At a meeting of the Humberside Fire Authority on Friday 15 March, Members approved a new response policy for Automatic Fire Alarms (AFAs).
A public consultation began in December 2018 and over 550 responses were received. The consultation asked whether there was support from the public and business community to not attend an AFA if it occurs during the normal working hours of the business concerned, only attending if there is confirmation of a fire at the premises. 77% of respondents agreed and the change in policy was duly approved.
The second question in the consultation asked whether HFRS should charge those businesses who repeatedly call out engines to AFAs when there was no confirmed fire. This gave an even clearer mandate, with 86% of public, staff and businesses agreeing. This was also approved in the FA meeting.
Humberside Fire & Rescue Service (HFRS) receives on average over 1400 false alarm calls every year from businesses and organisations that are an unnecessary drain on emergency service resources.
During 2015-17, HFRS received an annual average of 1661 fire or alarm related calls to commercial properties of which only 14% were actual fires which required an emergency attendance.
Whilst Humberside Fire crews will always attend confirmed fires, at a time when Humberside Fire Authority is facing an extremely challenging financial situation, Members felt it hard to justify continuing to send fire engines in response to AFAs, which are not confirmed fires, when it is known that 86% turn out to be false alarms.
Paul McCourt, HFRS Director of Service Delivery, was pleased that the Fire Authority had approved the proposed changes:
'This has been a large project to put forward the case for making these changes, but the positive public response to our consultation and the detailed consideration given by the Members has ensured we have a solid base from which to proceed.
'Over the next six months, we will fine-tune the policies to ensure that Control staff, operational crews and the local business community are fully aware of the changes and that we continue to work together to make workplaces as safe as they can be.
'The option to charge businesses that continually fail to maintain their alarm systems correctly is a significant step forward in line with many other Services. However, helping businesses to reduce the number of alarm activations will remain our primary focus.'
HFRS will continue to offer advice and guidance to businesses to prevent the occurrence of Automatic Fire Alarms which result in false alarms. This will be also be actively promoted following every attendance to false alarms. HFRS will provide specialist support from their team of Business Safety Inspectors who are available at no charge to provide advice and guidance on how to reduce false alarms.
HFRS believes that charging frequent false alarm callers coupled with the non-attendance outlined earlier, will significantly reduce attendance at false alarms when there is no fire. Any monies recovered will be used to fund education and engagement activities for fire prevention and protection initiatives.
Neither change in policy will be implemented until all departments and staff concerned have received full training and the new policies and guidelines have been embedded. The expected start date is 1 October 2019.