Fire chiefs urge public not to delay 999 calls


FIREFIGHTERS have urged the public not to delay dialling 999 if they hear a smoke alarm going off.

The warning comes after a number of recent post-fire investigations revealed cases where people had heard a smoke alarm sounding or suspected a fire but for various reasons did not call the fire and rescue service immediately. Sometimes they phoned someone else first for advice on what to do or they went to investigate before raising the alarm potentially putting themselves and others at risk of becoming involved in a fire situation.

Too many people are waiting before dialling 999

Head of Community Safety at Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service, Alan Horberry said: “A number of factors appear to be causing delays from the public in alerting the fire and rescue service of a possible emergency. In recent months, we have had cases where people have seen a fire and called 999 but asked for another service rather than the fire and rescue service. Although these calls are ultimately passed to our fire and rescue service control room from partner agencies it takes slightly longer to process at a time where every second can count.

“More worryingly we’ve discovered through fire investigation interviews after a blaze that often neighbours or passers-by will recall having heard a sounding smoke detector but at the time they have assumed it’s been a false alarm because they may not have seen actual signs of a fire.

“Working smoke detectors can actuate very quickly when they detect smoke, often long before an actual fire breaks out. It may be that people are not able to get out of a property themselves, they could be asleep or under the influence of alcohol, therefore the sooner the fire service is aware the sooner we can respond and get firefighters to the scene. Making that call really could mean the difference between life and death.

“We understand there may be reluctance from people to dial 999 when they don’t have all the facts, but if they suspect there is an emergency that is exactly what they should do. The fire and rescue service would much rather investigate a well-intentioned false alarm, than lose vital minutes that may save a person’s life.

“By dialling 999 but not asking for the fire and rescue service when you suspect fire, the attendance of our crews can be delayed, resulting in the potential escalation of an incident and the increased risk of danger to any people involved.

“I must stress this is not about pointing the finger or blaming people for failing to call but about reminding them what to do to give us potentially vital extra time to get firefighters on scene and saving lives. We recognise that it is stressful for people to call 999 and no one does it lightly, we understand that, but our Fire and Rescue Service Control Room staff are highly trained at handling such calls. They will be able to assess what resources to allocate and can get vital local information from a caller which can be relayed to responding crews.

“Finally if you are a carer for someone who is older, not mobile or vulnerable in some way talk to them about what they should do in a fire situation. Their first call if something goes wrong should be to us on 999. We are happy to carry out a free home safety visit where firefighters can discuss specific plans for residents and ensure they have a working smoke detector in their home. To book an appointment call 0800 169 0320. Lastly if you have neighbours or friends in the community who may be from another country, check they know to dial 999 in an emergency.”

Firefighters will be out discussing these issues in the community through the Service’s free Home Safety Visit programme, but we would like to reiterate the importance of calling 999 and asking for ‘fire’ if you hear a smoke alarm ringing or see signs of smoke.