A fire service chief has warned hoax callers to think twice because their “totally unacceptable” pranks could cost lives.
Firefighters have been unnecessarily called out to fictitious fires and car crashes because they have received misleading reports.
It has cost the service thousands of pounds and vital minutes in reaching real emergencies.
Herts Fire Service is calling for more to be done at home and at school to educate young people about the dangers of hoax calls.
And Steve Holton, area commander and citizen safety chief, is warning pranksters that diverting valuable resources is a serious offence.
“We are there to help but if resources are diverted, that could be someone’s life you’re playing with,” he said.
“It’s always been a problem but we do see peaks and troughs and we have prosecuted in the past.”
Mr Holton said technology advances mean that pranksters can now be traced and CCTV often catch offenders who use telephone boxes.
“The technology is now so good that should the call-handler believe it is a jinx, we can do analysis.
“If you think you can get away with it, you can’t. You will be found out.”
Incidents in the past include fire crews rushing to a real crash on the M25 only to be diverted to a fictitious house fire nearby. Mr Holton said it meant that the crash became more serious than it needed to be.
Pranksters have told call-handlers about fake fires in offices, factories, and homes.
“We are trained to deal with real people. To be called away because of a malicious call, is totally unacceptable,” Mr Holton said.
“It’s quite wide-reaching and that’s why we come down very harshly.” Phone numbers can be barred and offenders can be prosecuted.
Since the beginning of September, there have been 39 malicious calls and false alarms, 12 of which resulted in fire crews responding to fictitious incidents.
Richard Thake, cabinet member for community safety at Herts County Council, has a word of warning for anyone thinking about making prank calls.
“People may think making hoax calls is just a bit of fun,” he said.
“But it is a dangerous prank which diverts valuable resources away from dealing with genuine emergencies.
“If you’re found to have made a hoax call we can have your phone disconnected and you could face criminal charges leading to six months in prison and a fine of £5,000.”
Fire Control is automatically given all telephone numbers and the location of any public call boxes or other landlines on receipt of call.
It is also possible to establish the location of mobile callers using cell phone technology.
Emergency services are also recorded automatically and may be used in evidence.
The police are always informed following confirmation of a malicious call.