24 January 2011

A new policy adopted by Northamptonshire County Council’s fire and rescue service aimed at reducing the number of unnecessary callouts to automatic fire alarms has been hailed a success.

Known as unwanted fire signals, these calls occur when an automatic fire detection system is activated and upon investigation by the fire service it is a found a fire has not occurred.

The fire and rescue service are looking to build on this success by continuing to develop the policy that was adopted in January 2010. As part of this review anyone making a 999 call from a building such as a shop, office, factory, warehouse or day school, will be asked by fire control operators to confirm that there is an indication of fire, before a crew is mobilized. This will enable the service to continue to improve the availability of crews to respond to real incidents within the county.

Since the unwanted fire signal policy was introduced, fire crews were not called out unnecessarily on 260 occasions between January and December.

Unwanted fire signals have a serious impact to the fire and rescue service, diverting fire fighters from other genuine emergencies and potentially life-saving activity.

The effects of these types of false alarms also include disruption to business and loss of revenue and productivity, as well as the potential for the alarm system to lose credibility, risking people becoming complacent in the event of a real fire.

The new approach has seen the fire service working more closely with those people who are responsible for the fire safety arrangements within the premises to offer solutions to help avoid false alarms occurring in any building which has an automatic fire alarm system.

Certain premises are exempt from these protocols, including domestic and residential buildings, care homes, hospitals, high-rise and unoccupied buildings.

Councillor Andre Gonzalez de Savage, county council cabinet member for customers and communities said: “On average, false alarms caused by automatic detection systems make up around 30% of incidents attended by our fire and rescue service, diverting our resources from the people and emergencies which need them the most.

“As well as the potential risk to life, responding to false alarms also disrupts our fire crews working in the community and undertaking essential training, not to mention being a waste of time and money.

“We needed to address this issue and the introduction of this new policy a year ago has already begun to make a real impact in the reducing the number of false alarms our crews go out to”.

One success story is The University of Northampton which has worked with the fire and rescue service to implement their own off-line protocol during the day. This means during certain hours the fire alarm system is taken off-line and fire crews are not automatically called out when the automatic fire detection system is activated. Instead, trained university staff will investigate the cause of the activation before dialling 999.

Paul Bradley, occupational health and safety manager at the university said: “By taking our fire alarm system ‘off-line’ and investigating the cause of the fire alarm before calling the fire service, in the event of a false alarm, the length of time that students and staff are kept waiting outside has been reduced from 10 to 15 minutes to approximately five minutes.

“We are confident that immediate onsite investigation by university staff will enhance our current fire safety arrangements. By reducing disruption to our core business our students will be able to focus on their learning and the fire and rescue service to focus their efforts on saving lives”.

For more information on the Unwanted Fire Signals Policy people can contact the Fire Protection team by calling 01604 797000.