False alarms can cost lives

Our firefighters can’t be in two places at once, so if they’re attending a false alarm it means they’re not able to respond to our most serious incidents. Although we’ve been working with partners to reduce the number of false alarms – about a third in recent years – there’s still a lot of work to do, especially as the number of resources we have available reduces.

We split false alarms into three types. ‘False alarm – equipment’ is for calls initiated by fire detection or firefighting equipment activating (such as smoke alarms or sprinklers) when there isn’t a fire. In cases like this, our crews are stood down before arriving. ‘False alarm – good intention’ covers instances where a person sees or smells smoke, thinks there’s a fire and sounds the alarm but there turns out to be nothing. ‘False alarm – malicious’ applies where someone purposely breaks the glass at an alarm point, or interferes with a detector to get the brigade to attend a non-existent fire.

False alarms from automatic systems

What We’re Doing About It

Business Support Vehicles (BSVs)
Business Support VehiclesWe introduced our first BSV in February 2015 as part of efforts to stop fire engines and crews being deployed unnecessarily, and now have three in operation. In the first five month they’ve been in action they’ve attended more than 1,000 false alarms, giving advice and support to businesses to make them and the people working their safe. In particular, advice is given on the management and suitability of fire alarms, leading to a reduction in Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) calls. Where necessary, this may also involve commencing enforcement of fire safety law.

Driven by Fire Safety Inspecting Officers and operating the 12 hours a day when false alarm calls are known to be most frequent, the vehicles have come from various partnerships including with Jaguar Land Rover.

Call Challenging
We’ve worked hard to achieve a policy and procedure that allows a proportional response to AFA calls, based upon risk analysis. One of the best ways that a fire service can establish whether or not to respond in such cases is by speaking to someone at the premises concerned. This enables our fire control operators to ask relevant questions of the responsible person at the premises and, if then necessary, send the appropriate resources to save life and protect property.  This is known as ‘call challenge’ and ‘dynamic mobilising’.

As of 1st June 2015, we challenge all calls from Alarm Receiving Centres on a 24/7 basis, but will automatically respond to hospitals, prisons and care line calls at all times. Similarly, we’ll always attend premises that confirm that there is a fire via the 999 system.

Exceptions List
There are some specific circumstances in which we will still attend AFAs:

  • Lone workers – where we’re informed there’s only 1 member of staff on duty.
  • ‘Break glass’ point broken
  • Actuation of two detector heads (double knock)
  • Report of smoke or fire
  • Site Specific Information (SSI) listed against a premise – this is usually requested by our Fire Safety team requiring an attendance for all calls for a specific reason.

For further information on reducing false alarms, you can view this guidance from the: Chief Fire Officer’s Association’s website