The Home Office and the National Fire Chiefs Council have worked closely together, in conjunction with BT, to develop the new procedure, Operation Willow Beck, with the majority of fire and rescue services in England, Scotland and Wales signing up to be part of it. The new arrangements went live in early April as a six-month trial.

Fire and rescue services will continue to have their own arrangements in place for their calls to be redirected to other fire services during increased demand but sometimes the number of calls are too high for those partner services to deal with, putting pressure on the emergency 999 network.

The new procedure, Operation Willow Beck, provides a pre-determined call distribution plan. This means that during times of extreme call demand, the calls can be spread to a wider number of control rooms, limiting the number of calls taken by one single control room so they do not become overwhelmed. This will allow for quicker call answering, and improved resilience across all control rooms at no extra costs to individual fire and rescue services.

NFCC has also produced guidance for fire service control rooms on the call handling process if Operation Willow Beck is instigated by a service due to a high volume of 999 calls.

The launch on April 4 began a six-month pilot of the scheme. Some testing of the redistribution plan and processes were carried out in the lead up to the pilot launch, with another one taking place in early May following the launch.

Fire Minister Lord Greenhalgh said: “I am delighted that Operation Willow Beck has now gone live.

“This scheme will allow BT operators to divert 999 calls from busy fire services to several other services who can provide assistance. This will not only provide extra resilience to our fire control rooms during times of high demand, but also help reduce pressure and help save lives.

“This is a huge achievement due to the collaborative hard work and effort of the Home Office, NFCC and BT.”