Warning that hoax calls to fire crews risk lives

Hoax calls make up one in four of the false alarms to which fire crews are dispatched in Cork City and county every year.

A total of 107 malicious callouts were received in the Cork City area alone in 2014.

The city service had received a total of 581 calls that year which were not real emergencies.

In the same year, 85 of the 247 false alarms to which Cork County Fire Service tasked personnel and fire engines had been hoaxes.

The figures, latest statistics show, were similar for 2015.

Of the 579 false alarms responded to by Cork City fire brigade, 100 were as a result of malicious calls while Cork county fire officers attended the scene of 215 false alarms in 2015, 65 as a result of hoax calls.

The figures were provided by Environment Minister Simon Coveney in response to a parliamentary question from Cork South–Central TD Michael McGrath.

The minister explained the rest of the false alarms which were responded to were as a result of “good intent” calls — the caller honestly thought there was an incident which required attendance, such as a fire alarm going off but where there was not actually a fire.

Cork county sub chief fire officer Kieran O’Donovan said false alarms accounted for approximately 10% of all callouts.

He highlighted just how much of an impact false alarms can have on the service.

Most callouts, he said, are “two-pump”. That means two fire fighting crews will attend. In many cases, each area only has one fire engine.

As a result, in the event of a call being a hoax, there is unlikely to be another fire engine, also referred to as an appliance, free close by.

Furthermore, Mr O’Donovan pointed out that, for example, if a call came in through the central control facility in Limerick to a road accident on a country road in Cork — which ultimately turns out to be a false alarm — the fire engines must spend time combing that area to make sure they have not missed it.

“They have to satisfy themselves completely that it is a hoax call,” he said.

Cork South–Central TD Michael McGrath
Cork South–Central TD Michael McGrath

Mr O’Donovan also said there was a catch-22 situation. The fire service, he said, does not want to deter people from making calls if they see something which might appear to be serious, but which ultimately turns out not to be a non-emergency.

“But then we have people who just do it out of devilment,” he said. “It is a conscious decision which initiates the callout.

“People should be aware of the implications when they initiate a malicious call. It may be in a large area where there may not be immediate cover.”

Mr O’Donovan said the hoax callouts tend to come from younger age groups, who may not consider the consequences.

Mr McGrath, who had sought the information from Mr Coveney, said it was incredibly difficult to understand the mindset of anyone who would deliberately send the fire service off on a wild goose chase, knowing that doing so was not only costing the State money but also putting the lives of others at risk given that the fire service may not be able to respond in a timely fashion to a genuine call.

Mr McGrath said: “It is probably exceptionally difficult for the authorities to follow up on such hoax calls, but where it is possible to do so it should be done and anyone found to have engaged in this practice should be reprimanded in a serious way.”


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