‘Can you extinguish the fire in my heart?’

LAHORE: In a distressing and shocking revelation, a report shows that emergency service numbers set up to assist those in need of dire help in Pakistan are being abused indiscriminately by those looking for a reason to kill time. An unbelievable 97% of the phone calls received by the District Control Rooms (DSR) of the Punjab Emergency Service (Rescue-1122) were found to be, “fake, obnoxious, distracting and time wasting.”

Data reveals that ever since the service was launched in 2004, of the 63 million calls made to Rescue-1122, around 61 million calls (around 97%) were essentially crank and prank calls.

According to The Express Tribune, a little less than 2.2 million of the total calls were genuine requests for help in an emergency situation.

Punjab Emergency Service Director General Rizwan Naseer said, “It’s a tragedy. The rescue service that helps victims of emergencies is being pestered by crank callers. Since its inception, only 2,168,898 calls out of the total 63,618,335 that the service has received in Districts Control Rooms across the Punjab were genuine.” He said on average, the Lahore District Control Room received between 4,000 and 4,500 calls a day; but only 300 of them actually related to emergencies.

“Mostly, young girls from colleges and universities, perhaps sitting in groups, make fake calls. Most such calls are received during the morning shift,” Naseer said.

He urged the citizens to realise the importance of emergency services, their objectives and purpose.

A senior Rescue-1122 official said the majority of the crank calls were made by women “who wasted the precious time of the operators responding to the calls by flirting with them or trying to indulge them in immoral conversations.”

According to the call data, available with The Express Tribune, the majority of women crank callers often started the conversation with phrases like “I love you”, “I like your voice and would like to befriend you” or “Can you extinguish the fire that burns in my heart?”

“Women crank callers often insist that the staff taking their calls give them their personal phone numbers,” said the official who did not want to be named.

He said that every single call made to Rescue-1122 was recorded, for evaluating the response time and for reference. 

To check crank calls, Jam Sajjad Hussain, a spokesman for Rescue-1122, said, “We have developed a software that filters fake calls and permanently blacklists crank callers’ phone numbers after 10 bogus calls.”

Asked what if a fake caller actually met an emergency, Hussain said, “When a phone number is blacklisted after 10 crank calls, the caller is never entertained again.”

He said such callers should realise that their actions could cost someone’s life.

“Sometimes victims of emergencies fail to get prompt response as their calls are not put through to operators kept busy by crank callers.”

Hussain said there was a provision in the law for imposing a fine of Rs 50,000, six-month imprisonment or both on fake callers; however no one had been penalised so far.

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