ECC closes after 21 years

Former chairperson of the Emergency Call Centre (ECC), Bianca Bresler at work.

The Emergency Call Centre (ECC) – which has been a lifeline to many in the far south – has closed after 21 years of service to the community.

The centre, which was based at the Fish Hoek police station, took its last calls on Monday August 31.

The ECC was established in October 1999 by Fish Hoek couple Don and Sheila Henderson. The idea was to provide a one-number emergency response service
24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and that is exactly what they achieved.

The ECC was a non-profit organisation,and volunteers responded to emergency calls 24 hours a day. These included medical emergencies, fires, water leaks, baboons, intruders or snakes in the home.

Chairperson Bobbi Marshall said the service had started in the boiler house of False Bay Hospital and later moved to the Fish Hoek police station.

At its peak, she said, the ECC had received, on average, 350 calls a month and boasted 80 volunteers.

“Over the years, hundreds of local residents have volunteered their services, but in recent years the numbers declined and recruiting volunteers became more difficult,” Ms Marshall said.

In its 21 years of existence, she said, there had not been an hour when the phone had not been manned.

But now, she said, the City of Cape Town had greatly improved its emergency services and the public could now turn to the internet and apps to look up information or ask for help.

At the same time, the call centre’s membership had dropped sharply, it was impossible to recruit new members during lockdown and donations had been drying up.

Ms Marshall has fond memories of her seven years with the service.

She joined after seeing an article in the False Bay Echo calling for volunteers. She became its chairperson last year.

One of her most frightening moments during volunteering, she said, had been taking a call from an elderly man at 2am who had told her his wife was not breathing.

The man was in shock and could not give them the correct address. They called the Cape Medical Response (CMR) who drove around on their instruction trying to find the house.

“It was many years ago so I can’t remember the exact outcome, but his wife did not make it,” she said.

Jude Kendrick was one of the first volunteers and started out at the boiler house. She mostly worked night shifts, with the centre’s calls diverted to her home phone.

She recalled often speaking to elderly residents who would call for information, but then she would end up having a long conversation with them.

“Many of the elderly people were lonely and often called because they needed someone to talk to.”

The service had been very necessary at the time and while she was sad to see it close, it had run its course, she said.

Barbara Foster joined about nine years ago, after losing her husband. She also later joined the management committee and served as chairperson for two years.

She recalled taking a call from an Ocean View man after a large mirror had fallen on him.

“He was critically injured, and I had to get someone to him as soon as possible.”

A regular caller, Sue Dobson, said the closure was a “massive loss to the valley” as many elderly people relied on the service.

“My husband is the chairman of a small estate in the valley, and we often get calls from our elderly residents which we channelled through to the ECC.”

CMR spokesman Darren Zimmerman said the ECC had been an “extremely valuable” resource for the community over the past two decades.

“It is very sad that it will now close.”

He thanked all the ECC volunteers for the help and comfort they had given over the years.

Fish Hoek police station commander Lieutenant Colonel Jackie Johnson said the volunteers were part of the “Fish Hoek SAPS family”, and she wished them well.

Ms Marshall thanked the Galley restaurant, Phoenix Masonic Lodge and the people of the far south for supporting the ECC.

Blob: Emergency numbers:

Cape Medical Response – 082 782 444

Metro ambulance and emergencies – 107 from a landline or 021- 480 7700 from a mobile

Fire and Rescue – 021 590 1900

National Sea Rescue Institute – 021 449 3500

Municipal Complaints – 0860 103 089

Water problem SMS number – 31373

Electricity problem SMS number – 31220