Calling 999

is always free and you can dial from a private, public or mobile telephone.

A guide to calling 999

1 Should I call 999?

  • Don’t be afraid to call. If you’re unsure whether it’s an emergency, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Dial 999 and report what you’re seeing.
  • Don’t try to contact your local fire station or fire safety team in an emergency. Dial 999 and talk to a control room operator, emergency resources can only be mobilised from there.
  • Don’t assume someone else has called 999. If you see an emergency, make the call.
  • No matter how small the fire, we recommend calling us out to deal with it. Small fires can spread quickly and the smoke can be toxic!
  • If there’s a fire in your house or flat, get out and call us. Don’t go back in for any reason. We aim to be there in 6 minutes and have the training needed to put the fire out quickly.

2 What to expect

When you dial 999, a BT operator will ask you what service you need.

The four main 999 services are:

  • Fire and rescue
  • Ambulance
  • Police
  • Coastguard

The BT operator will be able to see your number; even if you’ve blocked it. This is a safety feature which allows us to work out the rough location of the fire.

If you ask for Fire, you will be put through to a fire control room, where you will speak to a fire control room operator. You will not be passed to your local fire station. Fire control room operators will send the nearest fire engine with the specialist equipment needed to deal with the incident. This may not be from your local fire station.

3 What information do we need?

What is the postcode?

If you don’t know your postcode, try to give us as much information as possible; are there any local landmarks? What’s the street name, what London borough are you in?

At this stage, we’ll start sending out fire engines to you while we gather more information.

What is the situation?

Is it a fire or a car crash? Is anything on fire? If so, what is on fire? This is important to know so we can decide how many fire engines and what equipment to send.

Is there anybody trapped/still in the building?

We need to know this so that we can give those trapped fire survival guidance – this is only done if a member of the public absolutely cannot get out.

If you don’t have all the information above, it’s still better to call and give us the information you do have.

Though it may feel like we’re asking too many questions and that your call is taking too long to deal with, don’t worry. We send fire engines to your location the second we have an address.

We gather further information from you while the fire engines are on their way so that we can inform our crews, meaning they have as much information as possible when they arrive at the scene.


4 Help describing your location


If you don't know the postcode, or can't spot any local landmarks, the what3words app can be used to pinpoint your exact location.

The app divides the world into 57 trillion squares, each measuring 3m by 3m, with each square having a unique, randomly assigned three-word address.

The app is free to download and available on Apple and Android devices. Download it now to save time in an emergency.

What3words screengrab

5 Contacting 999 via text message

If you cannot make voice calls, you can contact the 999 emergency services by SMS text from your mobile phone.

You will only be able to use this service if you have registered with emergency SMS first. Text ‘register’ to 999. You will get a reply – then follow the instructions you are sent.