112 – The European Emergency Call Number

Dear Editor,

Regarding David Thomas’ article about calling 112 in Portugal (April 14 edition), I would just like to share my experience with you – so far only.

About a year ago, my parents were visiting and we were on a walk in the very rural area where we live (Ourique, Beja, Alentejo), when we discovered an unconscious woman lying on a track and her dog who sat beside her. I recognised the woman as a neighbour, but as there was no house nearby, I decided to call 112 while my parents tended to the woman and her dog.

The 112 operator answered and I described the situation. He then wanted to know the address of the emergency.

I explained that we are in the countryside and that there is no address and offered to give him the GPS coordinates, which he refused to accept.

I then suggested the ambulance went to the old primary school (about 1 km away) where I could meet the driver and guide him to the location.

The operator then asked for the name of the school and I replied that the school had no name, it’s just called the old primary school of Encalho.

The operator then said: “Go to the school and tell me the name of the school or I will not send an ambulance.”

At this point, I decided that it was pointless to keep arguing with the operator and started to run to the nearest house to find someone with a car. The house happened to be the house of the unconscious neighbour where I met her partner who then got in the car to drive her to the local Bombeiros from where they could continue on with an ambulance.

I recently learned about the AML (Advanced Mobile Location) technology and read up on it. It should have been in place in Portugal at that time but apparently it wasn’t, or it wasn’t working. The phone that I was calling from was a relatively new iPhone with a Portuguese SIM card so that should have done the trick on my side.

A few weeks later, I talked to the local Bombeiros about our experience, and they were quite shocked to hear that account. Their advice was to always have the phone number of the local Bombeiros with you, so you can call them directly in case of an emergency in your home area. Given my experience with calling 112, I think this is a sensible piece of advice for everyone living in rural Portugal.

Georg von der Howen
By email