Home Office data shows that more than a third of all incidents attended by the West Midlands Fire Service in the year to September 2020 stemmed from false alarms.
Most were caused by faulty equipment or the accidental activation of smoke alarms and sprinkler systems.
Of the rest, 33 per cent were raised by people with good intentions, while 405 ‘malicious’ incidents were linked to hoax calls or alarms being set off where there was no fire.
While the data also shows more than a third of all incidents attended by the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service in the same time period stemmed from false alarms.
Most were raised with good intentions – and of the rest, 48 per cent were caused by faulty equipment – such as smoke alarms – or their accidental activation, while 74 ‘malicious’ incidents were linked to hoax calls or alarms being set off where there was no fire.
The National Fire Chiefs Council said false alarms happened “approximately every two minutes” across England and cost services thousands of hours of lost productivity – “time that could be spent on other vital, and often life-saving activities”.
In West Midlands, 36 per cent of all calls attended over 12 months were false alarms and in Staffordshire it was 37 per cent. While more than 226,000 were logged nationally, including over 5,500 malicious incidents.
Steve Vincent, West Midlands Fire Service’s area commander, said: “Responding to a false fire alarm in a house or business potentially diverts our crews away from a genuine emergency, from their prevention or protection work, or from training.
“It also increases the risk to the public and our crews as they respond swiftly on blue lights. There’s never been a more important time to support businesses than during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Our business support officers attend false fire alarms and work closely with businesses to reduce future disruption caused by false alarms and to ensure our firefighters are ready, willing and able to attend real emergencies.”
NFCC chair, Roy Wilsher, described the figures as shocking and said malicious callers could prevent crews from attending incidents where people were in serious danger.
He added: “People making these reckless calls need to ask themselves what would happen if a member of their family needed emergency assistance and firefighters were attending a malicious call. We need to see this change.”
A Home Office spokesperson warned hoaxers that they could face prosecution, adding: “Malicious false alarms take our firefighters away from frontline work, protecting our communities and potentially saving lives.
“They can amount to a criminal offence and we support the prosecution of these incidents where appropriate.”
Over the course of 10 years, the number of false calls has dropped by more than a fifth but in 2020 they still represented more than 40 per cent of all incidents attended by 45 fire services, while actual fires accounted for just 28 per cent.
Almost two-thirds were due to fire alarms or related equipment malfunctioning or being accidentally set off, while almost a third were raised by people who genuinely thought there was an emergency.
‘Burned toast’ or general cooking mishaps were behind almost a quarter of all false alarms, with more than 32,000 attributed to faulty smoke alarms and 177, bizarrely, linked to animals.