Suffolk: Hoax fire calls are ‘risking lives’

FIREFIGHTERS have warned that “lives are being put at risk” by hoax calls.

New figures have revealed that Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service have been sent to homes and businesses 344 times after malicious and prank calls.

In scores of other incidents, operators have had their time wasted by screening out obvious pranks, youths hanging-up and others asking for help retrieving stuck toys.

According to a freedom of information request, text messages, pay phones and fire alarms have all been used to summon the emergency services.

Last night fire bosses said the calls, which are mostly made by teenagers and children, meant crews were being taken away from “genuine calls” and warned that culprits would be held to account.

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Mark Sanderson, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service assistant chief fire officer, said:

“Hoax calls are still a problem for the emergency services. Each time a fire crew responds to a hoax call, they are not immediately available to attend genuine emergencies.”

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Hoax calls peaked this year during the summer holidays, with about 30 calls in a six week period.

Although many calls were recognised as pranks by operators, others, including a report of a serious house fire with casualties, resulted in fire engines attending.

One caller asked for firefighters to help get his ball down from a fence.

Mr Sanderson added: “We want people to call us if they need our help but it is a serious offence to make a hoax call. All 999 calls from mobile phones and land lines are recorded and instantly traced. Where we believe that a call is a hoax, we will challenge this and take steps to hold the caller to account. In some cases, this includes having the mobile phone deactivated.”

Andy Vingo, chairman of Suffolk Fire Brigade Union, said: “Quite simply, it risks people’s lives.

“We would just ask people not to do it, it is not clever.”

Mr Vingo said the number of hoax calls attended had gone down in recent years due to the awareness and training of operators.

But he added that the merging of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire control rooms in October last year, briefly led to an increase in call outs as operators were unfamiliar with the local geography and so failed to notice the disparity between addresses of those making calls and the location of their reports.

The number of hoax calls attended by firefighters reached its peak in 2009 at 100, and fell slightly to 93 by 2010.

In 2011 it fell again to 67 and stands at 16 for this year.

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