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STUDENTS CRY WOLF; Firefighters called out 450 times to uni.

Byline: JONNY GREATREX

FIREFIGHTERS have been called out to student digs at a Midland university nearly three times a week to deal with false alarms.

West Midlands Fire Service say they have attended Birmingham City University accommodation more than 450 times in the past three years - to tackle just 13 blazes.

And the huge number of false alarms include 28 prank calls. The cost to the fire service could be as high as pounds 100,000, according to Government figures.

Fumes from students' hairspray and incense sticks are just two of the items which are triggering smokedetectors automatically linked to the nearest fire station.

The whopping figures were uncovered following a Freedom of Information request by the Sunday Mercury to Birmingham City University.

It showed that between September 2006 and May 2009 West Midlands Fire Service responded to 464 callouts to the institution's halls of residence, which are spread around the city.

Of those 148 were caused by people cooking, 62 by having a crafty cigarette and 39 by hair and beauty equipment, such as curling tongs.

The accommodation is mostly used by first-year scholars who are new to the challenges of independent living.

Last night the Birmingham City University Students' Union president Oz Hetherington defended the freshers.

"Sometimes first year students are away from home for the first time and it is very easy for them to forget certain things set-off the smoke alarms," he told the Sunday Mercury. "As a Students' Union we do everything we can to educate students during their induction about the risks.

"One of our officers has worked with the Fire Brigade to create a safety calendar where every month shows a different hazard.

"Our accommodation officers are also very good at getting people to realise the potential risks." And he denied members of his union had been involved in prank calls, adding: "I don't think our students would be those kind of people.

"I think it could be false activations but sometimes students let people they don't know into our halls of residence.

"Just because the call came to some of our flats doesn't mean it was made by our students." The university also says it has taken steps to reduce the unnecessary callouts.

A spokesman said: "We have an extremely good relationship with West Midlands Fire Service.

"In 2004 we set-up regular meetings with them to review the number of activations in our halls of residence and agree ways in which both organisations could work together to reduce the number of call-outs.

"This partnership approach has resulted in a number of initiatives such as the Fire Services involvement in the induction process for students, investment in mechanical aids to reduce activations, articles highlighting the danger of fire published in the Students Union magazine." A West Midlands Fire Service says the fake emergencies do not just waste money but can costs.

"Every time we attend a false alarm or a hoax call it puts lives at risk and wastes money.

"For every hour an appliance is out with a full crew it works costs pounds 328.

"The biggest problem for us is that it diverts valuable resources away from possible life-threatening situations." jonny.greatrex@ sundaymercury.net
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 7, 2009
Words:533
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