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Revealed: The main (and surprising) reasons for false fire alarms in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 14:40 31 December 2018

Burnt toast was one of the causes of false alarms for Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service in 2018.

Burnt toast was one of the causes of false alarms for Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service in 2018.

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Burnt toast costs not only vital minutes in the morning rush, new figures can reveal, but also time and money for firefighters.

In June 2016, Norwich Castle had to be evacuated after a fire alarm went off. It was found to be a false alarm. Picture: ANTONY KELLYIn June 2016, Norwich Castle had to be evacuated after a fire alarm went off. It was found to be a false alarm. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Freedom of information data obtained by the EDP shows that Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service attended 2366 false alarms in 2018, with 289 of those the result of cooking or burnt toast.

On-call firefighters who attended the false alarms were paid £311,550.

Other causes of the call-outs were smoke detectors activated by midges, dust, aerosols, storms and reflected sunlight.

Controlled burning was the main source, with firefighters called to such incidents 375 times.

Norfolk firefighters attended 56 Norfolk firefighters attended 56 "malicious" calls in 2018, potentially diverting crews from genuine incidents. Photo: Denise Bradley

Where fire alarms were automatically activated, the list of causes includes:

• Cooking/Burnt toast - 240

• Faulty alarm - 179

• Alarm accidentally/carelessly set off - 67

• Testing alarm - 57

• Dust - 38

• Minute animals (Thrips/midges) - 22

• Steam - 21

• Smoking set off alarm - 19

• Toaster/toast - 13

• Incorrect positioning of alarm - 3

• Storm - 2

• Animal accidentally/carelessly set off - 2

• Bonfire - 1

• Reflected light/sunlight - 1

When an on-call firefighter attends an incident, it costs £150, while crew on full-time duty are paid whether at the station or an incident. Norfolk also received support from crews in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, with 150 trucks from across the border helping with the incidents.

Most of the false alarms were unintentional. However, the county’s firefighters also attended 56 hoax incidents last year, over one for every week, after receiving “malicious” calls that could have diverted crews away from genuine incidents.

One of the calls falsely claimed somebody was trapped in a lift.

Hoax and malicious calls are a criminal offence.

Councillor Margaret Dewsbury, chairman of Norfolk County Council’s communities committee, said: “I deplore the irresponsible people who make malicious calls to the fire service. Not only do they waste the time of our fire fighters, they could also divert crews away from genuine incidents and put people at risk.”

If convicted, the perpetrator can be prosecuted with a fine of up to several thousand of pounds and/or up to six months in prison.

They also face disconnection and/or deactivation of a landline or mobile phone, with the owner of the phone blacklisted by all the major networks and phone companies.

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