The first 911 call in US was made 56 years ago today

FILE-A dispatcher sits at her station at the Harris County 911 Call Center while getting an update on an incident. (Photo by Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images)

The first 911 call in the nation happened 56 years ago in Haleyville, Alabama. 

Alabama Senator Rankin Fite made the emergency call on Feb. 16, 1968, according to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). 

Before the launch of the 911 call system, people attempting to reach police had to make direct calls to their local emergency services, a neighborhood police station or fire station after searching the phone book, FOX News noted. 

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Occasionally, individuals would dial "0" for the operator and ask to get connected to a local service, a method considered ineffective and often a deadly system. 

In 1957, the National Association of Fire Chiefs called for a universal emergency number for reporting fires. Years later, a presidential commission got behind the idea of a universal number for all emergency calls in 1967. 

The numbers 911 were selected because it was easy for people to remember, and it wasn't used as an area code, service code or local exchange, according to FOX News.

Only half of Americans had access to emergency services by dialing 911 as recently as 1987, according to the NENA

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FOX News reported that the 911 emergency phone number is used across North America and is synonymous with "distress" in both the U.S. and Canada. 

An estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the U.S. each year. In many areas, 80% or more are from wireless devices, the NENA noted. 

FOX News contributed to this report. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.