“There’s a lad putting stuff through my letterbox to start a fire.”
That was one of dozens of desperate pleas for help Scarborough’s fire crews received last year – but each time, there was never a fire.
Instead it was the work of malicious hoax callers, who a Scarborough News investigation can reveal are increasingly putting lives at risk in the town.
Figures and transcripts obtained through the Freedom of Information act show that so far this year, a potentially deadly hoax call is being made on average nearly every week.
Fire chiefs say the nuisance calls divert valuable resources away from real accidents, while it’s not just fire crews that are needlessly being wasted.
In one incident in the early hours of May 5, the police and an ambulance were requested after a man claimed someone was trying to start a fire at his Scarborough home.
Transcripts of the call show the caller desperately pleaded for help, claiming that the culprits were coming towards him menacingly.
In other transcripts disclosed by North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, one child called up simply to chant “there’s a fire in London” repeatedly down the phone.
Another child made a fire engine make a wasted trip after claiming there was a bin fire.
And in another call, a young girl laughed down the phone claiming her cat was stuck up a tree.
However, no engine was called out after the operator questioned the legitimacy of the call – and warned the girl that he phone could be cut off if she made any more hoax calls.
And our figures show that the hoax call problem is only getting worse.
There were 24 hoax calls identified by the service in Scarborough last year, but figures show that in the first quarter of 2015, there were 11 calls made.
Those figures means the number of hoax calls are on track to sky rocket this year.
“We would like to remind people that whilst fire engines are responding to hoax calls they are not available to deal with any real incidents that may occur,” said Scarborough station manager Andy Blades.
“Our control room staff challenge calls that they believe to be a hoax and we work with partner agencies to address all aspects of anti-social behaviour, which includes hoax calls.”
Figures for across North Yorkshire show that almost three hoax calls were made each week in the region last year, with 149 made between April 2014 and March 2015.
But the numbers show that so far this year, one in three of the region’s hoaxes have been dialled in from somewhere in the borough – compared to one in six last year.
Leading police and psychologists have claimed that hoaxers are often “fantasists” or “attention seekers”.
Scarborough’s current deputy mayor John Ritchie, a retired fireman, previously said that whatever their motives their actions can potentially prove deadly.
“There was one time when we received a call that we responded to, which turned out to be a hoax.
“At the same time another call came in, and because of the hoax, we couldn’t get to it in time, and that person died,” he said.
“If a fire crew is answering a hoax call and there’s another incident then people’s lives are being put at risk.”
A police spokesperson added: “Anyone found making malicious hoax calls will be dealt with robustly.”