London Fire Brigade

Hospitals worst for unnecessary fire call outs

08 October 2012

Hospitals in London are the biggest culprits when it comes to calling firefighters to false alarms, according to the London Fire Brigade’s top 10 list released today.

The top ten, all hospitals, accounted for 1,189 false alarm calls to the Brigade last year, more than three a day.

The nine worst each had more than 100 unnecessary call outs last year. Number one on the list is St. Georges Hospital and its surrounding buildings in Tooting which had 169 false alarms last year, around one every other day.

The other nine hospital sites and the number of false call outs last year are:

• Kings College Hospital, Denmark Hill – 163
• Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield – 161
• Ealing Hospital, Uxbridge Road -  159
• Hillingdon Hospital, Hillingdon – 143
• Queen’s Hospital, Romford – 131
• Guy’s and St.Thomas’ Hospital, Lambeth – 126
• Homerton Hospital, Homerton Row – 112
• Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel – 100
• Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead - 94

Despite a reduction of 23 per cent in the last five years, a fire engine is still called to a false alarm every 12 minutes in the capital, costing an estimated £34 million each year. As well as being costly for London, false alarms are a nationwide problem, with the Government estimating that they cost the UK around £1 billion a year.

Over a third of all emergency calls are to false alarms, with 40,839 attended last year. Of these over 27,000 call outs are to commercial or public buildings and mainly due to faulty or badly maintained automatic alarm systems. These unnecessary calls impact on the Brigade’s ability to attend real incidents, deliver training and carry out vital community safety work.

Fire alarms act as a vital early warning system, helping keep people safe by alerting them to fires and giving them more time to escape. But, the majority of false alarms caused by faulty or badly maintained automatic fire alarm systems or things like burnt toast, steam or cigarette smoke.

James Cleverly, Chairman of London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said:

“Every penny of taxpayers’ money is precious, especially in the current economic climate. We can’t keep sending our crews out to non existent fires, particularly when a little extra care and attention from the owners or managers of buildings could solve this problem.

“This is about the Brigade being able to  do the job people expect it to – attend real emergencies. The management of these alarm systems must improve so that our crews are not sent to needless call outs.”

The Brigade continues to work closely with organisations across the capital, such as hospitals, universities, hotels and airports, in a bid to reduce the number of false alarms it responds to. In 2009, the Brigade introduced call filtering to help reduce the number of unwanted call outs. Between 6am and 9pm control officers ask the caller why the alarm is sounding. If the caller confirms that it is not because of a fire then no fire engines are sent.

One organisation that has taken great strides to improve the number of false fire alarms London’s fire crews are called out to is King’s College London. Staff from the University worked closely with the Brigade to reduce false alarms by 44 per cent between 2007 and 2011.

Notes to editors

The false alarms at the hospitals mentioned are those generated by automatic fire alarm systems and fire detection systems.

The estimated cost of attending an automatic fire alarm has been taken from - Fire and Rescue Service Partnership Working Toolkit for Local Area Agreements -http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/fire/workingtoolkit.