Acting Senior Deputy Superintendent Emilio Ebanks, the brigade's second in command for fire prevention, told Jamaica Observer reporters and editors at the newspaper's weekly Monday Exchange that, while to some reporting a fire that never was might be comical, it could mean diverting help from where it is needed most, which could cause those who need the help to lose lives or limbs.
"I used to work in Negril as an emergency medical technician, and [during] Hurricane Dean we got a call in the midst of the hurricane that a lady had gone into labour and they described the whole process. That was on the border of Westmoreland and Hanover; machetes and saws had to be loaded onto the ambulance to clear our way to get there, only to realise when we got to the area there wasn't even a dog pregnant," Ebanks said.
"... When we got back to the station there was a gentleman there who [was injured by] a piece of glass that had run through his ankle, and because they took us out four hours to that particular incident, he lost a leg," he Ebanks told editors and reporters. "So it's really a very, very serious issue and we ask persons not to do that sort of thing. We lost a fire unit, a brand new fire truck, in 2010 because of a prank call," he pointed out.
He said persons tended to pull tricks at crucial times such as when a disaster is threatening the island.
According to fire brigade official, 2008 figures showed that some 1,930 prank calls were recorded. In 2009, this figure increased to 2003. In 2010 it recorded 1,542 prank calls, while in 2011 it was 1,421 and 1,575 in 2012. "This situation is compounded when we look at the fact that the resources that we have must now be allocated to
deal with these calls as
well," Senior Deputy Superintendent Alrick Hacker, the brigade's first in command for fire prevention, told the Observer team.
Ebanks, meanwhile, said pranksters were of all ages.
"It's not necessarily children (alone); we find that prank calls are made by just about anybody. What we find is that sometimes persons like the adrenaline rush when they hear the sirens," he noted.
Added Hacker: "Sometimes some persons just want to see how long it takes the fire brigade to get to them. But I would like the public to know that if they would like such a test they can always call the Fire department, we would be willing to arrange them. We do tests like that on a regular basis with our businessplaces and the hotel industry."
The brigade officials said, while there was collaboration with the police to nab such persons, it was often ineffective. "Normally you find that it's sometimes very difficult to get to these persons, it's difficult to trace these individuals because they tend to give misleading information," Acting Senior Deputy Superintendent Ebanks noted.
Senior Deputy Superintendent Hacker said the brigade was using another strategy in the hope to deter these persons. "As much as it is upsetting and can be costly to the fire department for us it's not to come down hard on the community, instead of prosecuting we try to (use) our public education campaign and any forum that we get the opportunity to do so," he said.
In noting how distracting prank calls could be in urgent situations, the brigade officials pointed to the Half-Way-Tree station in St Andrew which averages some 1,500 calls per month. The officials said some 1,000 to 1,200 real fires per month are reported to that station during the dry season. "Half-Way-Tree is the busiest station in the Caribbean," Ebanks pointed out.
-- Alicia Dunkley-Willis