Happy 80th Birthday 999

Today marks 80 years since the emergency call system 999 was launched in London on 30 June 1937 and it was the first of its kind in the world, introducing a special signal indicating to the telephone operator that the call must receive immediate attention.

The 999 call system was introduced after a two-year inquiry, following the deaths of five women in a fire at Wimpole Street in London in 1935.

The choice of 999 was because in the dark or in dense smoke 999 could be dialled on the old rotary telephones by placing a finger against the dial stop and rotating the dial to its full extent three times.

The first week of the service saw it take more than 1,000 calls. They were indicated by red lamps and a loud klaxon.  The first call was made by a Mrs Beard in Hampstead, north London, and led to the arrest of burglar Thomas Duffy.

Now, Staffordshire Police takes about 146,000 999 calls a year. Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday morning are the busiest times for 999 calls and we have a target of answering 90% within 10 seconds.

Matt Goldsmith, Contact Services Manager, said: “We urge people who have dialled 999 for a genuine reason and then decided that the police are not required to stay on the line and speak to one of our call handlers.  We will always call them back to make sure all is ok and this can take time and impact on others who have an emergency.”

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