Under a new communications system installed by the Irish fire service called the Computer Aided Mobilisation Project (CAMP), all emergency calls are automatically diverted to central call centres manned by professional operators. They instantly send alerts to the nearest fire station and page the beepers of all its firemen.
But although the system has improved the response time of the fire service, it has also emboldened the hoaxers because the chances of their voice being recognised is greatly reduced.
“It’s getting a lot worse. If someone wants to make a hoax call, they are put through to the centre in Limerick and they feel much freer because of the remoteness,” Waterford County Chief Fire Officer Tony McCarthy said.
In the past, fire officers foiled hoax callers by asking for a number to ring back or using their local knowledge to eliminate bogus addresses. But now most of the fire calls in Munster and Leinster are dealt with by CAMP and the operator must instantly relay the callout to the station.
Most hoax calls are made by bored teenagers in deprived areas, the conference was told, but in Mr McCarthy’s area, a drug dealer under surveillance by gardaí used to make regular hoax calls to the fire station. The fire brigade would be called out and a squad car would usually follow it, leaving the dealer free to attend to ‘business’.
Sigma Wireless Communications, the company that created CAMP, said it was possible to record all hoax calls.
“Very often, the operator will play it back to the local station commander beforehand and all calls can be investigated by the guards,” said accounts officer Jim Ryan.
The Chief Fire Officers Association now fear hoax callers are an endemic problem.
“The biggest issue is that every time you go to attend a hoax call, it might be during a real emergency,” said chairman Tony Gleeson.