The first calls that came in to the Utah County Sheriff's Department Saturday when a hang glider crashed at Point of the Mountain were from mobile-phone users - including one from a freeway motorist, who saw the hang glider crash.Although there was little paramedics could do to help the fatally injured man, they were on the scene much sooner than they would have been otherwise.
Mobile-phone users are putting their telephones to good use more and more often reporting accidents, drunken drivers, fires and other suspicious events. Law enforcement agencies say mobile phones are both a help and a hindrance to them, however.
"We have accidents all the time out on the freeway in the middle of nowhere where it would take an hour to get to a phone," said Linda Hargadon, dispatcher for the Provo Police Department.
But if a motorist with a mobile phone happens by, help can be dispatched to the scene much sooner. A person on the scene of an accident with a mobile phone can provide dispatchers with more detailed information about the condition of accident victims; dispatchers can also guide the caller through resuscitation efforts if needed.
Hargadon says mobile-phone users help in other ways - tracking down drunken drivers, for instance. After calling to report a driver weaving across the road, mobile-phone users will often follow the car, letting dispatchers know where the vehicle is until officers arrive.
"Eyewitnesses are always a help to law enforcement," said Cindy Mason, dispatch supervisor at the Utah County Sheriff's Department.
But dispatchers also say emergency calls from mobile-phone users can cause them frustration. Sometimes mobile-phone users will call to report an accident but refuse to get involved or to stay on the scene until help arrives.
In one case, a caller reported seeing smoke that seemed to be nearby but actually was miles away.
Emergency calls from mobile-phone users are routed through a central dispatch office - the Utah County Sheriff's Department in Utah County, the Valley Emergency Communications Center located in Murray for most of Salt Lake County. Thus, calls from a mobile-phone user in Bountiful are received at the Valley center and then transferred to the Bountiful Police Department.
Mason said mobile-phone users often end up having to describe the emergency situation twice - once to the receiving center and then again after the call is transferred to the appropriate agency.
Ray Caldwell, major account representative for Cellular One in Salt Lake City, said mobile-phone users need to know that a street address is not enough - dispatchers need to know what city the caller is in.
Also, most dispatching centers now have enhanced 911 systems that display a caller's address. However, mobile phones do not trigger such information.
"If we get a call from someone who has no idea where they are it can be really frustrating," Hargadon said.
And in some cases, mobile phones can impede response efforts.
Last week the Utah County Sheriff's Department received a call from an Orem man whose wife was at home in premature labor. She had called him, and he, in turn, had called for help on his mobile phone while driving home.
The call was transferred to Orem by the Sheriff's Department. It would have been quicker if the woman had called the Orem Police for help directly, said Michol Goodrich, dispatch supervisor.
Steve Linton, public relations manager for US WEST Communications, said that in many cases, having access to a mobile phone can be a "miracle."
"The best advice to consumers is to remember you've got to describe where you are," Linton said.