-6700.