Major changes to Fire Service Response

In a move to reduce risks to the public by ensuring firefighters are more often available for real emergencies, crews will no longer be responding to certain calls originating from automatic fire alarms in offices or factories, or to calls from telephone kiosks where the caller dials 999 and abandons the call by hanging up.

Over many years, ECFRS has been working with businesses and the community to address the issue of false alarms caused by system error and has reduced calls year on year. But with 97 per cent of all calls to automatic fire alarms still being false alarms, the Service has decided to take action to ensure its operational resources are used effectively and to ensure that these can be available to respond to real emergencies.

The changes will reduce unnecesary risks to the public in three key areas:
– Appliances, equipment and crews will be available for real emergencies rather than attending AFAs at factories and offices or malicious false alarm calls from telephone kiosks.

– A reduction in the number of ‘blue light’ road traffic movements which, although fire service drivers are highly skilled and trained, still present inherent dangers to the public and fire crews.

– Reduce the number of unnecessary ‘blue light’ movements by over 2,000 calls each year.

“Improvements in incident data and the impact of changing risk and incident patterns means that we are continually assessing the deployment of our resources,” said Deputy Chief Fire Officer Gordon Hunter, Service Delivery. “We always aim to meet the expectations of the public and to keep risk as low as reasonably practicable.

“The Service mobilise to a range of property types from alert systems known as automatic fire alarms. These systems are automatically activated by fire, accidental or deliberate actuation or fault, which in turn alerts our Service Control via an direct line or from a call handing centre, or staff member.

“An analysis of incidents attended by the Service over a 15-month period from April 2009-June 2010 has identified that ECFRS responded to almost 25,000 incidents in total, of which AFAs account for 28 per cent. 97 per cent of these were false alarms.”

Chief Fire Officer David Johnson said that domestic tax payers should not bear the burden of industrial or commercial premises failing to maintain their automatic fire alarms. “I am sure that home owners and businesses would rather our fire crews and appliances are ready to respond to their real emergencies, rather than them not being available because they are sitting outside factories or offices dealing with yet another of the thousands of false alarms that the Service gets on a yearly basis,” he said.

Under new procedures, firefighters will not respond to AFA’s unless a follow up call is received to a confirmed fire. However, the risk to life in premises such as schools and also where people sleep, such as hospitals and residential homes, is considerably higher as children or the elderly and infirm are often involved and reaction may be slower. For this reason, ECFRS will still mobilise to alarm calls at these types of premises.

A number of fire and rescue services have already introduced similar policies without any significant impact on communities.

Before these new arrangements are introduced in February next year, a programme of publicity and communication will be directed at businesses and those premises affected so that everyone is aware of their responsibilities in maintaining effective alarm systems.

These changes have been either trialled or already in place in other brigades. The Fire Brigades Union will make a response shortly

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