West Midlands Fire Service charged 106 people for non-emergency callouts

Fire engine West Midlands Fire Service said it had to prioritise "genuine emergencies"

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West Midlands Fire Service charged for just 106 out of 3,656 non-emergency callouts since charges were introduced, a BBC Freedom of Information request has revealed.

In May 2012, the service began asking homeowners to cover the callout and attendance costs for problems like animal rescues and lock-outs.

The 106 charges totalled £57,355.24.

Simon Shilton, head of emergency response at the service, said it was "not a money-making scheme".

"We will only charge if we deem our resources could be better used elsewhere," he said.

"We are there to provide a service to the community. We determine whether to charge if there was no risk to life or property.

"We always notify the occupier if there is the potential to charge for the service and proceed if they agree."

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The five biggest chargeable incidents
  • Bournville College of Further Education, Longbridge - making a structure safe on 21 December 2013 - £3,045
  • Gracechurch Shopping Centre, Sutton Coldfield - other mains supply leak, isolate and salvage on 19 May 2012 - £2,752
  • Cozens and Cole Ltd, Ettingshall, Wolverhampton - making a structure safe on 15 June 2014 - £2,104
  • Wood Green High School College of Sport, Wednesbury - flooding, pumping out on 15 July 2012 - £2,064
  • Willenhall Comprehensive School, Walsall - water leaking from swimming pool, flooding the plant room on 2 April 2013 - £1,720
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Labour MP for Warley John Spellar said the service had made "a welcome change to tackle people wasting its time" but the low proportion of charges needed a "rethink".

He said: "The service needs to consider if it ought to send a stronger message to people, particularly at a time of drastic cuts."

Khalid Mahmood, a Labour MP for Perry Barr, said he believed the fire service "should not entertain" such calls and should instead direct people to other places, such as landlords for lock-ins, rather than send resources.

Steven Price-Hunt, acting brigade secretary for the West Midlands branch of the Fire Brigades Union, said the service should remain "very guarded and reserved" on the use of charges as it was "a taxpayer-funded public service, like the NHS or state schools".

Charges rise

The introduction of charges followed a change in the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 allowing fire authorities more freedom to charge.

The charge was first set at £412.80, including VAT, per fire appliance or specialist vehicle per hour.

It has risen to £426 this financial year, including VAT, per hour, which Mr Shilton said was because "wages increased; the cost of fuel increased".

Call centres operators were trained in "challenging" the nature of calls, he said, to see if there was a risk to life or a premises and decide whether an incident was an emergency.

There was no greater chance of charges if the fire service had other ongoing serious incidents, than when there was less demand on resources, Mr Shilton stressed.

All seven local authority boroughs in the West Midlands are covered by the service - Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

The fire service did not breakdown the charges by the type of callout.

Type of special service (non-emergency) callout

Number of chargeable incidents

Advice only

93

Animal rescue/assistance incidents

237

Assist other agencies

340

Hazardous materials incident

127

Lift release

479

Lock in/lock out (effecting entry/exit)

1129

Making safe (not a road traffic collision)

353

Other standby

29

Spillage of non-hazardous substance

142

Water incident (flooding, leaks, rescues, etc.)

727

Grand total

3656

Source: West Midlands Fire Service

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