A firefighter in West Cork made a series of hoax emergency calls that led to the deployment of the fire brigade to non-existent fires.
Michael Hurley, aged 39, from Clonakilty, received payments amounting to €360 for the bogus call-outs which, a court heard, were also undertaken because of the sense of excitement and camaraderie he felt by while on a response call.
Clonakilty District Court yesterday heard Mr Hurley, a father of four, was a member of the local fire service in the town, which is a retained fire service.
He pleaded guilty to 14 charges relating to seven incidents.
Supt Ger O’Malley, prosecuting, said on seven occasions, Mr Hurley made calls to fire control to say there was a fire in certain locations but all were found to be false. Payments received by Mr Hurley as a result of the hoax call-outs was €360.21.
“There was a financial aspect to his actions but there was also a sense of excitement in being called out,” Supt O’Malley said.
Mr Hurley, on being arrested, immediately accepted responsibility, co-operated fully with gardaí and expressed remorse. He had no previous convictions.
Jim Brooks, solicitor, said his client wished to apologise to all those he had hurt.
“What is critically important in assessing the situation is thankfully while the fire brigade was out on these hoax calls, no other calls came through that required their services in an emergency situation,” Mr Brooks said, adding this was “lucky”.
He said that since his arrest, Mr Hurley had apologised to each of his colleagues in the fire service, of which he had been a “proud” member for two and a half years.
“When gardaí came to his home with a warrant and asked the question was he involved in making hoax calls, he readily agreed that he had,” Mr Brooks said.
Mr Hurley told gardaí: “I’m disgusted with myself for wasting the time of the public and your time.”
Mr Brooks said there was a “partly” financial element to the hoax calls, but there was also “an element of excitement. He was anxious to be out, the camaraderie. Now he has lost all of that, needless to say.”
Mr Brooks said Cork County Council relieved Mr Hurley of his role in the fire service.
He said Mr Hurley came from a reliable and hardworking family; his wife was “shocked and hugely distressed”, and the incident had affected relationships within his family.
“He is left with little at this stage, little or nothing,” Mr Brooks said. He said his client was trying to make amends and build bridges and added: “It’s a real tragedy for him, judge.”
Judge James McNulty said: “This is a crisis for this man and to some extent, for his family. We have to ensure that we do not turn a crisis into a tragedy.”
The judge said the charges were serious and had been committed repeatedly, but also noted the lack of previous convictions.
“It would be very harsh to send this man to prison,” he said.
He gave Mr Hurley 210 hours of community service for what was “a big error of judgement” which he said would hopefully not mean the loss of love and family.
“Today is the day he walks out in the sunshine and puts all these events behind him,” Judge McNulty said.
“Today is the day he walks out of here and gets on with his life.”
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