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Prank fire calls are no joke

Cpl. Helm of the Port aux Basques RCMP says that there is now an active investigation into the recent rash of prank calls to the town’s fire department.. – © J. René Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES – There have been a rash of prank phone calls to the Channel-Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department in recent days. Over the span of Saturday evening, Sept. 12 through to Monday evening, Sept. 14, there have been a total of five prank calls.

Fire Chief Jerry Musseau has called the trend discouraging. Via phone interview, Musseau shared the details of a pair of calls received on Sunday evening, Sept. 13.

“We received the call from a female voice saying, ‘There’s a fire on the government wharf! Please hurry!’ Again we responded and when we arrived there was no fire. There wasn’t anybody around to advise us.”

Musseau goes on to explain that there was no phone number left on the voicemail or on the caller I.D.

“I checked the answering machine at the fire hall and that showed an unknown number,” said Musseau. “The next call was received by someone who said they were in Newtown, and the way I understood, he said there was a fire in his backyard and he needed someone there. And he gave a phone number as well.”

That phone number turned out to be false, like the call. There was indeed a fire in the Newtown area, but it was a safe backyard fire pit, attended and under control. The residents of the location were somewhat surprised to have the fire department show up at their driveway.

Musseau is certainly frustrated by the recent trend.

“The more times this happens or gets repeated, eventually we will get a real call and we wont be able to respond as quickly as we need to,” said the fire chief. “People are not realizing the consequences of a prank phone call. Our resources and equipment are rolled out to a call and we don’t find anything, and at the same time there could be a real emergency in another part of town or a highway accident and we are gone on a prank call. Every second counts in an emergency and peoples lives can be put in danger by this. This is very serious stuff.”

Musseau is also worried that prolonged prank calls could eventually lead to a slower response time or fewer responders rolling out to a scene.

“Eventually it’s going to lead to firefighters… paying less attention to them and then we get a real alarm and that could have much more of an affect on the firefighters.”

Under the province’s Emergency 911 Act, false, frivolous or vexatious calls to 911 are an offence with possible financial penalties of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment.

The calls have happened so frequently that the Port aux Basques detachment of the RCMP have opened an investigation.

“This is not a joke,” said Cpl. Helm. “These men and women are putting their lives on the line every phone call that comes in. They are attending to make sure that the community is safe. And somebody out there feels the need to make a joke of this, and this is not a joke. Furthermore, when we do find out who is involved, they will be charged criminally, and could be charged civilly.”

Helm explained that when the fire department is dispatched to a frivolous call, if a serious emergency occurs elsewhere, civil liability could occur.

“In my 13 years of policing, I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Helm. “If you are involved in these prank calls you need to stop and you need to stop now. If you are aware of who is involved, then you need to come forward and let us know here at the RCMP, or even the fire department. Because this criminal investigation is taking place.”

A recent post on the Port aux Basques Fire Department’s Facebook page is asking parents to talk to their children to explain the gravity of prank calling emergency services.

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