Providing basic first aid can mean the difference between life and death and hugely affect the extent of someone’s recovery, the amount of pain they’re in and how long they need to be in hospital.
But, you may not realise that it is also important to understand how to call the emergency services and the information you need to provide.
First published October 2019, updated 8 March 2020 to mention new recorded options when dialling 112/101.
So, how do you call the emergency services?
By calling 112 from a landline or mobile phone!
Yes, across all European countries (as well as Israel, Norway and Russia), 112 is the number to dial. By using it you can access an ambulance, police or fire brigade.
WORTH KNOWING: Since February 2020, there is an automated message when you dial 112 (for ambulance or fire brigade) or 101 (police), asking you to confirm which service you want. Beware that this message only seems to be provided in French or Dutch – at the time the village tested, option 1 was ambulance or fire brigade, and option 2 was police.
Even when the mobile network is unavailable, you can still call 112 from your mobile phone.
Calling in a country that is not your own poses the question – which language should you use? Ideally you speak the language of the country in which you call.
If you don’t speak this language, you can provide the necessary information in English. English is the most used language in 21 EU member states and in some they can take your call in French, German or the language of the neighbouring country as well.
What happens when you call 112?
If you are calling 112 then the chances are you are in a state of panic. This makes giving information to the operator difficult. However, for the emergency service to be able to deal with your emergency appropriately and quickly they really need you to provide clear and accurate information.
So before you call, take a deep breath and make a quick assessment of (1) the exact location (2) what has happened and (3) if anyone is injured.
Then follow these steps:
- Call 112. Choose the right option for fire brigade, ambulance or police. At the time for writing, option 1 is ambulance/fire brigade, and option 2 is police.
- Calmly wait for your call to be answered. Don’t hang up, because then you will find yourself back at the bottom of the call list.
- Provide the correct address to which the emergency services need to go (city, street, number, intersection, special access, emergency telephone, etc.) and possibly the easiest way to get there.
If you’re not calling from the place of the incident, tell this to the operator.
- Describe what has happened (fire, accident, aggression, burglary, heart attack, etc.).
- Indicate whether anyone is in danger, wounded or unwell, and how many casualties there are.
- Don’t hang up before the operator says you can. Once you have hung up, keep the telephone line free so the operator can call you back if they need more information.
- If the situation deteriorates or improves, call the emergency centre again and tell them.
In the case of a major disaster several people may call 112 at the same time. Then the operator will only ask you for additional useful information. If you don’t have more information, you can hang up when the operator says you can do so. This frees the telephone lines to take other emergency calls.
What if I (or a child) call 112 by accident? If you call 112 by accident, don’t hang up, but tell the operator everything is fine. This way the operator is sure that there is no emergency.
112 BE app
These days there is an app for everything and calling 112 in Belgium is no exception.
The app’s called 112 BE. The big advantage of using the app is that you don’t have to remember the emergency numbers and therefore cannot forget them if you’re in distress – you just tap the ambulance, firefighter or police icon depending on what kind of help you need.
Also, by registering on the app you can provide certain medical information, such as heart problems, allergies (to medication), epilepsy, diabetes, etc.
The operator has this information even before you have said something and can give this information to the emergency services.
How much does calling 112 cost?
A call to 112 is free and the service is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
In Belgium if you are taken to hospital by ambulance in an emergency there are costs, and these are payable by you.
The National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance (RIZIV) can reimburse part of the costs through your health insurance. Contact your health insurance company or your national health insurance organisation for more information on this.
The costs for urgent assistance from the fire department are mainly free of charge. Where the incident is deemed non-urgent your municipality can ask you for a reimbursement.
What to do if you need help but it’s not urgent?
If you need help but it’s not urgent then you can call your local fire department, local police or general practitioner (on call).
It’s worth having a list of these numbers in your home or contacts list.
… make sure your children know how to call the emergency services – they’re never too young to learn!
Why not check out the kids page on the 112.be website for some great resources plus a fun video to watch and sing along to.
Other emergency numbers
|Number for non-urgent assistance of the fire department |
Only active during a storm/thunderstorm with code orange/red!
|Treatment Centre for Poisoning Cases|
070 245 245
| Suicide Helpline (free, 24 u/24, anonymous)|
|DOC STOP (free) – 24h/24 central service to block a BELGIAN identity card or Belgian passport after theft or loss. |
00800 2123 2123
|CARD STOP – central service to block bank and credit cards (24h/24)www.cardstop.be and www.mijnkaart.be|
070 344 344
|Security in stations and trains|
0800 30 230
Written by Kate Ellwood, First Aid Instructor and Assessor – October 2019
Interested in learning some simple first aid skills that could save a life?
Check out the Life First website for information about baby and children first aid classes for parents, grandparents, babysitters and carers in Brussels and Leuven.