75 years of 999 celebrated in style
3rd July 2012
CWU members at all the BT sites which handle emergency
calls marked the 75th anniversary of the 999 service on Friday.
Celebrations were held across the country to commemorate the immeasurable contribution by all those who have staffed the service over the three quarters of a century. Cake cutting ceremonies and local presentations provided a timely reminder of the importance of a service that, apart from saving countless lives, has proved to be one of Britain's most copied innovations.
CWU member of Lincolnshire and South Yorks branch, Susan Derbyshire, cuts a celebratory cake above.
The first emergency number in the world was
introduced back in 1937 on the recommendation of a special
committee set up by the Postmaster General in the aftermath of a
London house fire in 1935 which claimed five lives.
In that incident, the person raising the alarm had called the operator from his home telephone to ask for the fire brigade but had been unable to get through.
At that time, emergency services could be called either through the operator or via fire alarm telegraph points in the street, while police officers were able to use police call points and public telephones had emergency call buttons.
The Postmaster General's committee of enquiry
resolved that a single, dedicated emergency number would ensure
that everyone knew exactly how to alert the emergency services
promptly in such situations and the 999 system was introduced
across London that year.
In 1938, Glasgow exchanges adopted the system but plans to roll out the service nationwide had to be put on hold until after the end of World War Two.
Back then, telephone exchange workers belonged to the Union of Postal Workers (UPW), and it was UPW members, UCW members from 1982 and CWU members today, who have made this service the success it is with their professional and efficient responses to emergencies.
While the 999 number itself is not ubiquitous, it is used in more than 20 countries worldwide. Even where different numbers (including 112 and 911) are used, the concept is identical to that pioneered by the founders of a great British institution.
"This anniversary is a milestone in BT's
history and at the CWU we're delighted that the company has
gone out of its way to celebrate the vital public service that the
999 service represents," explains CWU assistant secretary
"999 operators have a history of going beyond the call of duty - not just diligently responding to daily emergencies of every magnitude but also providing a lifeline in the hardest of times, be it war, terrorist attacks, riots or natural disasters.
"They've provided an excellent service - and always have - and it's only right that their massive contribution is remembered and appreciated."
Archived images courtesy of BT Archives.