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After fall, 81-year-old Chaska man credits Apple Watch for sending help

When Dennis "Nick" Nikolai, 81, of Chaska fell in his driveway, he wasn't near a phone. But then his Apple Watch asked him if he needed help.

CHASKA, Minnesota — At 81 years old, Dennis "Nick" Nikolai bought his first smart watch. 

"I'm still trying to keep up with the times," Nikolai said, laughing. 

Three weeks after the purchase, Nikolai is crediting the device for the quick 911 response he received after falling in his driveway in Chaska. 

"I just can't rave enough about it," he said. 

Saturday, Oct. 22, Nikolai decided he wanted to take advantage of the nice weather and change the oil on his snow blower, a task typically done for him by one of his family members. 

"I just want to help... I'm 81, body, but the brain says 25," said Nikolai, who uses a cane while walking. 

As Nikolai was seated on a chair in the driveway while working on his snow blower, he tried moving back. 

"That was a mistake. I backed up, alright. Boom. Over I went. Hit my head on the bumper and my shoulder, I don't know what I hit there," he recalled. 

Nikolai could not get up and his phone wasn't nearby. That's when his Apple Watch went off. 

"It said, 'We detected a fall. Do you need help?' I said, 'Yeah,'" Nikolai said. 

Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch Series 4 or later can detect a hard fall and connect the user to emergency services, if needed. There are other smart watches out there that are also capable of detecting falls. 

According to Apple, if the watch detects a hard fall, it sounds an alarm and displays an alert. The user can choose to contact emergency services or dismiss the alert. 

Nikolai's watch connected him to Carver County's 911 dispatch center. 

"I immediately heard that an Apple Watch had been activated — the jolt of it — and then it started giving me latitude and longitude information," said Linda Mullenbach, a 911 dispatcher for the Carver County Sheriff's Office. 

Mullenbach was then connected to Nikolai. 

"I don't want an ambulance. Send the cop over here to get my big butt off the driveway," said Nikolai, laughing. 

Chaska Police Officer Hunter Panning happened to be close by and within about a minute, he arrived and helped Nikolai up. Nikolai said he's appreciative of the officer who helped him and the technology on his wrist. He originally bought the watch as a way to monitor his heart rate. 

Without the watch and with no phone nearby, Nikolai said, "I'd have been laying there... I'd have been taking a nice snooze, that's for sure." 

According to Apple, if the watch detects the user is moving, it waits for the person to respond to the alert and will not automatically call emergency services. But if the watch detects the person has been immobile for about a minute, it will call 911. 

"Then the latitude, longitude would be a value to us so that we can locate them and get help to them," said Chief Deputy Patrick Barry with the Carver County Sheriff's Office. 

Last week, an Illinois doctor was working on his house outside when he fell into his basement egress well. After three to five minutes, according to NBC Chicago, he was able to climb out of the well himself but when he did, a police officer was standing in his yard. His watch had detected the fall and called 911 when he didn't respond. 

"Getting these phones and these watches out where people are having these activities really has become a big safety feature," said Tim Nyberg, owner of The MacGuys+. 

Nyberg said there are still issues with technology sometimes triggering false alerts. 

"What if you leave your phone on top of your car, and you drive away, and then the phone goes tumbling down the road, and it's going to make this phone call to 911 only for the responders to find your phone on the side of the road," Nyberg said. 

Those 18 and older can turn fall detection on or off although the feature turns on automatically for those age 55 and older. There's also an option to only have it on during workouts. 

Both the new iPhone 14 and Apple Watch have a feature designed to detect severe car crashes. There have been reports of it being triggered when users went on roller coasters. Experts suggest switching to airplane mode before getting on a ride. 

"There could be a lot of false positives with this but compared to the number of people that get their lives saved, I think it outweighs the negative," Nyberg said. 

"You never know when you're going to need emergency services," said Kevin Wright, public information officer for the Chaska Police Department. "You never hope to have to call them. But to be in an area where you might not have access to a phone, or a landline, or your cell phone may be out on the counter... to have that ability to have technology help you when you're in a distress or in an area where you can't call for help, it helps us to provide good customer service and then also have the best possible outcome." 

Nikolai agrees. Although he's bruised up, he said, "I'm just so thankful and blessed that it all worked out." 

While the watch was able to connect Nikolai to 911, Barry stressed there is a statewide shortage of 911 dispatchers, including in Carver County. Job openings can be found, here

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