999 PRANK CALLS: '˜What time does the pub open?'
'Can you change the battery in my TV remote?' and 'what time does the pub open?'
These are just some of the thousands of ‘prank’ calls that Derbyshire emergency services are faced with on a regular basis, costing thousands of pounds and wasting vital hours.
The lives of frontline police officers, firefighters and paramedics across the county are all being put at risk, when in fact they are trying their best to save lives themselves.
Prank, or hoax calls, are nothing new. But in a time when emergency services are dealing with a constant battle to balance the books, they are becoming even more of a nuisance.
A prime example is East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS).
EMAS finished last year in £12million debt and has some of the worst response times in the country.
And in the last four years, the ambulance service has received 29,000 hoax calls, with 8,562 in 2012, 7.798 in 2013, 7,433 in 2014 and 6,081 in 2015.
Pete Bainbridge, locality quality manager at EMAS for Derbyshire, said they do not tolerate this behaviour and will take legal action against prank callers.
“There are three types of 999 calls.
“The right call when someone is in a life-threatening condition and needs emergency medical help.
“The inappropriate call when someone believes they are calling on the right service or doesn’t know which health service to use and so dials 999 because it’s easy.
“The wrong call – hoax calls - where we are asked to respond to a patient that doesn’t exist, change the battery in a TV remote, or to help resuscitate a pigeon which has breathing difficulties.
Mr Bainbridge said it is “very frustrating” to respond to a 999 calls only to find out that a patient can not be located, although sometimes there is good reason for this.
“For example, a bystander may call 999 for someone they think is injured but the person isn’t hurt and leaves the scene before we arrive,” he added.
“However, many of these will be hoaxes and this type of call causes most annoyance because an ambulance resource travelling at speed to get to what turns out to be a hoax is an ambulance resource that isn’t available for someone who is in a real life-threatening condition.
“We do not tolerate hoax callers and where possible, take legal action against people who carry out such mindless acts.”
According to statistics obtained from a Freedom of Information request by the Derbyshire Times, Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS) received 406 hoax calls in 2014 and 415 in 2015.
Although these numbers are low compared to the EMAS figures, the impact and message is still the same.
“Minutes do really matter,” Bob Curry, general manager at DFRS said.
“It is really frustrating because we want to be able to respond to people when they really need it.
“The real issue is that a fire engine can only be in one place at one time. Hoax calls mean having to bring in fire engines from other areas.”
When the fire service receives a call, a person is asked for as much information as possible before a crew responds.
Mr Curry said: “We don’t just respond automatically.
“We do challenge people to find out what they can describe but some people are very clever.
“For example we had an incident where somebody had described to us a horse and a rider being in the Chesterfield Canal. It turned out to be a hoax and it wasted a lot of time.
“We visit children in schools to get the message of the dangers of making hoax calls and that has been successful.”
A Freedom of Information request to Derbyshire Constabulary revealed the force received 1,888 in 2012, 4,349 in 2013, 3,217 in 2014 and 3,288 last year.
Each individual hoax call is judged on its ‘seriousness’ but it can lead to up to six months in jail depending on the nature of the call and a fine of up to £5,000.
Superintendent Tracy Harrison, head of operations for Derbyshire Constabulary, said: “Public reporting is an important part of the fight against crime and any attempt to disrupt this service will be investigated thoroughly.
“Every time someone misuses the 999 they are potentially putting others’ lives at risk. This is especially true when we receive a large number of nuisance calls as it could impact on how quickly other emergency calls are answered.
“As a force we have taken action a number of times against people making hoax calls and these have resulted in prosecutions, fixed penalty notices and fines being issued.
“This behaviour is unacceptable and we will continue to actively pursue those who make malicious calls.”