A DRIVE to cut the number of hoax 999 calls to West Yorkshire firefighters from phone boxes has been hailed a great success.
The scheme - launched by BT Payphones in conjunction with the fire service as part of a nationwide campaign - has cut hoax calls from targeted payphones by 48% over the last year.
Fire brigades across the country highlighted 2,200 payphones with the highest number of malicious calls.
BT monitored the phoneboxes and put up warning posters in each one, highlighting the impact on real emergencies and urging people to think twice before dialling 999.
Several areas saw reductions of more than 90% in the number of hoax calls - and the Mid and West Wales brigade recorded a 100% success.
Home Office minister Nick Raynsford said: "It is not just time-wasting to call out a fire appliance but a real threat to people's lives.
"Firefighters and appliances diverted to a hoax call cannot deal with a genuine emergency.
"As well as the danger to life, hoax calls are costly.
"It costs £300 to send a fire appliance to an incident and in 2002 74,000 hoax calls were made to the fire service, bringing the cost of these call-outs to over £22.2m."
BT and the emergency services will work together again on a Hoax Calls Awareness Week next May.
The aim will be to raise awareness among children of the implications and consequences of making malicious calls to the 999 services.
BT will also provide support in the form of educational materials and visits to schools.
Although malicious 999 calls are a problem for all the emergency services, BT research suggests that it is the fire service that is most affected.
The highest numbers of malicious calls made to the fire service from payphones were in Greater London.
That area was followed by the West Midlands and Greater Manchester.
There were more than 34.5m 999 calls to the emergency services in 2002/03, with 2.63m coming from BT payphones.
Hoax calls accounted for 1.3m of these.
People who are caught could be sentenced to six months imprisonment or fined up to £5,000.
Paul Hendron, director of BT Payphones, said: "Our campaign activity is designed to get potential phonebox hoax callers to realise they endanger the lives of people who have a real emergency."