999 Day: Real stories from Cambridgeshire’s emergency call handlers
999 Day is an annual event that takes place on 09/09 which celebrates emergency service workers up and down the country.
The constabulary’s call handlers are ordinary people who have the extraordinary job of answering emergency calls from people in some of their very worst moments. To them, saving lives and providing comfort and reassurance to those who need it most is all in a day’s work.
To commemorate 999 day, we are going to be taking a step into the shoes of some of our emergency call handlers and hearing about some of their real life stories.
Initially raised by a fellow 999 operator, one of my most memorable calls was a “kidnap” reported back in 2020. The initial caller was a third party with very limited information of the incident but did provide a contact number for the ‘victim’ who had called them reporting they had been kidnapped!
The ‘victim’ was called but failed to answer, meaning that we had to conduct a variety of investigatory enquiries to establish the caller’s details – including liaising with our intel department, our inspector and phone providers. During this time, I was able to establish the name of the ‘victim’ by utilising and interrogating systems, work out the school that they attended, and the coach company used.
I managed to contact the coach company who amazingly had a live tracker for the coach involved. We quickly established the call was likely not as feared, however continued efforts to locate the caller and ensure their welfare. Having spoken to the driver we were able to establish where the caller was dropped off and eventually managed to catch up with them – thankfully confirming they were fine, and it was a hoax call made by a friend.
Whilst this is by no means the most horrific, difficult, or demanding call, for me it stands out because it demonstrates the holistic importance of our role as call handlers and our ability to make a substantial difference alongside and collaboratively with colleagues across the force.
I received a call from a male whose brother had just been stabbed and the suspect was still on scene but was making attempts to flee in a vehicle.
Obviously the caller was very distressed and the call was quite chaotic. I needed to risk assess the situation, attempt to calm the situation down and ensure that I got vital information from the informant. I needed to know about the suspect and the vehicle they were in, in order to pass the information on to officers who could then apprehend the suspect, but I also had to ensure the victim received vital medical attention.
I received an email from the officer dealing with the incident who confirmed that the information I had gathered ensured the arrest of the suspect. They also let me know that thankfully, the victim did not receive any life threatening injuries.
A few months ago, I had a call from a desperate man who wasn`t allowed to see his children. Upon answering the call, the man’s first words to me were that he is picking up his shotgun and he is going to an address to shoot his wife, unless we do something to allow him to see his children.
That call sticks with me as it was very intense. The risk was high and the potential harm was very high, too. I had to do everything I could to persuade that man not go ahead with his actions and plan. Thankfully, the incident ended without anyone being harmed.
During this particular call, I tried to diffuse the situation by mentioning to the caller the repercussions of his intended actions and how they would make those involved feel, whilst also reminding him of the things that really matter. I learned these skills from my hostage negotiation days, which do come in handy with this job.
During calls like this, my focus increases and I can only describe the feeling as like Popeye after having his spinach- like I’m hyper focused and I’m trying to do everything as quick as possible. Sometimes I do feel frustrated during calls like this if things don`t move as fast as I would like, but due to my age and experience, I am now able to remain calm despite the frustration and never panic.
After the call, I felt a bit tired but mostly relieved that no one was hurt and we had a good resolution. I also felt good that I did my bit in maybe saving someone from being seriously injured.
I recently took a call from a high risk missing person who was making threats to kill themselves. I stayed on the call for over an hour listening to them, offering any advice I felt may help in their lives, whilst also trying to convince the caller to tell us where they were.
Multiple times through the call they lost consciousness as they had a ligature around their neck. I eventually convinced them to agree to tell me their location. I remained calm and got a map of their city up and worked through all the known areas. Eventually they told me where they were, and officers headed there straight away.
They were found in a serious condition and an ambulance took them to hospital. It felt good to know the effort I put in keeping them engaged and on the line with me probably saved their life. But we take calls like this almost every day and we all do everything we can for the public that contact us.
I dealt with a call where a man was concerned about his suicidal girlfriend who was on the bridge threatening to jump off. I stayed on the phone with him the whole time until officers arrived and even managed to speak to the woman and get her off the bridge.
I was on this particular call for almost an hour, trying to keep them talking until officers arrived. The whole time whilst on the phone, I was speaking to the man and he was relaying the messages to his girlfriend, reassuring her that we are here to help and convincing her not to jump.
It feels good to know the time you put in with the caller is helping someone on the other side.
We are marking #999Day today by thanking our call handlers, dispatchers and FCR staff for their role in making Cambridgeshire a safer place for everyone.
Not only are they caring, compassionate and composed, but they are resilient, quick-thinkers, difficult decision-makers, multi-taskers, excellent listeners and so much more. Please join us in thanking them for their hard work today.