Important emergency numbers in Switzerland
117 - Police
118 - Fire department
144 - Ambulance services
0800 117 177 - SBB Emergency Number
Unlike the one-number-serves-all emergency systems used by the USA and Canada (911), the UK (999) and Australia (000), Switzerland's three main emergency services of ambulance, police and fire each have a different number. And despite a recent Europe-wide debate on the feasibility of installing one number per country for all emergency services, this has not proved possible for technical reasons. However, anybody travelling through Europe can use the number 112, from which they will be transferred to the service required in that particular country.
The number 144 is used throughout Switzerland as the principal emergency number. * Yet whereas the majority of cantons run their emergency departments as part of public services in general, the Valais is one of only two cantons (the other one is Ticino) where the control centre coordinating all the emergency services in the region comes entirely under a private organisation.
The Rescue Organisation for the Canton of Valais has been in operation for the last fourteen years. Based in the vineyard-surrounded market town of Sierre, this control HQ is in charge of the bewildering array of trained personnel and rescue vehicles, spread throughout 13 sub-regions, required to cope with the special topographical conditions and microclimate arising from the fertile agricultural plain of the Rhone Valley bordered by high mountains. Apart from the expected quota of ambulance drivers, paramedics and doctors on call fielding requests for medical advice, some of the highly trained rescue experts in this region include: guardians of Alpine huts, climbers, guides, glacier patrol (for mountain conditions); dog handlers (avalanches); speleologists (underground caving); and divers with specially adapted boats (lakes). Throughout the region a team of SMUR-qualified doctors can be called up (Mobile Emergency and Resuscitation Service). Having one centralised control HQ ensures far greater efficiency.
The canton of Valais was the first 144 service in Switzerland to utilise the American-made onscreen software called Advanced Medical Priority Dispatch System or AMPDS. This allows the dispatcher to ask the caller a pre-determined set of questions, while constantly tracking the location, level of urgency and nature of emergency. The HQ is manned 24/7 – the dispatchers all speak French and German, and have a good working knowledge of English. Out in the field, ambulance paramedics have recently been equipped with "digital pens" – a device using satellite technology to transmit essential medical information directly to control HQ. And for the last three years an inter-hospital transfer system has been in operation.
Director of rescue services Vincent Favre has always been interested in the emergency services. He explains how being in control of the variable budget – around eight million francs a year – gives him the flexibility to change priorities within the services. Revenue comes partly from the health insurance companies and partly from tax levied by the canton. At the same time he is dedicated to the organisation's commitment to maintain and improve the quality and appropriateness of services, now enshrined in law. This includes a very high standard of training for rescue personnel; continuous assessment in all aspects of the emergency services; and working in close cooperation with police and fire services, and – in extreme circumstances –the civil guard. Throughout the year a programme of accident prevention is taught to children of all ages throughout the canton.
Vincent Favre is justifiably proud of the competence, motivation and dedication demonstrated by the emergency services coordinated by the OCVS (DE/FR), and of the rescuers frequently risking their lives to provide help to "those who are ill, the victims of accidents or in distress."
Free to download from iTunes and Google play, Echo112 is an extremely handy App that locates your position on GPS. In the unhappy event that you should require emergency services, all you do is press the glowing red button, and you are connected directly to emergency services. At the same time it transmits your present GPS coordinates, enabling the emergency personnel to pinpoint your exact location.