Hoax fire callers in Norfolk will have phones cut off

People who make hoax calls to Norfolk's fire service on their mobile phones have been warned they will be permanently cut off.

In the last six years, several dozen callers who made prank or malicious calls have seen their mobile phones cut off by a Call Challenge system operated from Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service's control room in Norwich.

During the last year there were 96 hoax calls to the fire brigade leading to firefighters being called out unnecessarily, wasting valuable time and life saving resources.

However, 10 years ago there were more than 1,000 malicious calls made. The dramatic fall in hoax calls is largely being put down to the Call Challenge system, which has been running since 2005.

Call Challenge sees the highly trained control room operators equipped with specialist communications equipment which can permanently disable mobile phones within hours of one being used to make a prank call.

Operators issue suspected hoax callers with one warning before they disable their phone.

The importance of the system was highlighted on Wednesday when a hoax caller was disconnected after a report of a wheelie bin fire at a Thetford car park.

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Because of the malicious call, firefighters wasted about 35 minutes rushing to the car park to the non-existent fire. Each call-out also costs the fire service about �350.

Control room operator Richard McGonagle said: 'There are consequences to us and the public for making malicious hoax calls and we have a strict policy of one strike and you are out.'

Martin Barsby, fire service spokesman, hoped the latest person to lose their mobile phone would send out a strong message to anyone considering wasting firefighters' precious time.

Mr Barsby said: 'I think the message is 'Think before you ring'. There are obvious knock-on effects from malicious calls in terms of wasting fire service resources. It could be your family that needs the help of the fire service next time.'

About 50pc of malicious calls are made by youths, and two clear signs of prank callers are people giggling in the background or the caller not being sure of a location.

As well as Call Challenge, control operators can use satellite tracking technology to see where calls are made from to see if they are genuine. They can also use CCTV systems to identify hoaxers.

Mr Barsby said the large fall in the number of malicious calls was also down to an awareness campaign highlighting the dangers of hoax callers using up vital resources.

anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk

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