Dedicated to promoting learning and raising awareness on a wide range of health and safety issues, September always holds significant importance. Coincidentally, we would like to reserve the 9th month of the year to highlight three important numbers that everyone visiting and living in the UK should know...
999 - The official, free-to-call, 24/7 emergency telephone number for the UK.
Overview of 999
If you are unfamiliar with this emergency number, an operator will ask which service you require upon dialling. These include:
Primary Services (Most requested)
Fire & Rescue
Additional Services (available through one of the four primary services)
When should I call 999, and what is an "emergency"?
Only call 999 in genuine emergencies to save lives and ensure emergency resources are available. Misuse can waste resources, erode trust, and lead to legal consequences.
Here are some examples of what service you should request:
When should I ask for an AMBULANCE?
Only request an ambulance if you or someone else requires urgent emergency care.
Life-Threatening Injuries / Illnesses: This includes severe bleeding, chest pain, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, or suspected heart attack or stroke.
Serious Accidents: If someone has been involved in a severe accident, such as a car crash, fall from a height, or any incident that has caused severe injuries.
Breathing Difficulties: If someone is experiencing severe breathing difficulties, choking, or any condition making breathing hard for them.
Seizures: If someone is having a seizure that lasts longer than five minutes or if they are experiencing one for the first time
Severe Allergic Reactions: In cases of severe allergic reactions that involve symptoms like difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, or a rapid, weak pulse.
Unconsciousness: If someone is unconscious and unresponsive, it is important to call 999 immediately.
Severe Burns: In cases of severe burns where the burn covers a large area or is deep.
Severe Bleeding: If someone is bleeding severely and cannot be stopped with pressure or if there is a lot of blood loss.
Poisoning: If you suspect someone has ingested a poisonous substance, especially if they are showing symptoms.
Major Head Injury: In cases of major head injuries where there is a loss of consciousness or other serious symptoms.
Difficulty Speaking / Sudden Weakness: These could be signs of a stroke requiring immediate medical attention.
Childbirth Complications: If someone is in labour and experiencing complications, such as severe bleeding or the baby isn't moving.
When should I ask for the POLICE?
Only request the police for situations that warrant an immediate response from law enforcement.
Emergencies: Any situation with an immediate threat to life, property, or safety. This includes crimes in progress, violent incidents, or situations where someone's safety is at risk.
Violence / Assault: If you witness or are a victim of a physical assault, domestic violence, or any violent behaviour.
Burglary / Break-in: If you believe a burglary or break-in is in progress or has just occurred.
Robbery: If you are the victim of a robbery or witness one, or if you believe a robbery is in progress.
Serious Road Accidents: If you have witnessed or been involved in serious road accidents with injuries or when road safety is compromised, such as a hit-and-run incident.
Suspected Firearms / Weapons: If you see someone brandishing a firearm, knife, or any other dangerous weapon in an intimidating manner.
Public Disturbances or Riots: If you witness a large-scale public disturbance, riot, or violent protest.
Missing Persons: If you have concerns about a missing person, especially if they are vulnerable, such as a child or someone with a medical condition.
Kidnapping / Abduction: If you suspect or witness a kidnapping or abduction.
Sexual Assault: If you are a victim of or witness a sexual assault.
Dangerous Driving: If you encounter a driver who is behaving dangerously and putting lives at risk on the road.
Anti-Social Behavior: In cases where anti-social behaviour is causing immediate harm or fear, such as vandalism or harassment.
When should I ask for FIRE & RESCUE?
Only request fire and rescue services when you are facing a fire-related emergency or require immediate assistance with a situation involving hazardous materials or trapped people.
Fires: If you discover a fire in any location, whether it's a building, vehicle, forest, or any other area. Be prepared to provide specific details about the fire's location and nature.
People Trapped: If someone is trapped in a building or vehicle due to fire, smoke, or any other reason. Provide information about the location and the number of people involved.
Chemical Spills / Hazardous Materials: In the event of a chemical spill or the release of hazardous materials that poses a risk to life or the environment.
Road Traffic Accidents: If a road traffic accident results in a fire or a vehicle is involved in a collision and poses a fire risk.
Animal Rescues: When the RSPCA are unable to help in cases where animals are trapped or in distress and require assistance from the Fire and Rescue Service. This might include rescuing animals from deep bodies of water, pits, flooded areas or cliffs.
Flooding: In situations where flooding is causing a risk to life or property. This can include situations where individuals are trapped by floodwaters.
