Bulgarian 112 call centre
Bulgaria has put in place the European emergency hotline format, an international service designed so that people in distress or an emergency situation can ring 112 and seek assistance. Presumably, as the 112 is an international emergency hotline, one would expect that all operators in the control room to have at least basic fluency in English.
Sadly, all did not go according to plan when the daughter of a British woman, currently resident in Pamporovo with her 16 children, most of whom are adopted, tried to summon assistance.
On January 31 2010, Bulgarian media reported that two British women were reported "lost" in the Bulgarian ski resort of Pamporovo near the Stoikite slope, citing information from the Interior Ministry regional police directorate in Smolyan.
In reality, the 20-year-old daughter of Amanda Mary had dialled the emergency services from her home, after her mother began experiencing the symptoms of a stroke. The operator, who spoke no English, disconnected the call three times, Mary told The Sofia Echo.
When Mary's daughter finally got through to the emergency hotline again, she explained that her mother had suffered a stroke, and proceeded to explain to the operator that her house is close to ski station six in Stoikite. Presumably, this reference was necessary after the operator did not understand the address provided.
The Sofia Echo has understood that no ambulance or paramedics arrived at the scene for 12 hours, when, reportedly, a "phone call got through" from a doctor asking "if he could assist".
Mary said she only survived because she received assistance from her husband, who had medical training. She told The Sofia Echo that she has lived in Bulgaria for six years, and while she speaks Bulgarian she could not reach the phone as she was temporarily paralised. Her visiting daughter, however, had no option but to address the call centre in English.
To add insult to injury, the 112 operator not only "misunderstood" the woman's address but then told the authorities that "two British women were lost in the mountains near the Stoikite ski lift". In the ensuing chaos, a patrol of Mountain Rescue Service was dispatched to the scene, who, according to Bulgarian media, "combed the mountain for six hours, looking for lost British tourists who were never there in the first place".
"If assistance came I may have been able to be treated and would not have lost the use of my left hand," Mary said.
This is not the first time the 112 has been in the spotlight. There are cases of Bulgarians dialling the 112 hotline, requesting emergency, and then being told to call the standard Bulgarian ambulance hotline 150 because the 112 is "reserved for foreigners". In this case, however, a foreigner dialled 112 and was confronted with an operator who could not understand basic English.
The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) recommended the use of 112 as far back as 1972. Subsequently, the European Union adopted the 112 number as a standard on July 29 1991. It is now a valid emergency number throughout EU countries and in many other CEPT countries, Bulgaria included. It works in parallel with other local emergency numbers in about two thirds of EU states, also the case in Bulgaria, as there is also the more commonly known 150 number.
Many countries' public telephone networks have a single emergency (which in Bulgaria was the old 150 number), sometimes known as the universal emergency telephone number or, occasionally, the emergency services number, that allows a caller to contact local emergency services for assistance.
The introduction of the 112 in Bulgaria, however, is meant so that mobile phones can be used in countries with different emergency numbers, whereby a traveller, visiting a foreign country does not have to know the local emergency numbers, because the mobile phone and the SIM card have a pre-programmed list of emergency numbers. When the user tries to set up a call using an emergency number known by a GSM or 3G phone, the special emergency call setup takes place. The actual number is not even transmitted into the network, but the network redirects the emergency call to the local emergency desk
The 112 emergency hotline is part of the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, who were unavailable for comment. In case of emergency, useful numbers in Bulgaria are: police – 166; ambulance – 150; firefighters – 160.