London Fire Brigade

Frustrated firefighters issue prank 999 call warning

18 August 2010

With schools summer holidays well underway, London’s firefighters are asking parents to speak to their children about the consequences of making hoax 999 calls.

Every year London fire Brigade receives over 7000 hoax calls – 138 a week on average. Each one of these takes a 999 operator away from answering real emergency calls, and around 2500 of them actually see fire engines ‘mobilised’ to a fire that doesn’t exist.

A range of initiatives are having some impact  in bringing needless fire engine attendances down, but hoaxers still cause great frustration to the capital’s fire crews.

 “Clearly the biggest problem is that these calls could prevent a fire engine from attending a real fire or emergency and put lives at risk” said London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner Andy Hickmott, “but there are plenty of other reasons why these calls are a major headache for us.”

 “Every time we send crews out because of a hoaxer we are taking them away from training or community safety work, wasting taxpayers cash, damaging the environment and driving quickly on a blue light through London’s busy streets, all for a fire that doesn’t exist. This is not how Londoners want their emergency services to spend precious time and money”.

Referred to by the fire service as ‘malicious false alarms’, calls range from children phoning as a bit of fun, to people of all ages who are fascinated by the emergency services or looking for attention. London Fire Brigade is now hoping parents can play a part in reducing the calls by warning children who are bored and looking for something to do, that making hoax calls is not a joking matter and could put lives at risk.

Senior Operations Manager Joanne Stibbards from London Fire Brigade’s 999 control centre said: “We get some serial callers, including adults, who repeatedly call us from different phone lines then go off the radar for a while. Many other calls come in from children using mobiles or call boxes.

“Our control officers are trained to recognise and challenge potential hoaxers though. For instance, we can tell the caller we believe they are making a hoax call, or we can say we know they are in a call box and then reveal their exact location. Often this is enough to make a hoaxer hang up.”

The Brigade works with mobile phone operators and repeated hoax or abusive calls lead to around 100 mobile phones being cut off each year. If a pattern of hoax calls is emerging the Brigade can also pass on information to the police.

Working with the community is effective too, and London Fire Brigade’s youth engagement programmes provide opportunities for firefighters to meet young people and explain the dangers of anti-social behaviour like hoax calls and arson.

Hoax calls received in London, though not attended by a fire engine

2007/2008 = 6985
2008/2009 = 3369
2009/2010 = 3003 

Hoax calls that have led to London’s fire engine(s) being sent to a non-existent emergency:

2007/2008 = 2936
2008/2009 = 2846
2009/2010 = 2453

- Audio footage of real hoax calls is available - contact London Fire Brigade's press office on 020 8536 5922.
- Local hoax call statistics (London boroughs) are available on request.