In Case of Emergency…

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Emergency – 1. A sudden, urgent, usually unexpected occurrence or occasion requiring immediate action. 2. A state, especially of need for help or relief, created by some unexpected event: a weather emergency; a financial emergency., from the Random House Dictionary

We all hope that nothing bad will ever happen, that we will never need to call for help. But things do happen when we least expect them to, and it is important to know what to do in an emergency.


The emergency service number 9-1-1 was first used in the United States in the 1960s. 9-1-1 is known as a Public Safety Answering Point, meaning that it is a call centre where calls are received by trained telephone operators who provide information and assistance in emergencies. You can call 9-1-1 for assistance almost anywhere in Canada and the United States, and the call is free, whether it is from your own phone, a pay phone, or a cell phone even if you are out of your calling area or have run out of minutes. If you are calling from a business or other location such as a hotel, you may need to dial the number for an outside line before dialling 9-1-1.

What do you do when you call 9-1-1?

It is important to remain calm. Tell the operator what service you need (police, fire or ambulance), and tell them

• what is happening (a crime, a house is burning, someone is ill)

• where it is happening, and

• who you are (your name, telephone number and address).

If you cannot speak English or cannot speak it well, stay on the line while the 9-1-1 operator contacts the translation service to find someone who speaks your language. It’s important to stay on the line until the operator says you can hang up.

Health Emergencies

Telehealth Ontario

Calling 9-1-1 is usually the best course to take if someone is in immediate distress, such as a heart attack or serious injury. However, if you are feeling unwell but not sure if you should go to the hospital, you can, if you live in Ontario, call Telehealth Ontario.

Telehealth is staffed by Registered Nurses. They will ask you a series of questions that will help them decide if your problem can be dealt with by you at home, if you need to go to your own doctor, or if you should go immediately to the hospital (in which case the operator will tell you to hang up and call 9-1-1 right away). They offer confidential advice on a variety of health issues including illness, injury, diet and lifestyle. The service is free – you do not have to provide any personal information, not even your Health Card number.


The Ontario Poison Centre in Toronto provides 24 hour service for people all over Ontario who have an emergency related to poisoning. Their operators will give advice on what to do if you come in contact with a poison. They can also tell you what to do if you’ve been bitten by a snake, or if your child has eaten or touched a plant, mushroom, seed, bulb or berry that you think might be poisonous.

When you call the centre, tell them what the symptoms are, what you think the poison was, when you or the patient came in contact with it, and, in the case of children, what age. The Poison Specialist will tell you exactly what to do.

Assault/Domestic Violence/Abuse

The Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers a 24 hour crisis call centre for women who are the victims of assault or abuse. The service is confidential and anonymous, and is provided in up to 154 languages.

The Helpline will provide you with crisis counseling, emotional support, and referrals to shelters if you need to leave your circumstances immediately, as well as legal services and culturally appropriate support services.

First Aid

Sometimes the few minutes between calling 9-1-1 and when emergency services arrive can be crucial to saving a life. Someone with First Aid training can make a difference. There are a number of agencies that provide First Aid training: St. John Ambulance and the Canadian Red Cross, for example, are two organizations that offer courses throughout Ontario, and in Toronto, the First Aid training programs are offered by Toronto EMS (Emergency Medical Services). It’s a good idea to have at least one person in your workplace with a First Aid certificate; talk to your employer about taking the program.

Natural Disasters/Catastrophic events

In August 2003, a rolling blackout hit most of Ontario and several north western states in the U.S. No one thought it would go on for more than a few hours, but as it turned out, in some areas power was not restored for nearly two days. Very few were prepared for this emergency; but are we any more prepared now than we were then? The City of Toronto is encouraging residents to be ready in case of a natural or other disaster. Toronto’s Emergency Management Program Committee recommends putting together an emergency kit that would help you and your family survive the first 72 hours of a disaster.

Food/Shelter/Financial/Employment Emergencies

What happens if you suddenly find yourself homeless? You may need to take refuge in a shelter or hostel if you have been evicted, if you are living in unsafe surroundings (domestic violence, for example) or if your home has been damaged by some catastrophic event.

Women and children can go to emergency shelters to remove themselves from abusive situations. Hostels offer facilities with basic necessities; some take families, while others take in couples, men only, women only, or youth.

Food banks provide relief for people who are unable to buy food. Food is donated by the public, individually or from food drives, or purchased with financial donations. If you need food for your family, you can call Daily Bread Food Bank or North York Harvest Food Bank to find out where the nearest food bank is in your area. When you visit the food bank, you’ll be asked for some information about your finances (proof of income and expenditures such as pay stubs, rent, and hydro), your address and your identification. You’ll only need to do this once, but you should always bring your identification.

Sudden job losses can catch people unawares, especially if they have been living on a low income and were unable to save money. If you qualify for Employment Insurance (EI), be sure to apply to Service Canada right away even if you don’t have your Records of Employment. The sooner you apply, the sooner your claim can be processed and you won’t risk losing benefits.

If you do not qualify for EI and are in temporary financial need, you can apply to Ontario Works (Ministry of Community and Social Services). They can provide you with money to cover your basic needs (food and housing) and then help you with finding a job.

An emergency can happen anywhere, anytime, to anybody. Take action – be prepared!

Numbers to Call
9-1-1 Police, Fire, Ambulance
Telehealth Ontario 1-866-797-0000 or TTY (hearing impaired telephone service) 1-866-797-0007
Ontario Poison Centre 1-877-750-2233
Assaulted Women’s Help Line GTA 416-863-0511
TTY 416-364-8762
toll-free 1-866-863-0511
TTY 1-866-863-7868
City of Toronto Emergency Preparedness Kit Get Emergency Ready – Your personal Preparedness Guide (PDF)
First Aid Training St. John Ambulance:
for the office nearest you,
visit St. John Ambulance officesCanadian Red CrossClick here for their website
and then press “Find a course in your area”
EI (Service Canada): -EI section
or call 1-800-206-7218/TTY 1-800-529-3742
Ontario Works Ontario Works website
Housing (Toronto)
  • Single adults, youth and couples,
    call the Assessment and Referral Centre at 416-338-4766
    or 1-877-338-3398
  • Families with children, call Central Family Intake at 416-397-5637.
  • For emergency housing in city centers outside of Toronto, call your local city hall
Daily Bread Food Bank 416-203-0050 or e-mail
North York Harvest Food Bank 416-635-7771 or e-mail

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