The Fire Industry Association (FIA) warns that if the fire and rescue services are to charge the public when attending false alarms, as proposed in the new Localism Bill, it could have a serious impact on fire safety in England and Wales. 

FIA CEO, Graham Ellicott, comments: "If fire and rescue services charge for false alarm attendance they run the risk that companies will switch off their fire alarm systems to avoid being fined", which could have serious, potentially life-threatening implications, the FIA told FIRE.

The Localism Bill, which is now before the Parliamentary Bill Committee, is part of the government's much publicised devolvement of powers to councils and neighbourhoods, and it includes the proposal that fire and rescue services are to be given the power to charge for attending false alarms. 

With recent fire cutbacks, of course, the fire and rescue services want to minimise time wasting due to recurring false alarms but the increased fire risk to buildings and the financial and environmental consequences must be considered. If people decide to turn fire detection and alarms off because the alternative is a fine, this is a very dangerous route to take.

Had the trade been consulted before the Bill was laid before Parliament it is likely that the drafters would have been far better informed with regard to the ramifications that it potentially has for life safety and property protection.

The fire trade has worked hard with the Chief Fire Officers Association to develop the 'CFOA Policy for the Reduction of False Alarms and Unwanted Fire Signals' but unfortunately this has not been widely adopted by individual fire and rescue services.

False alarm charging could have impact on the Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs) that are often used by companies to alert the fire and rescue services of a fire alarm. 

Graham Ellicott adds: "If the day comes when charging is levied for false alarm attendance who will the bill be sent to? This is not a clear cut issue as many have assumed that it would be the owner of the building, which in itself could lead to the serious consequences I have already alluded to. However, in the past, bills were sent to the transmitter of the alarm signal - that is the ARC. If that is to be the case again, then given the ARC's current view of the ever-changing way that the brigades are treating false alarms, they have to strongly consider whether they want to be involved with the fire sector, especially as the security sector is larger and better regulated!"  

Since its inception, the Association of Chief Police Officers 'Security Systems Policy' has drastically driven down the number of false calls that are passed to the police by electronic security systems, while during the same period the numbers of these systems installed has increased many fold. Graham Ellicott added: "One has to ask why the same approach can't be used for the fire sector?"

A positive factor to be taken from the Localism Bill is that it will apply only to businesses. In an exchange between Jack Dromey, MP, the Right Honourable Member for Birmingham Erdington and Robert Neill, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DCLG, Mr Dromey asked: "Could the Minister reassure us - this is the one reassurance that I ask for - that the proposed powers will not apply to domestic premises?"

Mr Neill confirmed that it would not, replying: "I can assure the Honourable Gentleman at once that we do not intend to do that."

Graham Ellicott continued: "We take some comfort from the fact that homeowners and tenants will not be subject to potential fines, and that the Bill will not therefore impact on domestic fire safety. However, for business, the issues still remain and we urge the government to look at the potential consequences very carefully in their consideration of the Bill."


Posted: 10.55am, 22.02.11