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£110k for non-emergency call-outs for fire services in West Midlands and Staffordshire

Staffordshire | News | Published:

Fire service bosses in the West Midlands and Staffordshire are on course to have charged more than £110,000 in a year for call-outs to non-emergency incidents including stuck lifts and people being locked out of their homes.

The fees were introduced as chiefs said there are other organisations that can deal with those situations.

Latest figures show some £95,000 will have been charged in the 2014/15 year by West Midlands Fire Service by March, and £18,000 in Staffordshire.

It comes as both services look to increase their share of council tax by nearly two per cent.

Bosses argue they had to bring in the charges to try to deter people from calling them to time-consuming incidents that divert them from serious emergencies.

People calling for non-emergencies in the Wrest Midlands face a charge of £412.80 per hour for every appliance or specialist vehicle sent.

In Staffordshire the cost of these call-outs will increase in April from £292 for the first hour, to £296.40. Then the service will charge £74.10 per 15 minutes after that.

Other common incidents include animal rescues, clearance of debris and the removal of flood water.

Call handlers now challenge all requests for non-emergency assistance, outlining the approximate cost of attendance and asking residents to confirm whether they still want firefighters to go out.

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Opponents have said the public should not be charged extra for call-outs as the service is funded by a precept, included with council tax.

And that tax is being increased by nearly two per cent as both services face budget cuts.

Staffordshire chiefs are due to approve a 1.95 per cent increase of its share on Monday, as they face cuts of £5.75 million over the next five years.

Around 30 jobs will be lost at the service, though bosses say compulsory redundancies will be a last resort.

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West Midlands Fire Service's Government grant has been cut by £6.2m this year

Staffordshire's head of emergency response Brian Griffiths said: "The special service calls that we attend are non-emergency incidents and for that reason they are chargeable. Individuals ringing with special service calls are informed of the charges beforehand and have to agree to them before we attend. Emergency incidents will always take priority and we only accept special service calls if we have crews available.

"Examples of chargeable special service calls include people locked out of their properties and lift rescues on commercial premises.

"Although the income we receive from chargeable special service calls doesn't equate to a huge amount compared to the total fire service budget, the money that we do receive is re-invested into the Service and goes towards the funding of new operational equipment."

Watch Commander Wesley Williams from West Midlands Fire Service's emergency response team added: "We must ensure that genuine emergencies, which require the use of our specialist resources, receive a priority response.

"People call 999 and ask us to attend incidents when there is clearly no emergency, risk of danger, or threat to life; and we are not explicitly funded to do this".

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