`

Safety concerns raised as Notts rescue crews will now ‘call ahead’ before scrambling to answer fire alarms

Fire crews will not automatically turn out now when alarms are triggered
Fire crews will not automatically turn out now when alarms are triggered

Fire crews in Nottinghamshire will no longer be automatically sent to fire alarms but will now call ahead to check it is a genuine alarm.

Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service said more than 3,000 call outs last year were the result of faulty equipment and fire alarms set off for ‘non-fire reasons’, such as dust build-up, people burning toast, or incorrect maintenance.

It cost the service around £900,000 to attend these incidents.

Many fire alarm systems in office blocks and shops alert the fire service that an alarm has gone off, and crews are often scrambled, driving under blue lights to get to the scene.

Now, they will ‘call challenge’ someone at the building to check the alarm is genuine before sending a crew.

However, concerns have been raised that the new policy may cause delays in response times to genuine fires.

Some ‘high risk’ buildings will be exempt from the new scheme, meaning fire crews will be called out to every alarm.

These include all residential properties, care homes, high-rise housing blocks, hospitals, and grade I and II listed properties. Schools are not exempt, so fire alarms set off in schools will not be automatically attended.

However, concerns were also raised over the policy to ‘call challenge’ unoccupied buildings.

The changes mean if an automatic fire detector (AFD) goes off in a building known to be empty, such as a vacant industrial unit, the fire service will ask the fire alarm company to call the key holder or person responsible for the building.

Councillor Jason Zadrozny, who sits on the fire authority’s community safety committee, said: “There is a real chance that we won’t attend a fire and someone will be harmed. That’s not been included in the risk analysis.”

Speaking about the plan not to automatically respond to unoccupied units, Councillor Zadrozny said: “If that’s an isolated industrial unit, and we’re trying to call someone who then has to get there to find out if there’s an incident, and then when they say ‘yes it’s a fire’ then we take say 10 minutes to get there, that building is going to be burned down by the time we get there.”

Councillor Zadrozny, who is the leader of Ashfield District Council and represents the Ashfields ward on the county council, voted against the proposals. However, the scheme passed by four votes to one.

Wayne Bowcock, deputy chief fire officer and the service, spoke in favour of the scheme.

He said it was difficult to calculate the exact financial benefit from the scheme, but there is a host of other benefits.

He said: “This really brings us in line with the national guidelines, and this has been in place in other parts of the country for many years.

“More than 98 percent of the AFDs we respond to aren’t real fires, and the ones that are tend to be small fires such as waste bins.

“If a building has frequent alarms, there is an apathy in terms of trust in the fire alarm system, so people think ‘oh it’s just another false alarm’.

“So when there is actually an incident people don’t act responsibly. We need to make sure that when an alarm goes off, it is listened to.”

Now, when an AFD alarm goes off, the fire alarm management company receives an alert, and passes the information on to the fire service, who respond.

Under the new plans, the fire management company will be asked to contact the building managers to ascertain if the fire is genuine. If the fire service does not receive a reply within 20 minutes, it will not send anyone.

Hotels will be call challenged between 8am and 9pm, but crews will be sent automatically outside those hours.

Last year, the service attended 3,000 false alarms due to faulty equipment – an average of eight a day.

With an estimated cost of £300 per call out, it means false alarms cost taxpayers around £900,000 in one year alone.

The scheme is part of a project with Derbyshire and Leicestershire fire services, who are synchronising their policies.

Several risks are associated with attending false alarms, the service said.

They  include: fire crews being tied up at a false alarm when a genuine alarm comes through; increased risk of accidents when responding under emergency conditions; disruption to prevention services due to fire crews being called away.

It also said false alarms can create complacency among occupants of the building, which leads to inappropriate responses.

Kit Sandeman , Local Democracy Reporting Service