Published Tuesday, 19 June 2012
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The ambulance and the fire service response to fake call-outs means an outlay equal to £9,000 a day, Edwin Poots outlined.
"To put this into context, £3 million could have been spent on more than 212,000 hours of domiciliary care, over 75,000 treatments by a physiotherapist in the community, around 250 coronary artery bypass grafts or over 5,000 weeks in a nursing home for an elderly person," the minister explained.
Group Commander Kevin O'Neill said the Fire Service's biggest fear is that a fire engine is wasted at a hoax run rather than dealing with an emergency.
"I don't know whether they realise fully the damage that they are causing," he explained. "They're putting lives at risk."
Calls made to the Fire Service control centre are recorded and can be used to prosecute those who are making the false calls.
Mr O'Neill said staff there are trained to detect hoax calls, but where there is any doubt, a fire engine is sent out.
"If they make a hoax call and send a fire engine in the wrong direction, away from a life, and a fire subsequently happens, a life is at risk.
"It could delay our response by two minutes or 10 minutes and those minutes could be crucial for the person whose life is at risk," he explained.
Minister Poots said those found guilty of making false claims could be fined.
"Hoax calls simply will not be tolerated and people who engage in this malicious activity should be aware of the penalties of doing so. If convicted of this criminal offence, a person can face imprisonment and a £5,000 fine."