After it emerged that unnecessary call outs make up a third of all incidents in London, the London Fire Brigade has become the first fire service in the country to charge public buildings and businesses for “unnecessary” call outs in order to recover costs from these buildings for false fire alarms.
Only buildings that have 10 or more false alarms a year will be charged the £290 plus VAT fee per call and domestic properties and care homes will be exempt.
The Brigade is concerned that false fire alarms cause complacency, and in the case of a real fire this could be dangerous. Further, it is hoped the charging scheme will encourage those responsible to improve the maintenance of their alarms to reduce the number of times they go off unnecessarily.
Figures from the Brigade show that for the 2011/12 period firefighters were called to 131 false alarms at Queen’s Hospital in Romford. For such a high number of false alarms, had the new system been in place the hospital would have had to pay out over £35,000 in charges.
However, since then the troubled hospital has seen a sharp decrease in false alarm call outs, which dropped to 65 in 2012/13 and are reportedly further dwindling.
Fire Safety Adviser at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT), Roy Gray, said: “We have had enormous success in reducing the number of calls to London Fire Brigade over the past year. In 2012, they attended Queen’s or King George more than 150 times. In 2013 that has dropped to just 18.
“As well as introducing intensive fire training for our staff – including regular drills and table top exercises – we have also built a brief investigation period into the alarm system.
“This allows us a short time to cancel the automatic call to the fire brigade if it turns out to be a false alarm.
“We know how important it is that fire crews are available to attend emergencies, and will continue to work to reduce any unnecessary call-outs even further.”
Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, James Cleverly, said: “The public deserve and expect firefighters to be available to attend genuine emergencies rather than attending thousands of false alarms.
“The vast bulk of automatic fire alarm calls turn out not to be fires, these are often caused by poor management or maintenance of alarm systems.
“This is not a money-making exercise but we are leading the way in recovering our spend on unwanted call outs and educating building managers to properly maintain their fire alarm systems.”