The biggest time-wasting 999 calls: Citizens are grossly misusing their emergency services – and it’s costing human lives

Everyone should know that calling 999 to take your dog's temperature is not a valid emergency

Share
Related Topics

It appears as if general consensus amongst some of the British public has evolved to one based upon a selfish sense of personal entitlement – ‘I need help now, so I’ll call 999’.

In principle, this assertion is 100 per cent warranted; however, in practice, there are far too many 999 callers who have proven unable to discern an otherwise clear-cut difference between an emergency situation and a minor interruption to their daily lives.

In fact, last week Devon and Cornwall Police released a list of some of the biggest time-wasting calls they’d recently received – and the results were shocking to say the least. They included a member of the public who’d phoned emergency services to say they had run out of toilet roll, a person who was having difficulty ringing a Chinese takeaway, a request to take a dog's temperature and an individual whose electricity had gone out and wanted it ‘sorted’. Luckily, the majority of such calls get batted away by emergency services in order to keep lines free for those who are actually facing a life-or-death situation; however, this isn't always the case.

On Monday, three fire engine crews in Hertfordshire rushed to the rescue of what they thought was a drowning human person – or, at least the local emergency services had gotten that impression from the concerned 999 caller in question. Yet upon arrival, it turned out that there were no actual people in danger, but only a young grey squirrel. Rather than leave the job to the RSPCA, one of the specialist water crews – a team composed of five firefighters – justifiably stuck around to save the rodent, which involved two ladders and took around 15 minutes in total. The £6,000 rescue was successful, and the squirrel scurried off appreciatively.

On the one hand, said rescue was completely worthwhile, as the majority of fire services are committed to the rescue of animals in distress; however, if the 999 caller who’d phoned in the incident had made the circumstances of the emergency clearer, the animal’s rescue could have been prioritised accordingly.

Contrast Monday’s episode with the death of Simon Burgess on 10 March 2011 in Hampshire. The 41-year-old charity worker fell into three-foot deep water whilst feeding swans, and the firefighters who subsequently arrived on the scene 5-10 minutes later refused to try and save him – why? Because “health and safety” restricted them from walking through ankle-deep water, and only a specialist water crew was permitted to carry out such a rescue. Yet as fate would have it, the only specialist water crew available in the area was occupied at the time.

Everyone hates it when they run out of toilet roll – but even a child should be smart enough to know that it’s no reason to phone their local emergency services. Firefighters have a responsibility to their community in order to protect citizens in peril; however, it’s exceedingly difficult to do so when the cries of those in need are drowned out by the selfishness of those who want.

With any luck, local authorities will step up efforts to teach members of the community when it is and is not okay to phone for instant access to emergency services – because although there are plenty of squirrels in need of a decent rescue, there are people who might be left to die because of time-wasting 999 calls.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album