Building Collapse: If a building has collapsed or is at risk of collapsing.
Rescue from Height / Depth: If someone is trapped or requires rescue from a height, such as a cliff, a tree, or a confined space.
Water Rescues: If individuals are in distress in water, whether it's a river, lake, or the sea.
Elevator / Lift Rescues: If someone is trapped in an elevator or lift.
When should I ask for a COASTGUARD?
You should contact the Coastguard in maritime emergencies, incidents at sea, or along the coastline. Please note that it may be hard to get a signal around the coast with a mobile phone, but keep trying - your phone may be able to use another emergency phone network nearby.
Vessel in Distress: If you are on a boat, ship, or any vessel, and you encounter difficulties at sea, such as engine failure, taking on water, running aground, or any situation that puts the vessel or its passengers in imminent danger.
Swimmers or Boaters in Distress: If you witness swimmers or boaters in distress, struggling to stay afloat or unable to return to shore.
Missing Persons at Sea: If someone is missing at sea, whether they have fallen overboard, drifted away while swimming, or failed to return from a boating trip.
Cliff / Coastal Emergencies: In situations where individuals are stranded on cliffs, rocks, or coastal areas due to tides, weather, or other factors.
Watercraft Collisions: If there is a collision between boats, ships, or any watercraft that results in injuries, damage, or poses a risk of pollution/sinking/fire.
Maritime Pollution: If you witness a maritime pollution incident, such as an oil spill or hazardous material release at sea.
Flares / Distress Signals: If you spot distress signals, such as flares or smoke signals at sea.
Cut Off by the Tide: If individuals are cut off from the shore due to rising tides and require assistance.
Boat Fires: In the event of a fire on board a vessel at sea or close to the coastline, call the Coastguard to request firefighting and rescue assistance.
Medical Emergencies at Sea: If there is a medical emergency on a boat or ship, such as a heart attack or severe injury.
Origins of Emergency Services Day
Often called in moments of uncertainty and crisis, a lot happens once 999 is called. Ranging from:
The operators within six busy call centres dealing with approximately 35 million calls yearly. In the face of chaos and distress, these unsung heroes respond with unwavering composure, even amid abusive anger and demoralising panic.
The human beings (and their animal companions) standing by, ready to be called into action, aware that they are the lifeline for those facing their darkest hours - figuratively and literally. Enduring long hours from dusk to daybreak, they await the call that will plunge them into a crisis where civilians depend on their courage and expertise.
The unthanked volunteers who dedicate their time to helping heir communities, dealing with what might seem like "mundane" tasks. Yet, they understand that even the smallest of gestures can mean the world to someone in distress.
The aspired, with stars in their eyes. They look to carry the torch, stepping into the shoes of seasoned veterans, driven by a desire to make a difference for the future generation of callers.
The often-overlooked supporters who help to keep these vital places running smoothly. Their dedication ensures that facilities and equipment operate seamlessly.
This was acknowledged by a policeman named Tom Scholes-Fogg after he made the stark realisation that, unlike other countries, the UK did not have a single dedicated day to honour and promote the work that the NHS and emergency services do.
Driven by the motivation to change this and the words from his grandfather, he presented a plan to 10 Downing Street and secured the support of the Prime Minister at the time, Theresa May, in 2017. She stated:
‘As a nation, we are indebted to them for their courage and their sacrifice and it is absolutely right that we should honour their incredible service in this very special way.’
Following the support of Armed Forces Day, Emergency Services Day took place at 9 AM on September 9th (to represent the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month) and has been scheduled every year since. It is worth noting, however, that it was moved temporarily to the 19th of October in 2022, following the death of a royal supporter of the event, Queen Elizabeth II.
This year marks the 6th anniversary of the celebration, and after working alongside some of the aforementioned heroes, all of us at GLP Training believe these services deserve the gratitude and respect of the public they serve wholeheartedly.
Origins of 999
Having discussed the day dedicated to celebrating emergency services, let us delve deeper and explore why 999 came to be. Before its introduction in the 20th century, people in the UK had to rely on other methods to call for help.
Picture this - A fire has started down the road from your house. You are concerned that people are still inside the burning building as the smoke rises, and a crowd has gathered outside, gossiping about how the fire started.
To start the lengthy call for assistance, you would first have to hope that the neighbourhood owned a rotary phone and that somebody knew a number for a police station (or had a phonebook) - which you thankfully do. Sprinting inside again, you are now tasked with dialling the number as you hear an explosion in the distance.
