CCTV move to cut hoax fire call-outs

STAFF who take emergency calls about fires have been given access to live footage from the Capital's CCTV cameras in order to try to cut the number of false alarms and ambush attacks.

A six-month pilot exercise saw control room staff being given access to live feeds of the CCTV network. They were then able to use the footage to assess if the call was a prank.

They were also able to use the footage to help cut down on the number of attacks on firefighters, by warning crews if there were youths with weapons at an incident they were attending. Police could then be asked to also attend the incident.

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The six-month pilot finished at the end of April and was judged a success by fire bosses, who have now made the scheme permanent.

David Mallin, head of community safety at Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service, said: "Access to images of live incidents from CCTV allows control room staff to see incidents before crews arrive and warn them of potential dangers.

"This prevents the appliances proceeding blindly into ambush situations and allows them to wait for support from the police if necessary.

"This is a new and innovative move by managers to help eliminate senseless attacks on firefighters completely and to identify and take action against the perpetrators wherever possible.

"It has also proved useful for identifying jobs that do not require a response, cutting down on wasted call-outs."

The pilot scheme coincided with Bonfire Night, when there are more attacks on firefighters than on any other day of the year.

On 5 November last year, firefighters were called to 97 bonfires, with more than a fifth covered by the CCTV network. Using the images available, the manager of the control room, in consultation with a fire officer, decided that three of the bonfires did not require attendance.

In the weeks following bonfire night, more than 20 other incidents were monitored through CCTV and crews were warned about youths in the vicinity on five different occasions.

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Mr Mallin said: "The health and safety of our fire crews is always paramount and anything which allows us to provide them with a further measure of protection as they go about their duties is to be welcomed."

In the 12 months to March 2009, police recorded 290 attacks against police, fire, ambulance and other emergency workers in the Capital.

Councillor Paul Edie, the city's community safety leader, said: "It's important that our colleagues in the emergency services are given as much help as possible when it comes to dealing with potentially serious incidents.

"Accessing the council CCTV system has helped prevent firefighters facing the prospect of being assaulted and I'm delighted it's had a positive impact on the way they deal with incidents."

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