Fire crews based in some rural areas of Northern Ireland take an average of four times longer to reach emergency incidents in their area than their colleagues based in Belfast.
This is one of the key findings from an investigation into Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service call-outs carried out by Belfast-based investigative news website The Detail .
Detailed data released in response to a Freedom of Information request shows that firefighters based in three Belfast stations took an average of four minutes to respond to 999 call emergency incidents over the last two years – compared to an average of 18 minutes for Pomeroy and Newtownstewart crews.
And at least £62 million was spent in 2011 and 2012 responding in good faith to 22,207 emergency calls that turned out to be false alarms – 1,396 of these incidents were malicious false alarms.
The fire service said malicious false alarm calls or hoax calls are “a complete waste” of its resources and leave a crew temporarily unavailable to respond to genuine emergencies.
Information provided by the fire and rescue service related to the 51,669 call-outs fire crews from Northern Ireland’s 67 fire stations attended during 2011 and 2012. The incidents included fires, road accidents, animal rescues and special service calls.
Northern Ireland’s firefighters serve a population of 1.7 million over an area totalling 5,500 square miles. There are 67 fire stations based in cities and larger towns manned by full-time or part-time firefighters or a combination of the two.
The busiest fire station over the two-year period was Central at Bankmore Street in Belfast with 3,596 call-outs over the two-year period – an average of almost five a day. Meanwhile, the volunteer firefighters at Rathlin Island Station attended no incidents during 2011 or 2012.
Fire crews also responded to 4,166 special service calls. These are all types of rescue incident and included eight farm accidents, flooding incidents and road accidents.
There were 260 call-outs involving a child or children. Incidents included fingers trapped in a plug hole, children stuck in the bath, locked in cars, a two-year-old who had to have a potty removed from their head with a bolt cutter and children involved in road accidents.
A total of 336 call-outs referred to animals and included a pony removed from bogland using slings, lines and an inflatable walkway; a cat removed from barbed wire with bolt cutters; a seagull rescued from a TV aerial and 65 piglets rescued from a shed due to flood water.
Assistant chief fire officer Dale Ashford said the service continually monitored its performance and service delivery and "will deal with any issues or concerns that arise to ensure we are always ready and able to respond to the needs of our community."