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September 2023 - Emergency Services Day

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


Cave Rescue

Mine Rescue

Mountain 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?

When should I ask for the POLICE?

When should I ask for FIRE & RESCUE?

When should I ask for a COASTGUARD?


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.

An officer in uniform on a tablet

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


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?

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