A man has been sent to prison after he made 17 hoax calls to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service in just three hours.
Excerpts from recordings of Michael Eames’ phone conversations have been made public by the organisation following a spike in the number of people misusing the emergency 999 facility.
The 23-year-old from Winchester persistently called the control room on Christmas Eve claiming that a person was trapped in a burning building. He also contacted other emergency services.
The organisation is hoping to hammer home the message that hoax calls cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds a year and put lives at risk.
The appeal comes after figures show hoax calls to the fire service going up by more than 60 percent in the past four years.
Statistics reveal that in 2014 the service received 183 hoax calls but by 2015 the number had risen to 192 before climbing to 231 in 2016 and 295 in 2017.
Eames called HFRS 21 times in total between December 24 and January 4 falsely reporting that people were trapped in fires in Winchester and Basingstoke.
In the audio he can be heard gloating: “I won’t get arrested, I promise you.”
On January 23 this year he was sentenced to 12 weeks behind bars and is now subject to a two-year restraining order.
Station Manager of Control Allison Burrows said: “The custodial sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime.
“Hoax calls waste our time, costs the public money and, more worryingly, really do put lives at risk. We hope the recordings help show this.
“I am extremely proud of the team for the rigorous yet professional way they exposed the caller with a series of challenging questions until he hung up.
“On further calls they tried to explain the seriousness of his actions and the potential life-threatening consequences while also urging him to get support for himself.”
Eames used different names, addresses, scenarios and even potential victims when falsely reporting incidents to cause more confusion.
The first call on Christmas Eve led to crews being mobilised as control room staff have just 60 seconds from answering the call to make the decision whether to send crews.
Supplementary questioning by the highly trained team led them to suspect it was a hoax but they still sent engines as public safety is always paramount to the service.
Fire crews were also mobilised a days later after a false call from Eames although an alert based on his previous activity meant firefighters enroute were told it was a potential hoax before arriving.
SM Burrows said were it not for the challenges from the skilled team and the rigorous way the different shifts communicate more crews could have been called away many more times to fictitious fires.
Each 999 call is also listened into by a control room supervisor for additional support.
In total four engines were mobilised at an approximate cost of more than £300 each.
Hoax calls are not the only way people misuse the 999 facility and the control team have even answered the emergency phone to an amorous resident hoping to track down a man who she met in a nightclub who claimed to be a firefighter.
Another fishy call came from a person who dialled 999 because their fish tank was broken and had made the floor wet.
As well as being sentenced to prison emergency services can contact the mobile phone provider of the offender and have the service cut off.
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority Chairman Councillor Chris Carter said: “Hoax calls cost lives – it’s that simple.
“People calling in with false reports need to consider how they would feel if someone delayed firefighters getting to them or their loved ones.
“If that is not enough motivation to stop offenders maybe the prospect of going to prison and having their phone cut off will be.”