An alarming number of emergency callouts around South Canterbury could have been dealt with sooner if callers relied on 111 instead of the phone book.
Timaru fire service senior station officer Garry Parker is concerned by callers who look up the closest fire station in the phone book, instead of dialling 111.
His concerns continued late on Sunday when at least two reports of a fire were received by Timaru's duty fire crew, via the station's landline number.
The callers were lucky someone was on site to answer the phones, he said.
Calls are often valid and always appreciated by the fire crews, but emergencies could be dealt with sooner if people dial 111 instead.
"People have got this hang-up about ringing 111. If you are concerned enough [to call the station], just ring 111."
Mr Parker said he did not understand people's reluctance.
The 111 service was there for a reason and people should not be afraid to use it, especially if they can see people or property are in danger, he said.
A Timaru police spokesman confirmed callers had also phoned the police station at times when 111 would be more appropriate.
In many cases, the caller did not want to be a nuisance, he said.
A situation, recently dealt with by Christchurch police, has proved how invaluable the 111 service is after a Somerfield resident's 111 call led to the arrest of two burglary suspects on Friday.
Detective Inspector Virginia Le Bas said the woman was returning to her Rose St home by car at 2pm when she saw an unknown man walking up the driveway towards the back of her house.
"She was suspicious of the man and called 111 immediately.
"She continued to watch from a distance and was able to give police communications centre staff a description of the man and pass on details of the man's movements."
Police units were on the scene in "a matter of minutes" and the man was apprehended a short time later, along with a second offender who was confronted by a resident at a neighbouring property, she said.
The two men, a 20-year-old and a 23-year-old, both of Christchurch, appeared in court on Saturday on burglary charges and were remanded on bail to reappear on February 11.
Timaru's St John Ambulance staff have not had as much trouble as police and fire crews getting people to ring 111.
Operations team leader Curt Ward said no matter what landline people dialled at St John, they were prompted by a recorded message to hang up and dial 111 if their call was an emergency.
- The Timaru Herald