Hoax during real emergency ‘could have ended in tragedy’

Foyle Search and Rescue file image.
Foyle Search and Rescue file image.

The Fire Brigade in Derry has hit out at hoax callers who tasked the emergency service to a bogus house fire, moments before a second real emergency when a woman needed rescued from the River Foyle.

Fire fighters warned that the hoax callers could have cost someone their life, as they praised the swift actions of Foyle Search & Rescue and control room staff.

The warning was issued after fire-fighters received an emergency call at around 8.00 pm on Thursday last.

Crews from Northland and Crescent Link stations were dispatched to what they were told was a house fire in the Waterside area with people trapped inside.

A spokesperson for the Fire & Rescue Service said: “Hearts race when we receive such calls, adrenaline is pumping. We know time is of the essence and we ready ourselves, our equipment and gather information en-route.

“You can’t imagine the reaction in those fire engines when you are less than a minute from your destination and you hear over the radio that someone has gone into the River Foyle.

“Everyone waits with baited breath as our colleagues in the control room have to prioritise our teams and make seriously tough decisions over who should go where.

“Thankfully, our friends from Foyle Search & Rescue were alerted and turned out to the female in the water along with the few remaining water rescue personnel at Crescent Link Station. This is a fraction of the response needed for such an incident.

“One of Crescent Link’s pumping appliances was also re-directed to the water rescue from the house fire. When crews arrived at the address for the reported house fire, we discovered it was a hoax call and were quickly redeployed to assist at the river.

“Thankfully, due to the swift actions of Foyle Search & Rescue the lady was rescued from the water.”

Earlier members of the public had thrown life-rings to the woman in the river before Foyle Search & Rescue managed to bring her to safety.

The Fire & Rescue Service said it was “so thankful to have the volunteers of Foyle Search & Rescue co-respond to the river with us.

“This could have ended very differently and very tragically,” a spokesperson maintained.

“If the second call had been a land-based incident, such as a car crash or a genuine house fire, it most certainly would have, as the first call (the hoax), pretty much drained all our resources.

“A shout out also to our fabulous control room staff, who are often overlooked in rescue scenarios and have to prioritise calls and make fast decisions in terms of response and resources; literally life or death decisions on a daily basis.

“Moral of the story is hoax calls cost lives!”

Foyle Search & Rescue confirmed that at 7.59 pm on Thursday they were tasked by the PSNI to reports of a person observed in the water.

“Mobile Units and Boat Crews responded immediately to scene arriving within minutes,locating a person in the water,” a spokesperson said.

“Life rings had been deployed by members of the public. Reach & Rescue equipment was then deployed by FS&R volunteers to secure and keep the person afloat.

“A FS&R volunteer trained in Swiftwater Rescue geared up and entered the water securing the person and bringing them to shore. The person was initially treated for minor injuries with early onset hypothermia before being transferred to hospital. All FS&R crews were then stood down. Appreciation to the members of the public who activated lifebuoys and the PSNI for all their assistance.”