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Trapped in a drain...try Facebook for help?

Two Australian girls were trapped in a drain earlier this week, but rather than call their local emergency service, they asked for help through their Facebook profiles.

Australia's firefighters are apparently a bit worried about the future of emergency services, after rescuing two girls trapped in a storm drain who turned only to Facebook to ask for help.

According to southern Australia's Metropolitan Fire Service, it received a "Triple Zero" emergency call on Sunday. (That's Australia's equivalent to 911.)


The person who called said that two girls, ages 10 and 12, were trapped in a drain in Adelaide. The girls had a mobile phone with them, but opted to ask for help through their Facebook profiles, rather than dial Triple Zero.

"It is understood that friends of the girls were alerted to their predicament via a social networking website, which had been updated from a mobile telephone the girls had with them while in the drain," the MFS said in an e-mail. "It is believed the girls had been in the drain for quite some time. The sun had already set and conditions were dark."

Firefighters responded after they received the call and brought the girls to safety.

Nonetheless, firefighters weren't exactly pleased with the whole situation. Since emergency services are only available by dialing Triple Zero, the firefighters couldn't have known the girls were in the drain until someone called. The organization is even more concerned that contacting social networks, rather than dialing Triple Zero, will become a trend.

"While the MFS is pleased the situation was safely resolved, the MFS is urging all people, especially young people involved in an emergency, to always call Triple Zero for a guaranteed emergency service response," an MFS representative said in an e-mail. "Calling Triple Zero should always be the first communication people make during an emergency, as time is critical. Social networking sites rely on friends being logged on, noticing a message and taking a message seriously enough which potentially could lead to a dangerous delay."

The concern over people using social networks for help is a real one.

Last year, a father of a missing girl asked Twitter users to help him find his daughter. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disaster aims to help people find support during crises through social networks, like Facebook or Twitter. And the organization wants social-networking sites to become a first line of defense when humanitarian needs arise.

So it seems that emergency responders might need to deal with more social-networking usage going forward.

Are police officers and firefighters becoming an afterthought? Would you ping Facebook, Twitter, or your local emergency service first in a critical situation?