EMS Classics is a feature column I write for Canadian Paramedicine.

It is my attempt at giving the younger generation who work in EMS today, a snapshot into the history of ambulance service.

If you are interested in purchasing the images or the text copyright to any of the columns please email me at

Fast Telephone Number

Photo Peter Adsten Column

Slow Telephone Number

Photo Peter Adsten Column
Buy This Column and Images Now ($150)

Column 07 February/March 2007

Fast or Slow Telephone Numbers

Have you ever heard of a fast telephone number? Prior to the advent of the emergency number 911, each emergency service had their own number which was published on the inside front cover of the local telephone directory. And because many cities had several competing ambulance services, there often would be numerous emergency ambulance numbers listed.

Back then, everyone had a rotary phone because touch-tone telephones had not yet been invented. To operate a rotary phone you would dial the first digit of the number, wait impatiently for the dial to turn back to the starting point, dial the second digit, wait for the dial to turn back, and so on until all seven digits had been dialed. It was a slow process. And it would take twice as long, for example, to dial the digit 8 than to dial the digit 4.

At Crescent Ambulance our emergency number 343-1162 was much "faster" (and therefore better) than our competitor Ray's Ambulance - 242-7909. It only took 20 clicks to dial our number whereas it took an agonizingly long 43 clicks to dial his number. (The dial made a clicking sound as it passed each digit on its return to the stating point).

It was believed that panic callers would intuitively pick a "fast" number when scanning the directory. And frequent callers such as dispatchers working in busy City Police dispatch offices would certainly choose a "fast" number instead of a "slow" one. And that was the whole point - the more ambulance calls you received, the more revenue was generated, thereby increasing the chances that your ambulance service would survive, and your competitor wouldn't.

Copyright 2007 Peter Adsten