Carbon monoxide detectorOnly one in 50 automatic fire alarms (AFAs) is caused by a genuine emergency and Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS) is proposing a change in its policy on responding to AFAs to reflect this. 

The Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Authority agreed on 19 October that Firefighters will not attend AFAs during working hours from premises that do not provide sleeping accommodation (ie offices, shops, factories, schools, local authority buildings) unless someone from the affected location calls them to confirm there is an incident such as a fire. This could reduce call outs to false alarms by over 400 a year.

In 2014 98% of the 2,000 AFAs responded to were false alarms, so in all but forty incidents fire appliances were needlessly sent to premises. In many cases AFAs caused repeated false alarms to the same premises. 

BFRS will work with repeat offenders to reduce their false AFAs, if, however, they do not reduce false alarms the Service could charge them the cost of turning out needlessly.

The new policy will not affect AFAs from domestic dwellings (e.g. houses, flats etc), those premises where people sleep (such as residential care homes, hospitals, hotels or boarding schools), and heritage sites (such as churches).

BFRS Business and Commercial Safety Manager John Foolkes explains: “Attending Automatic Fire Alarms only after a call confirming we are needed will cut our mobilising to false alarms by up to 38%. 

“False alarms from AFAs mean our Firefighters are not available to respond to real fires and has financial consequences for the service. There is the cost of sending fire appliances to false AFAs and there is the cost and inconvenience of taking on-call Firefighters from their jobs or homes for no purpose. 

“AFAs should provide an early warning of a fire that would otherwise not be detected, usually when the building is not occupied. If there are employees present who would quickly notice a fire then alarms that could be set off accidentally by common issues like building work, aerosols or cooking could be isolated by building managers to reduce the chance of a false alarm.

“We will work closely with those responsible for repeated false alarms to reduce them. But if they fail to find a solution they could face formal enforcement action or even a charge of hundreds of pounds for each false AFA.”

Under the proposed policy BFRS will continue to respond to all AFAs out of office hours, however there is an expectation that whilst a property is occupied any automatic alarm will need to be followed up by a call from the location, a call from a passer-by or from another emergency service to verify it is a real emergency.