On Saturday 30 June 2012, the world's oldest emergency call service, BT's 999, entered its 75th year. The 999 service was established in 1937 following a house fire that resulted in the tragic deaths of five women.
Early one November morning in 1935, two men separately noticed a fire in a house on London's Wimpole Street. Both sought to raise the alarm but only one was successful. Milkman Frank Kocher ran down the street and broke the glass of a fire alarm call point connected to the local fire station. In the house opposite the fire, Dentist Dr Norman Macdonald picked up his phone and called the operator. On this occasion, the operator didn't pick up.
Although the fire service quickly attended Frank Kocher's alarm and all agreed that the fire was beyond their control, Dr Macdonald wrote to The Times newspaper to complain about the lack of operator response. This letter triggered public debate and an investigation into improved emergency call handling by the Postmaster General. The review resulted in 999, the national short code for free emergency calls to the police, fire and ambulance services.
In the week after the service was established (London, 30 June 1937) 999 operators fielded over 1000 calls. By 2012 the number of 999 calls received per week averages a massive 597,000, with each operator working from one of BT's many call centres handling an average of 250 emergency calls every day.
Throughout the years, BT has continued to expand and develop the 999 service. They provide a text relay service for people who are deaf or speech-impaired from a call centre in Liverpool and 999 is also the emergency number for the coastguard and cave and mountain rescue services.