Menace of the hoax callers

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HOAX callers have wasted Wigan fire crews’ time more than 170 times in the last three years - putting lives at risk in the process.

According to official fire brigade figures, fire engines were mobilised on a staggering 176 occasions to fake 999 calls across Wigan since April 2009.

And a breakdown of the borough’s hoax calls reveals that the most fake call-outs have been to Pemberton, followed by Douglas, Hindley and Ince and then, jointly, Abram, Atherton, Wigan Central and Leigh West.

Twenty-two of the 176 call-outs were to Pemberton, 16 to the Douglas area, 12 to Hindley and Ince, and 11 to Abram, Atherton, Wigan Central and Leigh West.

The lowest number of hoax call-outs - at just one a piece - were to Orrell and Winstanley.

There were also only a handful of call-outs to Ashton, Atherleigh, Shevington, Hindley Green and Standish.

Quite aside from the monetary cost of every fake call-out though, the human cost is potentially far greater - especially with fire service resources already stretched due to a funding squeeze.

Every second that local fire crews spend attending fake call-outs could be spent on saving lives.

Area Manager Geoff Harris condemned the figures.

He said: “Hoax calls are totally unacceptable and put lives at risk because every time a fire engine is called to a hoax call it cannot attend a real emergency.”

Fortunately, the number of hoax calls attended by Wigan firefighters each year has dropped slightly since 2009.

In 2009/10 there were 63 fake call-outs.

That figure went down to 57 in 2010/11 and to 56 the following year.

In the Pemberton and Douglas wards the number of hoax calls shot up last year though to 11 and 10 respectively.

Mr Harris added: “At Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service we have highly trained 999 control call handlers who are able to identify the signs of a hoax call and will challenge any calls they don’t believe to be genuine. This has helped reduce the number of hoax calls we attend.

“We are also able to identify where a call has come from and we will seek to prosecute hoaxers wherever we can. We also have an agreement with mobile phone network providers and can bar mobile phones that make hoax calls.”