Urgently flicking through the pages of the phonebook, you start dialling the following number: O-L-0-8-7-1-3 as you listen out for the clicks of the dial but are oblivious that you have mistaken the "L" for a "1" before the dial clicks. Anxious as nobody is on the line, you realise your blunder and must hang up to start again. This time, you dial correctly and make it through to the police station, but somebody else is on the line.
Frustration wells as you hang up the phone, but there is no time to dwell on the mishap. The fire was spreading fast, and your concern for those trapped inside grew with each passing second. You dialled the correct number this time, O-L-0-8-7-1-3, and impatiently listened to the clicks of the rotary dial.
Finally, after an eternity for your call to be manually connected, you heard a voice on the other end. "Police department, how may we help you?"
You quickly explain the situation, your voice trembling with anxiety and impatience. "There's a fire down the road, and people are trapped inside. Send help now!". You give your neighbour a relieved thumbs-up as they update the crowd as you continue to tell the dispatcher your name and address. Finally, the dispatcher assures you that they will send officers and firefighters to the scene, and help arrives 25 minutes later. Firefighters sprang into action, hoses spraying water to douse the flames, while police officers worked to keep the curious onlookers at a safe distance.
Part of the chaotic scene described was the reality faced during a fire in 1935, when a fire broke out at a doctor's house at 27 Wimpole Street, Marylebone. Five women lost their lives due to the problems faced by a neighbour who got stuck in a call queue at the Welbeck Telephone Exchange.
After expressing their frustrations in a letter to the editor of The Times, this led to a government inquiry and public outcry, as this tragedy had the potential to be avoided if a more efficient system was in place.
Hence, on the 30th of June, 1937, Assistant Postmaster General Sir Walter Womersley announced the start of the 999 service across the Oxford area - on top of being the first emergency telephone number in the world.
The initial choice from Walter and other engineers was openly mocked by The House Of Commons and praised by The Times. A week after the scheme was started on the 7th of July, 1937, the press reported the first arrest after a 999 call happened within 5 minutes. Also, within the first week of the 1336 calls made to 999:
1073 calls were genuine
171 calls misused the system
92 calls were grouped as 'curiosity calls'
The origin story of 999 is not merely a historical footnote but a testament to the paramount importance of efficient emergency response systems. It serves as a reminder that innovation in this critical field can save lives, protect communities, and leave an indelible mark on the world. The legacy of 999 resonates today, reminding us that in times of crisis, a simple three-digit number can be a lifeline to safety and security.
Recent News & Emergency Services
Mental Health Callouts, The Metropolitan Police and the NHS
Where would somebody get help related to a mental health crisis if someone dialled 999?
For example, Depression. Would it be up to an ambulance service to help someone already engaging in self-harm, or would it be the police to detain somebody calling 999 who is feeling suicidal?
The past answer would have been whoever was available. But on the 26th of July, a national partnership agreement called the Right Care, Right Person approach will shift this duty of care solely to ambulance services.
This is significant as the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and NHS England have all signed an agreement to end the “inappropriate and avoidable” involvement of police in responding to incidents involving people with mental health needs.
Instead, this will free up time for the police force to tackle organised crime, bringing back the "duty to protect and serve". Some police teams have already adopted this approach as they believe that they do not have the equipment or expertise necessary to deal with these complex cases. However, this leaves a void to be filled.
Health and social care leaders have warned that government plans to reduce the involvement of police officers in mental health callouts may leave people in crisis with nowhere to turn and a deadline being settled at the end of October. This also comes amid news of ambulance waiting times being at an all-time high and a concerning prediction of another winter crisis.
Right Care, Right Person... But is it the right solution?
There are three key points that this approach aims to change:
Police will now have the option not to attend mental health callouts unless there is a high safety risk or an actual crime occurs.
Anybody detained under the Mental Health Act must wait within police care for 1-12 hours before receiving medical care.
Police forces in the UK will go from attending 80% of mental health-related callouts to only 20%.
Discussion points for British values, Equality and Diversity and Democracy
Are there any democratic mechanisms in place for citizens to provide feedback or influence the policies and practices of emergency services?
How does the existence of a dedicated Emergency Services Day reflect the British values of respect, service, and gratitude for those who serve in emergency roles?
Can emergency services strike a balance between efficiency and maintaining a high level of public trust and confidence?
Does the recent shift in responsibility for mental health callouts from the police to ambulance services align with the principles of equality and inclusivity?