I suspect this question has come from someone who has not been involved with the emergency services, but it still deserves a respectful answer. The question, from Queensland, is:
I’ve just been told AGAIN that misuse of the Emergency 000 number is a criminal offence. Because after half an hour of continual sirens here in Ipswich, I will call 000 and tell them that there is misuse of sirens going on here.
My question is: Is the misuse & overuse of sirens that occurs constantly here a criminal offence? There is no way that these Ambos & fire engines are all attending emergencies when they occur 24/7 at all hours (yes 2am or MN) and sometimes even play tunes on their sirens.
Vexatious calls to triple zero
The first question is, ‘is misuse of the Emergency 000 number a criminal offence?’ It is an offence for a person to ‘request that the [ambulance] service provide an ambulance service for a person (the “patient” ), unless the patient is sick or injured and requires an ambulance service’ (Ambulance Service Act 1991 (Qld) s 47). Equally it is an offence to make false calls for the fire and emergency service (Fire And Emergency Services Act 1990 (Qld) s 150B) but neither of those sections deal with the triple zero service. And anyone who rings triple zero to complain about the noise is not requesting an ambulance or fire and emergency service.
In any event the triple zero call service is not run by state governments, so it is not state legislation that is relevant. The Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) deals with the ‘”emergency call service” that is (s 7):
… a service for:
(a) receiving and handling calls to an emergency service number; and
(b) transferring such calls to:
(i) a police force or service; or
(ii) a fire service; or
(iii) an ambulance service…
There is no offence, in that Act, of making a call to the triple zero service where an emergency service is not required and where the person is not actually requesting the emergency services to attend.
The Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) s 474.18 does provide for a relevant offence. It says:
(2) A person commits an offence if:
(a) the person makes a call to an emergency service number; and
(b) the person makes the call otherwise than for the purpose of reporting an emergency; and
(c) the call is a vexatious one.
Penalty: Imprisonment for 3 years.
(3) In determining whether a call by a person to an emergency service number is a vexatious one, have regard to:
(a) the content of the call; and
(b) the number, frequency and content of previous calls the person has made to emergency service numbers otherwise than for the purpose of reporting emergencies; and
(c) any other relevant matter.
It follows that if a person makes repeated calls to triple zero to complain about the noise from the local ambulance and fire service, particularly where he or she has been warned that the calls are inappropriate may well be committing a criminal offence.
It should also be noted that ringing triple zero would be completely pointless. The emergency call service does not operate the ambulance service or the fire and emergency service. They answer calls to triple zero and pass the calls onto the relevant emergency service. Telling them there is a ‘misuse & overuse of sirens’ (whether that’s true or not) will achieve nothing. The person who takes that call cannot do anything about it. If my correspondent wants to raise the issue, he or she should contact Queensland Ambulance and/or Queensland Fire and Emergency Service. Harassing the triple zero call taker will just upset another person’s day for no purpose.
Is the misuse & overuse of sirens that occurs constantly here a criminal offence
Well it could be. There are provisions for breaching noise standards (Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) s 440Q) but there are no default standard for a siren (ss 440R-440ZA). Further, excluded from the prohibition are ‘noise from the ordinary use of a public road or State-controlled road’ (Schedule 1, cl 1(f)) and noise from ‘performing a function under the Disaster Management Act 2003’ (cl 2(c)).
In any event the question supposes that there is a ‘misuse & overuse of sirens’. My correspondent says ‘There is no way that these Ambos & fire engines are all attending emergencies when they occur 24/7 at all hours (yes 2am or MN)…’ On what basis they reach that conclusion is unknown. The emergency services operate a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week operation. Emergencies occur at 2am or I suppose MN means ‘midnight’. Of course many calls to the emergency services are not emergencies. A fire brigade may respond to a fire alarm that turns out to be a fault in an automatic alarm system and an ambulance service may respond to a call for urgent assistance that turns out to be a call to something trivial, but they don’t know that it’s a false alarm until they get there so it is an emergency response.
The Transport Operations (Road Use Management–Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (QLd) require drivers to make way for emergency vehicles where the vehicle is (emphasis added) ‘displaying a flashing blue or red light … or sounding an alarm’ (rr 78 and 79). Further the driver of an emergency vehicle is exempt relevant road rules when, inter alia, he or she is ‘taking reasonable care’ and ‘the vehicle is displaying a blue or red flashing light or sounding an alarm.’ It follows that siren is not required in every case but the point of the siren is to warn other road users that the emergency vehicle requires clear passage and the driver may seek to drive in a way contrary to the road rules. Sounding the siren, as well as activating the beacons, is part of ‘taking reasonable care’. The reason that the emergency services use the lights and sirens is to reduce the risk of a road accident and injury to others to whom the owe an established duty of care. It is a reasonable, if not prescribed, response to the risk to other road users.
It follows that there are two possibilities.
- The emergency services in Ipswich are busy and are responding to emergency calls at all hours of night and day which is something that the emergency services are expected to do; or
- There is a conspiracy between two unrelated services, Queensland Ambulance Service and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services to drive around using their siren to annoy the neighbours and ‘sometimes even play tunes on their sirens’ (given that the sirens do not play tunes).
My correspondent says the better explanation is (2) rather than (1) above. I suspect most readers of this blog would accept that explanation (1) seems like the more reasonable explanation.
The reason for conclusion (2) is ‘There is no way that these Ambos & fire engines are all attending emergencies when they occur 24/7…’ Presumably the evidence for that, as is the case in so many FaceBook comments is ‘that explanation doesn’t fit my experience. It’s not my experience that there are emergencies every day at all hours of the day or night and my experience – my data point of one – must reflect the true world so if it’s not true in my experience it cannot be true in anyone elses’. Of course those in the emergency services would have a different experience and I’m sure would rather be in bed at 2am rather than driving around playing ‘tunes on their sirens’ to annoy local residents.
Misuse and overuse of sirens could be an offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) but it would require detailed knowledge of noise standards and those provisions (detailed knowledge that I don’t have) to determine if that is possible. But, of course, that implies there is ‘misuse and overuse’ of sirens. To prove that would require more than mere conjecture that ‘There is no way that these Ambos & fire engines are all attending emergencies when they occur 24/7 at all hours…’ A person would have to get details of each callout and show that the use of the siren was a deliberate misuse rather than a response to an emergency call. The fact that it may turn out that there was no emergency would be irrelevant if there was a response to an emergency call.
In the meantime calling ‘000 [to]… tell them that there is misuse of sirens going on here’ could be an offence under the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth)..