FIREFIGHTERS in Wiltshire attended thousands of false alarms over the last year.

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to 6,992 callouts in 12 months that turned out to be false alarms - the highest figure in five years and 366 more than in the year before.

Area manager Andy Cole said: “The service never knowingly attends a false alarm, we attend emergencies that have been reported to us via a 999 call.

"Where it later becomes clear that the incident was a false alarm, then we will always look to see whether there are ways of preventing similar call-outs in future.

"This can include the work done by our protection teams in giving advice to businesses on how to reduce the risk of unwanted fire signals, or the education work undertaken by our prevention teams.

"However, if someone believes there is a fire or another issue requiring our immediate assistance, they should always call 999. We would rather attend a false alarm than not attend a genuine emergency.”

More than two-thirds of the false alarms attended were caused by people accidentally setting off fire alarms or a person following protocol after a fire alarm is triggered.

Around 29 per cent of false alarm callouts last year were made by people who genuinely believed that an emergency requiring the fire service, like a fire or a road accident, was happening.

However, 203 callouts were deliberate malicious calls made about non-existent incidents. In Dorset and Wiltshire, firefighters spent at least 1,650 hours at the scene of false alarms last year.

Most incidents were attended by a crew of between four and nine people. On five occasions, more than 30 officers were mobilised to deal with a single false alarm.

Across England, fire and rescue services responded to 238,000 false alarms in 2018-19 - the highest level of callouts in five years.

However, the number is still 26 per cent lower than it was 10 years ago, according to the Home Office.

A spokesperson said: "It is for local fire and rescue authorities to determine how they deal with false alarms.

"The National Fire Chiefs Council has provided authorities with guidance, including how best to support those responsible for maintaining automatic alarm systems."

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: "False alarms use up resources which could be better served elsewhere and increase response times to actual emergencies.

"But it is always better to be safe than sorry."