911 foreign language translator service helps dispatchers, officers, and those in an emergency

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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Calling 911 can be a scary, stressful experience. But, imagine being in an emergency when the person who can send help, can't understand you. Thankfully, there is a resource available to help bridge that potential language barrier.

A recent Facebook post by the Toledo Police Department showed how the Vocalink line, which connects dispatchers and officers to interpreters, helped a woman and her children get out of a domestic violence situation.

The police want to protect her identity, so the language she speaks is not being shared.

Stephanie Waldrop is a 911 call taker.

"You just have to be ready for anything. You never know what the next minute is going to bring," said Waldrop.

When she gets an emergency call, she knows there is no time to waste. But, if the person in need doesn't speak English...

"They're stressed and then it causes us to be stressed because we don't understand what they're saying," said Waldrop.

Stephanie says she's used the foreign language line called Vocalink a couple of times.

"It gives us a little more confidence to be able to get help. Whatever they need - police, fire, or medical to them. So, I really like it," said Waldrop.

Here's how it works:

If you're someone who doesn't speak English well - you simply call 911 and tell the dispatcher what language you do speak. Then, the call taker will conference in an interpreter to translate the conversation. Live interpreters in 275 languages are available 24/7.

"The very first time that I had to use it, the caller actually requested Spanish right away. So, that was very helpful," said Waldrop.

Making that three-way call does mean there's a bit of a delay.

"There's at least a delay of a minute or two to get the person help, but it's still a lot better than just trying to figure out what the person needs," said Waldrop.

Teri Sweeney is the Toledo police communications supervisor. She says the national Vocalink service has been used locally for about a year.

"The Vocalink service is actually used in a lot of the local government agencies now. So, it's pretty much serving the whole Toledo area," said Sweeney.

It's a useful tool that helps connect the whole community with law enforcement.

"It serves as a bridge to gap the language barriers that the citizens may have when they call in," said Sweeney.

Sweeney says the old foreign language line was outdated and officers couldn't use it in the field. Now, they can. While this service isn't used everyday - it's a huge help when needed.

According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau 7.2% of Toledoans speak a language other than English at home.