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So there's been a major fire, car crash, robbery, heart attack, or other catastrophe. Isn't it amazing how the police, firefighters, or EMTs show up really quickly, often in a matter of seconds? Sometimes, you don't even have to call 911!
If only it worked like that in Real Life. It usually takes around 10 minutes for the emergency responders to arrive, and even then, it often takes a while before they can actually do anything. For example, when firefighters arrive at a fire, it usually takes around 5 minutes from the time of arrival before they can actually start spraying water on the fire.
Note: Cases where it's explicitly mentioned that an ambulance or fire truck simply happened to be nearby (known to emergency responders as a "running call") fit better under Contrived Coincidence.
- Those home security system commercials will often show a frantic homeowner calling for help (for example, if a robber is breaking in), and the security center workers dispatching police, who arrive seconds later, to heroically save the homeowner. In Real Life, these things create so many false alarms that alarm companies are required to telephone the homeowner and find out if they're at home before alerting the emergency services.
- Averted for laughs in a Jimmy Johns commercial. A man calls Jimmy Johns to deliver a sandwich and the delivery boy discovers the customer's house is on fire. The customer called Jimmy Johns because he knew they'd get there quickly and he needed help putting out the fire. He then proceeds to call five more delivery guys who all show up before the fire department. The customer called the fire department before calling anyone at Jimmy Johns.
- Inverted in the case of most Filipino action films. The Tragic Hero usually has enough time for an elaborate pre-death speech before the cops / paramedics / what-have-you arrive. And usually, when they finally arrive, the hero has already passed on.
- Notably averted in Iron Man 2, where it takes several minutes for a SWAT team to respond to Vanko's attack on the Monaco racing event.
- Averted in the 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The big shock for the audience was the fire truck crashes as it is out on a run.
- Averted in Clerks II. Dante calls the firemen thinking the Mooby's is on fire, but it's the smoke machine from the donkey show Randall has gotten as a going away present. They take so long Dante forgets calling them.
- Heavily parodied in The Last Action Hero. When our villain first enters the Real World, he's shocked to discover that you can steal a car without sirens instantly sounding. To test this new situation, he walks up to a man and shoots him in the head, then waits for the sirens. When that doesn't work, he yells that he's just shot and killed a man, to which the only response is someone off-screen yelling to quit making a racket.
- Averted and used as a major plot point in Reservoir Dogs when Mr. Pink explains to Mr. White how the police arrived at their heist far too soon to have been responding to the alarm. This discrepancy is what convinces Mr. Pink that one of their party is The Mole.
- It takes only moments for the police to show up after the main character in American History X kills a would-be thief outside his house.
- A particularly bad straight example happens in the movie A Bronx Tale. 8 year old Calogero observes the neighborhood mobster that he idolizes intervene in a fight that had gotten out of hand by shooting the attacker. His mother whisks him upstairs and into their apartment, and within seconds of them shutting the door the police are knocking on it. Later in the film, a group of young Italian thugs attack a group of black students biking through their neighborhood, within about a minute people are shouting for them to leave because they can already see and hear the sirens coming. Given that both NYPD response time and the unlikeliness of getting an answer when trying to directly call a police precinct has been a source of controversy/outrage in New York for decades, this break from reality seems egregious.
- In the first Superman movie, the police, fire trucks, and camera crews all show up within seconds of Lois Lane's helicopter crash. Not sure why they bothered, though, since they couldn't even keep people off the sidewalk in front of the building (where the helicopter was going to hit when it fell seconds later.)
Live Action TV
- Lampshaded in the (unaired) Dollhouse pilot. A police car shows up almost immediately after Assassin!Echo shoots Paul Ballard prompting Echo to remark such a quick response time is unlikely.
- Averted in one episode of Law and Order SVU when Olivia gets into a car accident with Elliot's (pregnant) wife, who goes into labor and has to be extracted from the car. It takes several minutes for the emergency response to arrive and an even longer time for her to actually be extracted. The show does play this straight at other times, though.
- Averted in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode The Body. Not only does the ambulance take a long time to arrive, but the sorrow of a relative of the eponymous 'body' is shown entirely during those long, long minutes.
- Those Thunderbirds are extraordinarily fast--the situation has barely had time to decay when they arrive. Which is all the more amazing when you consider that they're operating from an island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean.
- Averted in the Firefly episode "Trash," when Haymer activates his own personal panic alarm. It takes about ten minutes or so in real-time for police to arrive, during which time he's quietly stalling Mal and Saffron.
- While response times were narrowed for obvious dramatic and show-length reasons, Emergency did generally avert instant response by indicating several minutes or more had passed between alarm and arrival. One episode which had a subplot of paramedics being pissed off because they were being called out to dinky non-emergencies had them commenting about the length of time it was taking units to arrive on a scene because the closest unit that should have responded was off on one of the the crap calls.
- This is Truth in Television. People call 911 (or their equivalent emergency number) for non-emergency medical situations (this troper is a paramedic, and actually responded to a 911 call for a sinus infection). The consequence is that fewer fire/EMS units are left available for other true emergencies, such as car accidents, heart attacks, etc, and have to respond from a greater distance, increasing response times.
- Happens in an episode of Kamen Rider Black, as an ambulance responds immediately to a car accident. The main characters find this odd because no police arrived on the scene, nor had anyone called for help. It turns out to be part of a Golgom plot to "recruit" people for the ultimate terrorist army.
- Averted in an episode of 7th Heaven when Julie goes into labor at the Camden House the family calls for an ambulance but it doesn't arrive until well after the baby is born.
- Deconstructed at least twice in Burn Notice. On one occasion, Michael's voiceover explains that to get the police to respond on your schedule, you have to call ahead. Mike's preferred method is to report a few minor crimes in a five-block radius.
- Played for laughs in Robert Rankin's The Antipope: "The fire brigade, who arrived in record time, on hearing it was a pub on fire.."
Public Service Announcements
- In the infamous British texting while driving PSA, rescue crews arrive about 1 minute after the crash, even though no one made a call. Here's the full version of the PSA.
- In Cyberpunk 2020, the Trauma Team arrives after a random number of minutes. Usually pretty darn quick, as it is determined by d10 roll (and thus, 10 minutes is longest they can take), but this is justified as they fly in VTOL aircrafts and are not hindered by traffic - or building, for that matter.
- Averted in most RPGs, usually Dungeons and Dragons, where the town guard never shows up until a fight has ended.
- Unless your DM wants you to stay on the tracks, then the guards show up instantly when an unscripted fight starts.
- The DocWagon contract paramedics of Shadowrun are guaranteed to show up within ten minutes or their immediate treatment is free. There is no general reason to expect them much faster, though.
- In The Ren and Stimpy Show Adult Party Cartoon episode "Ren Seeks Help", the psychiatric ambulance arrives immediately after Ren kills his "psychologist", even though no one called for it.