Effective handling of emergency calls

Control Measure Knowledge

Call management processes should be followed in each emergency call. The interaction between fire control personnel and the caller can change depending on the nature of the incident, the caller’s location and the predetermined response. Some mobilising systems display prepopulated questions and prompts to fire control personnel during a call. The system can link to a specific incident type list, so the correct advice is given and calls are quality assured.

Fire Service Circular 54/04 – Emergency Call Management provides national emergency call handling guidance to fire control personnel.

Fire control personnel are the first point of contact for the entire emergency side of the organisation. It is common to deal with people who are excitable, upset, distressed or confused. To obtain the required information fire control personnel should always be professional, supportive and calm.

Emergency calls are received in various ways and sometimes under extremely difficult situations. Apart from receiving calls from known agencies, calls from the public can be challenging if not handled properly, which in turn can delay the mobilisation of resources to an incident. When receiving call information, fire control personnel should record and input all details accurately into a mobilising system to allow the correct location to be displayed so that the correct resources are mobilised as quickly as possible.


The first verbal contact with the caller plays a vital part in focusing them to provide the correct incident details as quickly as possible. Salutations support fire control personnel in instantly engaging with the caller, so that they can efficiently manage the call.

Structured approach

As calls are received in various ways it is helpful to have a structured approach to answering calls and taking the most important information quickly and efficiently, whilst reassuring the caller.

Call challenging

During any emergency call, fire control personnel should use their judgement to identify where to call challenge. Call challenge is the targeted questioning of a caller, enabling fire control personnel to determine whether the attendance requires amendment. This process may also help to assess that the call is genuine.

Duplicate calls

When additional calls are received regarding an incident to which an attendance has already been mobilised, fire control personnel should gather any secondary information that may help to locate the incident, or determine what further action is required. This information can be relayed to other oncoming resources.

This information should be attached to the initial call sheet to enable accurate statistical data on the number of emergency calls received for that incident.

A call may indicate that there could be a second incident in the vicinity. For example, the caller may not agree that it is the same incident, and this cannot be guaranteed from looking at the map or asking ongoing personnel via the radio. In this case a second incident should be recorded and further personnel mobilised. It is essential that personnel going to both incidents are made aware of this to avoid any confusion and ensure dynamic risk assessments are carried out.


When collating call information, fire control personnel will filter out calls that may not require an attendance, in accordance with their risk management plan. These calls could include automatic fire alarm signals, people locked out of premises, incidents involving animals or flooding. Fire control personnel make an assessment and give relevant advice to the caller on the appropriate agencies or organisations to contact.

Relay UK

The Relay UK service allows deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired people in the UK alert police, ambulance, fire, or coastguard services by either calling via a relay assistant or texting a message to 999 using the emergency SMS service. The Relay UK website provides an explanation of how the service operates.

The call handling agency will announce to fire control personnel that the call is from a text user. Name and address details will be provided if they are available; however, details may not be available for users of some network providers.

If for any reason the relay assistant service is extremely busy, a call may arrive from the call handling agency without the relay assistant in conference.

Call interpreting services

In order to be able to quickly gather information, it may be necessary to use an interpreting service if fire control personnel are unable to clearly communicate with a non-English speaking caller.

The quickest solution may be to encourage the caller to pass their phone to somebody else to provide the details required. Otherwise, there are a number of agencies who provide interpreting services for a wide range of languages.

Silent Solution calls

Silent Solution allows for a mobile phone caller to dial ‘55’ to indicate that they are unable to speak. Silent calls are routed by the call handling agency to the police system, but fire control personnel should be aware of the process in case such a call is misrouted. On receipt of what could be a Silent Solution call, fire control personnel should hand the call over to the police force control room.

The Silent Solution system only applies to mobile phone calls, as it is normally possible to trace an address from a landline phone.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions