The conversation was alarming, frustrating, and frightening.

This was the second time I had called 911 when a friend needed emergency help.


911, What is your emergency.

I need an ambulance at 531 Main Street, Roosevelt Island, for a resident in cardiac distress.

What is the cross street?

We have no cross streets. This is an Island with one street.


Roosevelt Island.

Sir, I need a cross street.

You come over the 36th Avenue Bridge from Queens. The drivers know it. Just tell them Roosevelt Island, 531 Main Street.

Sir, I won’t be able to help you without a cross street.

They turn left at the bottom of the ramp. Just send...

I have to have a cross street.


At that point I terminated the call and dialed Public Safety (212-832-4545).

To tell the full story, there was a further complication. My friend had called me from her apartment, but I called 911 from my apartment. Apparently relying on the phone number, the 911 operator sent an EMT team to my apartment – a different wing of my building. As it turned out, the call from Public Safety contained all the right words, and a separate EMT team was sent to the right wing of Rivercross, where I was waiting.

The five minutes of “I have to have a cross street” could have cost a life. Or a brain injury from a lack of oxygen extended by those minutes.

Over the years, this sort of problem with the 911 service has been reported to our elected representatives, and it has been reported as corrected almost every time. And almost every time, a call to 911 produces some stupid error, usually committed by a 911 operator who has never heard of Roosevelt Island. EMT teams have been sent to Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, and perhaps other places, while the need goes unmet.

It turns out that it might help to say “Goldwater Hospital.” We no longer have Goldwater Hospital here, but many 911 operators don’t know that, either. Or, better, you can give the cross street as 36th Avenue, Queens, and that gets wheels turning on the rescue carriage. On the way, the driver and her/his partner will work out the details. It might help – or might confuse – to give guidance on which direction the driver should turn when reaching Main Street.

At a 6:30 Town Meeting Tuesday, some of Roosevelt Island’s elected representatives in government will be here to learn more about this specific problem and, we might hope, to put the necessary pressure on those who run the 911 system to train operators. It’s a big city, sometimes complicated, and Roosevelt Island is an administrative oddity, being part of Manhattan but only accessible from Queens.

None of those facts excuse the delays – one of which may have cost a life recently.

Know the magic words: 36th Avenue, Queens. In the meantime, 911 must get its act together.

Tags: Island Observer

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