Updated: Jan 31, 2022
September 9th marks national 999 Day. A date chosen for its numerical significance the actual “999” phone line was first launched on 30th June 1937. With about 30million calls a year it is a service that we can take for granted.
I got to thinking how often have I dialled “999” and how I have used the service. So I thought it would be of interest, to recall these instances and describe my various experiences. These are from memory, and as any psychologist will tell you we choose what to remember.
The first time I recall dialling “999” was when I was still at school, I would be about 17, so that would be about 1984. I was walking home from my mate’s house at about 11pm when I noticed an odd-looking chap outside the local corner shop in Stonegate, Spalding. When I got home before I went to bed I leaned out of my bedroom window to see if he was still about, only to witness him clouting the shop window with a heavy object. I dashed through to my sleeping parent’s bedroom to use their phone (no cordless phone at that time) to have them wake up telling me off as I was phoning the police. Because, I had clocked the guy earlier I was able to give a detailed description of him, and whilst I was phoning, the window smashed. My father and I went out to the front gate to see what we could see whilst waiting for the police, who arrived in three or four minutes speeding past the shop. Within ten minutes they returned with the offender arrested in the back of the car and pulled up and thanked me for the call. Apparently my description was so good that the local policeman new who the offender was and went straight to his nearby home to pick him up. Dad turned to me and said, “Well that’s handy, he now knows who you are and where you live.” “Yes, Dad, but I also know where he lives,” was my reply.
The second “999” incident I recall would be in the late 80’s. Walking down Broad Street, Spalding one evening I saw two youths smash a shop window in Elsom House and steal something out the window. I took chase, but they were too quick to catch so I dialled 999 from a call box. The police arrived in seconds. I was able to give a description, but they had vanished into the ether.
The next occasion was again in the same decade. I was working late at Barclays Bank Long Sutton and left the branch and started my car only for it to fill with smoke, similar to cigarette smoke. This car was a lime green Austin Allegro with a brown vinyl roof. Some would say, “Let it burn”, but I had only just bought this car following my previous car being written off by PC Hogg of Northamptonshire police when he rammed me from behind in a police van at a roundabout close to their headquarters! When my car filled with smoke, I took the keys out the ignition, walked back to my office, and phoned my father to ask what to do, “Phone the bloody fire brigade”, was his response, which I did. They arrived, disconnected the battery and no more smoke! The car was under warranty and inspection by a car electrician found no obvious fault. I had no further problem with this car……well, other than wheel bearings failing and having to have the gear box reconditioned when third gear failed! Allegro was apparently synonymous with “All Agro”.
The 90’s saw three incidents where I dialled treble nine. The first was rather sad, a person called into the office where I was working and asked me to phone for an ambulance as a lady had returned to her parked car to find her husband unresponsive in the driving seat. Whilst I phoned a colleague, an experienced first-aider went out to see if he could help. After, a few minutes he came back into the office and told me to tell the ambulance not to hurry as he was stone cold dead. I could not believe he said this and the call handler at the other end of the phone was not impressed.
Also, in that decade I experienced a bank raid. I was working on the counter at Barclays Holbeach when my colleague came to the till and told me to press the alarm and call the police because the cash delivery man had just been robbed at gunpoint. I was told that the police had already been called and within about 10 minutes or so had two armed policemen standing in the banking hall. I had seen nothing of the incident. A man was eventually arrested, charged and went to court. Unfortunately he was acquitted, and the Bank had to exchange the die-stained money found in his possession so that the police could return it to him! No doubt his defence lawyer was possibly a greater beneficiary than the accused!
In 1997 I bought my first house. That November I witnessed a young lad walking down the street throwing fireworks at people’s houses. I dialled 999. The call went roughly like this:
Call handler, “So do you know who the youth is?”
Me:”No, but I know him by sight as local and can describe him.”
Call handler: “I’m sorry Mr Elsden but we have no-one available to come out.”
Me: “So shall I deal with him myself?”
Call handler: “No sir, I do not recommend that.”
Me; “OK, so if you cannot come out you are telling me to do nothing.”
Irate I broke off the call, stalked off to the bottom of the road to find the little bastard trying to post lit fireworks through the letterbox of an empty house. I drag him around to the back of the houses, empty his bag and pockets of all fireworks, cigarettes and lighters and throw them into the nearby dyke before letting him go. As the call handler said, “not to be recommended”.
My next “999” call was in 2006, I was walking through Holland Market, Spalding when I saw a gang of youths that I knew by sight as people to steer clear of as they lived my end of town. They were distinctive because they always wore burberry style caps. In this instance I saw one of them stuff a billiard ball or large stone into a sock before the clearly angry group stepped into Halfords. I stepped into the neighbouring shop and dialled 999. This was a most frustrating experience as the call handler told me that they were not prepared to send police out on the say so of the public. Whilst I was arguing my case she suddenly said, “Wait a minute, we have a call from an off duty policeman inside Halfords.” Apparently, this gang had gone into Halfords to try and rob them and were having a resulting altercation with staff. I asked if I needed to assist him, and was told to wait where I was. I complied and eventually after the incident died down a uniformed officer took some details from me and I heard no more.
The next occasion was about four years ago, a neighbour came to my door on a Sunday morning and asked if I could phone the 111 NHS helpline for her. Her lips were blue and I got her to sit down in my house as she was having difficulty breathing. I phoned 111, but they quickly converted it to a 999 call. She had COPD and had contracted a chest infection, when the ambulance crew arrived they said that I should have dialled 999 straight away as her oxygen levels were critical. Sadly she passed away this last year, separated from her family unable to visit due to Covid restrictions.
The last “999” call I made was one afternoon last year when I noticed four doors away a bon fire had set light to a conifer tree that was adjacent to terraced houses. I was one of several to call the fire brigade and they arrived within minutes and quickly put out the fire before it spread.
So, in 54 years I have made 9 emergency calls, in addition I have benefitted from a call being made for me when I had a car accident near Waddington. I suffered a concussion and to this day have little or no recall of the event. I will, however, be forever grateful to the policeman from North Hykeham that arrived and identified that I was wandering around concussed and got me an ambulance and then later helped me fill in the gaps regarding the incident. I feel he acted over and above and treated me with great sympathy and care.
We should never take “999” and the services provided for granted.