November 20, 2012
What is the Nature of Your Emergency?
911 Calls from Yellowstone
Considering the park is inhabited by 25,000 visitors on any given summer day, the emergencies faced are typical of those of a small city. Rangers make three to five arrests per week—more at the peak of summer—for drunk driving, domestic assault, drug possession and other offenses. Ambulances are needed to respond to auto accidents or people who have suffered heart attacks or strokes, often requiring life-flight helicopters to transport them to larger hospitals in Montana or Idaho.
Some calls are more characteristic of a national park, such as a hiker lost in the backcountry and lucky enough to pick up a signal on their cell phone.
And then there are the incidents that are virtually unique to Yellowstone, such as bison gorings or burns from scalding hot springs when people get too close to animals or thermal features. Most 911 calls involve true emergencies. Others... not so much.
Kaelyn Johnson, who manages the Yellowstone Dispatch Center, can easily rattle off a long list of past call topics. These include, among many others, a squirrel that got in a visitor's car, a man wandering inside a park hotel who couldn't find the exit, a "bison who looked sad," and of course many complaints about traffic jams due to herds of animals in the road.