Bogus calls a worry for fire service in Longford

 

Almost one-third of the calls to Longford town's fire service in the past two years were bogus, wasting about €70,000 in unnecessary call-outs, the fire service has said.

Gardaí say a number of people have been questioned in connection with the calls, and they are hopeful court proceedings will follow.

Mr Vincent Mulhern, chief fire officer in Co Longford, said between 25 and 30 per cent of calls to the fire service in the town in the past two years were bogus.This is about treble the rate of crank calls in other midland towns such as Mullingar, Athlone, Tullamore and Portlaoise.

The number of bogus call-outs was "intolerably" high in Longford last Christmas and during the New Year holiday, said Mr Mulhern. A bogus call was received on Christmas Day.

Advertisements have been placed in local papers offering €500 to anyone with information that leads to a prosecution.

Since the ads were placed the number of calls has finally fallen, said the fire service.

The problem has been occurring for about two years, and Mr Mulhern blames the rise on ready-to-go mobile phones whose calls he says cannot be traced.

The calls, which are usually made on weekend nights, have come from more than one person, gardaí say. They stressed that the investigation is ongoing.

Mr Mulhern said the service in Longford town gets about 250 calls a year.

Approximately 70 of these are bogus, compared with one or two crank calls that are received annually in other towns in the county.

Each bogus call-out costs as much as €500. Each year, said Mr Mulhern, about €35,000 of the service's budget is spent responding to bogus calls.

A main concern of the service is that people may die in a genuine emergency because the fire service could not be there on time due to being elsewhere on a bogus call, said Mr Mulhern.

Some 60 calls to the service a year involve cutting people out of crashed cars.

Mr Mulhern said that thankfully such an emergency had not occurred while the service was on a bogus call-out, but "if they were to have continued . . ."

When an emergency call is received, about 13 firemen are mobilised, said Mr Mulhern, adding that they are not waiting in the station for a call. They are on standby and are usually at work or at home with their families when the call comes through, he said.

This money spent on bogus calls is needed elsewhere: upgrading equipment and, especially, the training of staff, of which there is a high turnover, he said.