999: What's Your Emergency?
About the Show
An intimate and frank look at modern Britain through the eyes of the emergency services on the front line
Series 1 Summary
The volume of 999 calls has jumped by 60% in the last generation, with 31 million received in 2011. Filmed 24/7 with police, fire and ambulance teams in Blackpool over six weeks, from the moment calls are received, this documentary series shows how Britain is changing, through the eyes of the emergency services on the front line.
The series highlights issues ranging from the damage caused by drugs and alcohol to the reality of domestic violence, and from the dysfunctional way that some people bring up their children to the plight of those who slip through society's safety net.
Blackpool's emergency services are tackling the fallout from the dizzying array of 'party drugs' that are on the rise in towns across the UK.
Mephadrone - aka 'MCAT' and 'Meow Meow', and known as 'Bubble' in Blackpool - is available on many street corners. You can get a hit for the price of a pint of beer, but it can have highly unpredictable effects.
PC Kris Beasley, one of Blackpool's longest-serving beat cops, has seen it all, but he - alongside his police, ambulance and fire colleagues - is increasingly facing the fallout from punters who are playing a chemical lottery to get high.
Meanwhile the emergency services cope with a never-ending stream of calls, from a man exposing his penis at a railway station, to violent patients and rowdy suspects, including a pair of naked squaddies whose R&R has got out of hand.
This episode focuses on kids, who are taking up more and more of the emergency services' time, whether it's prank calls, bad behaviour or poor parenting.
PC Chris Hardy responds to a call from a terrified family who've had a brick thrown through their window and a gang of lads outside their house. The incident appears to have started when one boy called another 'fat' and the police take a 13-year-old into custody.
When a resident finds a three-year-old boy walking barefoot and alone down a back street, PC Mark Glass is dispatched to question the boy, find out where he lives and where his parents are.
PC Mike Ellis is sent to track down 12-year-old twin girls who've disappeared on the promenade after their father went drinking.
And a six-month-old baby is injured when his mother leaves him in the care of two teenagers while she goes out on the town.
Meanwhile police and ambulance are sent to help Andrea, a regular caller to 999 who has a drink problem and is looked after by her teenage daughter, who also acts as a parent to her younger brother.
And police are called out after tourists spot a woman performing sexual acts on teenage boys under the pier on the beach, just yards from families on holiday.
This programme focuses on relationships. When things go wrong, more of us than ever are dialling 999, asking the emergency services to pick up the pieces and protect us from those we used to trust.
An increasing number of 999 calls involve relationship disputes, but they're never easy to resolve.
The emergency operators are inundated with petty, non-emergency calls, ranging from people falling out over what they're watching on telly, to others arguing about computer games and who gets to keep the kitten when they split up.
But domestic arguments often erupt into violence - last year cases of domestic violence increased by an astonishing 35% within a single year.
Cases include a man accused of punching his girlfriend outside a pub, while another man is left with a serious wound after being stabbed in the stomach with a broken bottle.
Meanwhile PC Claire van Deurs Goss meets a heavily pregnant woman who claims to have been assaulted by her partner, but refuses to press charges. Another woman has been head-butted by her ex-boyfriend.
For the emergency staff, it's heart-breaking that children are often caught up in their parents' fights, with some as young as six calling 999 for help.
Paramedics Paul Atherton and Mandy Jenkinson are a couple as well as being life-saving colleagues. Paul's been popping the question for years, but will Mandy finally give in and say yes?
There's one night when everyone's up for a party: payday.
Whether you work a 50-hour week or depend on state benefits, the day that money hits bank accounts across the UK signals the beginning of drink-fuelled celebrations, a time to forget your troubles and blow off some steam.
For the call operators at Blackpool's emergency control centres hearing about our payday excesses is a weekly occurrence and money plays a part in many 999 calls, from serious burglaries to the callers reporting a lack of credit on their mobile phone.
Still suffering the impact of the recession, almost one in five households across the country have no one working. And money troubles are felt particularly keenly in Blackpool's South Shore area, which is ranked the ninth poorest community in the UK.
But having less money in your pocket doesn't stop local residents from heading out to the pubs and clubs to enjoy themselves on payday. The desire to party with your friends leaves those on benefits with a dilemma: 'eat for two weeks or drink for one night'.
The fire service deal with their biggest night of weekend revelry - bonfire night - when they see a five-fold increase in call-outs.
Meanwhile, the police are dealing with frequent caller, Lindsay Taylor, whose boozy bust-ups with her partner have resulted in 140 calls to her address.
And paramedic Alan Gardener is called to a man staggering down the street suffering the effects of what could be contraband alcohol.
This episode focuses on an issue that is keeping the emergency services busier than ever: people's state of mind.
A quarter of the UK population will suffer from mental health problems at some time in their lives.
And with the number of psychiatric beds falling by 80% in a generation, inevitably the emergency services are dealing with more people with serious mental health problems.
PC Dave Donafee is called out to a Halloween party that's turned into a street fight and he comes face-to-face with one of his 'regular customers' who threatens to take on six policemen.
