A lifesaving technology that many take for granted -- until they need it -- debuted 50 years ago today.

On Feb. 16, 1968, the first 9-1-1 call was made in Hayleyville, Alabama.

It wasn't an emergency, just a display of an emerging technology by the person who placed the call, Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite.

That first call, made from Haleyville City Hall marked a lifesaving revolution.  Prior to that day, a person in an emergency had to dial the operator, their local police or other local first responders.  Knowing those numbers, let alone recalling them in a life-and-death situation, spelled trouble.

The 9-1-1 number was developed by AT&T, after a push from Congress for a universal emergency number,  The FCC lobbied the telephone giant, which chose 9-1-1 because it was easy to remember and could be easily dialed from rotary phones.

Incidentally, the National Association of Fire Chief had called for a single number to report fires a decade earlier.

The 9-1-1 technology has changed over the years, adding capabilities that let first responders pinpoint where calls originate. In the late '90s, as cell phones became more common, carriers had to change with the times, to make the number accessible, and trackable, from mobile devices.

The 911 Association now estimates some 240 million 9-1-1 calls are made, every year, with as much as 80% of them coming from cell phones.


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