ALMOST half of the incidents firefighters were called to in Sussex last year were false alarms, including hoax calls that put “lives in danger,” it has been revealed.

In West Sussex, 48 per cent of all calls attended over 12 months were false alarms - while in East Sussex, this figure was 46 per cent.

Most of the false alarms were caused by faulty equipment or the accidental activation of smoke alarms and sprinkler systems.

While in West Sussex, 26 per cent of the false alarms were raised by people with good intentions.

And in East Sussex this figure was 28 per cent.

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However, there were 113 “malicious incidents” in West Sussex - hoax calls or alarms being set off where there was no fire – and 87 in East Sussex.

Across the UK, 226,000 false alarms were logged nationally in the year up to September 2020, including more than 5,500 malicious incidents.

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”.

NFCC chairman, Roy Wilsher, described the figures as shocking and said malicious callers could prevent crews from attending incidents where people were in serious danger.

He said: “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 spokesman warned hoaxers that they could face prosecution, adding: "Malicious false alarms take our firefighters away from front line 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 ten 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.

"Burnt 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.