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Staffordshire Fire & Rescue Service - Preventing, Protecting, Responding

False Alarms Risk Lives


Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is warning that false alarms caused by automatic fire alarm systems are putting lives at risk.  Consequently the Service is urging businesses and building owners to take action to help reduce such calls.

"Each time we make an emergency response to these automatic fire alarms we are sending fire engines when they are not really needed."

Head of Risk Reduction, Ian Sloss

Last year Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service attended over 2,500 unwanted fire signals in premises, on average more than seven false alarm calls each and every day of the year. In fact over 98% of the calls to automatic fire alarm systems did not require any firefighting intervention from the fire and rescue service.  This resulted in lower levels of emergency cover for communities whilst the Service attended these false alarms and also restricted its ability to make people safer in their homes - which is where people continue to be injured or killed as a result of fire. 

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is encouraging businesses to help in reducing these false alarms by improving the management and maintenance of their fire alarm systems. They’re also advising businesses to investigate the cause of the alarm before calling the fire and rescue service.

From 1st May 2011 revised procedures will be introduced for dealing with calls to fire alarms operating in buildings. When the Service’s Control Room receive a call they will ask the caller if they can confirm that a fire has occurred, and if so they will then send the necessary number of fire engines to the premises to deal with the incident.  The exception to this will be domestic homes and sheltered accommodation, where the Service will continue to provide a full response where a fire alarm has operated.

Head of Risk Reduction, Ian Sloss said: "Each time we make an emergency response to these automatic fire alarms we are sending fire engines when they are not really needed and consequently they are unavailable to attend real emergencies. The consequence of which could be a life being lost because a fire engine was tied up needlessly attending a false alarm when it was also needed to attend a fire or a car crash. In addition it is not just the fire crews, but other road users who are being put at risk every time a fire engine responds on blue lights.

"Fire alarm systems are installed in buildings to ensure that if there is a fire in the building the occupants are alerted and they can make their way out of the building safely. Repeated false alarms in buildings endanger the safety of the occupants as they lose confidence in the alarm system and may not respond quickly enough to escape when there is a real fire. Unfortunately all too often alarms operate due to things like cooking fumes triggering a false alarm.

"Businesses are responsible for managing the safety of their premises and producing their own fire risk assessments, however these risk assessments should not be based on us providing a full response every time their alarm accidentally activates. They should include procedures to determine if the alarm activation has been caused by a fire or if it’s actually a false alarm."

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is keen to work with businesses and other premises to advise and assist on this transition.  Indeed the Service has been working with businesses for many years now trying to reduce the number of false alarms but with varying degrees of success. After a lot of research and consideration, the Service has decided to take this step to make businesses take the responsibility for their own systems more seriously - which is why businesses will now be required to investigate why their alarm has operated before they dial 999.  Similar arrangements are already happening within the UK and with great success. 

In addition to improving community safety, businesses are also benefiting.  Recent studies have identified that false alarms place excessive burdens on businesses, the latest figures published by the government estimate that the cost of false alarms in the UK is around £1 billion a year. Much of this cost is borne by commerce from lost production and interruptions to business. These costs are not just the cost of lost production in manufacturing businesses, but also loss of sales, disruption to teaching, and even cancelled appointments and operations in health care premises.