Paramedic Sue McGrath is called to a man with a history of faking injury. Tonight he's deliberately run into a taxi and he's previously thrown himself down the stairs.
Another regular caller, who claims to have taken 40 pills, requires an emergency motorcade to take him to hospital - a cry for help with a big price tag.
Meanwhile there's a race to come to the aid of PC Stuart Gornall when he's confronted by a man wielding a large knife.
And when a body is found outside a block of flats, having fallen from the 14th floor, all three emergency services are called. They must face a traumatic situation and piece together what's happened.
Is it the result of foul play, or the tragic result of someone losing the battle with their inner demons?
This programme focuses on how women in our society are changing; whether it's putting themselves in harm's way as members of the emergency services, or the increasing number of women the 999 system is having to deal with.
Female emergency service workers reveal their motivations for doing the work that they do and the challenges they face on a daily basis, while the programme features young women for whom drink, violence and law-breaking have become commonplace and a perverse source of pride.
The number of women being admitted to A&E after excessive drinking has more than doubled in a decade and ten times as many women are arrested for being drunk and disorderly compared to ten years ago.
'Young ladies aren't much like young ladies anymore,' says paramedic Erica Reynolds. 'If you're looking for somebody to blame, it's the Spice Girls.'
The programme reveals young women who are increasingly using violence against friends, partners, strangers and the emergency services.
And the police officers reflect on what it's like to enter into violent and potentially dangerous situations. Some believe it can be easier for women than men to defuse confrontation.
Alcohol is fueling problems across the UK. Britain likes to drink and Blackpool is a magnet for stag and hen parties, with around 2000 clubs and bars.
'It's a mixture between a zoo and Jeremy Kyle's waiting room,' says Sergeant Dunne. 'We've practically turned into a nation of just drunkards really, haven't we?'.
'You learn a new language when you start working here,' says ambulance control operator Alex Bathgate. 'When I first started I couldn't understand a word anyone said. But four years down the line I can speak drunk quite fluently on a Saturday night.'
But there are more serious consequences to our alcohol consumption than falling over and having a sore head the next morning.
With more than a quarter of adults drinking to hazardous levels, alcohol is a major factor in half of all crime and more than 70% of violent crimes, and costs the NHS £2.7 billion a year.
It dominates the work of all three emergency services.
Alcohol is also a factor in a third of all fatal fires: 'Cigarettes and alcohol combined are a lethal combination,' says fire fighter Tony Barlow. 'That is a good majority of fires where people die.'
The programme also looks at other problems associated with excessive drinking, including anti-social behaviour and the fallout from alcohol dependency.
An increasing number of people are calling 999 with non-emergencies and hoax calls that are costing the already stretched emergency services millions and potentially diverting crews from genuine emergencies.
This episode focuses on life savers and time wasters, featuring calls to the emergency services about a range of non-emergencies, from culinary injuries to broken light bulbs, as bizarre as they are diverse.
But even more serious are the handful of people who abuse the emergency system by making hoax calls in the knowledge that they are potentially diverting an ambulance or fire engine from attending a serious injury or life-threatening situation.
The fire brigade are called to a string of non-existent fires by a 999 hoaxer, costing thousands of pounds and diverting emergency crews away from people who could be in desperate need.
But when he's eventually caught and interviewed the hoaxer can't offer an explanation for why he made the calls.
One man who's grateful for the fire brigade's prompt help is Martin Abbott, who's left badly injured when an out-of-control Porsche smashes into his car.
Meanwhile, when a desperate woman calls 999 to say that her husband isn't breathing, 23-year-old ambulance control operator Tracey Gardiner must teach the woman how to carry out CPR to keep him alive until the ambulance arrives.
This episode follows how Blackpool's emergency services deal with incidents involving people from outside the town.
With 13 million visitors each year, Blackpool is Britain's most popular seaside resort. While the older generation come to re-live the town's heyday, younger visitors - particularly those on alcohol-fuelled stag, hen and birthday weekends - are more likely to trouble the emergency services.
The police are called by angry residents whose gardens are being used as a toilet and bed for the night by inebriated visitors. And while some revellers wander the streets in the early hours searching for their hotels, others take up residence in the 24-hour McDonalds.
For many people who have hit hard times, Blackpool offers the hope of finding work or a fresh start. But an increasing number become marooned in poor quality bedsits in ex-hotels, often leading to social problems. Some people dial 999 looking for help or a shoulder to cry on.
Meanwhile fire crew manager Martyn Ball has to strike a balance between respecting cultural differences and preventing danger to the local community after being called to a Romany Gypsy memorial on public land in which the deceased's possessions are being burned on a bonfire.
This episode asks the police, ambulance and fire staff what they really think about the jobs they do.
With more and more social problems falling to them, the emergency workers frequently question how much of their work is made up of actual emergencies.
But time and again they reveal how proud they are to be protecting us from each other and from ourselves.
999: What's Your Emergency? synopsis
An intimate and frank look at modern Britain through the eyes of the emergency services on the front lineEpisode Guide >