London Fire Brigade

Brigade saves millions by reducing false alarm call outs

31 January 2012

The number of false alarms being attended by firefighters in London has fallen by more than 15 per cent over the last four years, saving taxpayers an estimated £9 million, according to new figures from the London Fire Brigade.

The figures, released today, show that firefighters were called out to 40,734 false alarms last year, compared to 48,771 incidents in 2008.

Despite a reduction in the number of false alarm call outs, the figures show that on average, a fire engine is called out to a false alarm every ten minutes in the capital, costing Londoners around £37 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.

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. However, the majority of automatic fire alarms are false alarms caused by faulty or badly maintained systems or things like burnt toast, steam or cigarette smoke.

False alarms can prevent firefighters  from attending real emergencies or carrying out vital fire safety work. Frequent false alarms can also cause people to be less willing to act in the event of a real fire.

The Brigade works closely with organisations across the capital, such as hospitals, universities, hotels and airports, in a bid to reduce the number of false alarms it is called out to. Staff from the Brigade visit these organisations to offer advice on how to manage and maintain their fire alarms properly.

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.
Cllr Brian Coleman, Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said:
“It’s clearly good news that the number of false alarms we’re called out to is going down. However, these incidents are still happening all too frequently and they continue to be a drain on the public purse. Businesses need to make sure their alarms are properly maintained so our firefighters can focus on attending real emergencies.

“Each time firefighters are called out to a false alarm there is a cost involved for us and to the organisation we’re called out to, which effectively has to shut down when the alarm goes off. It’s in the interests of taxpayers and businesses to ensure the number of false alarms we attend continue to drop.”

Suzanne Whitehead, Senior Fire Safety Officer at King’s College London, said:

“False fire alarms are not only a concern for the fire service but they can also cause major disruption for our staff, students and visitors. We have worked hard in recent years to vastly reduce the number of false alarms across our Estate and we have seen positive results all round, particularly in our Halls of Residence.

“The College is continuing to identify improvements and through our membership with USHA, Universities Safety and Health Association, I work closely with fire officers at other UK Universities to share good practice and ideas.”

The Brigade is asking those in charge of the capital’s buildings and businesses to:

• Ensure that someone within the building is responsible for the alarm and knows what to do when it goes off.
• Check that fire alarms are properly installed and are being properly managed and maintained.
• Investigate fire alarms themselves before calling the Brigade out, where it is safe and practical to do so.
• False alarms are followed up and action is taken to prevent unnecessary further alarms.


Notes to editors

Figures for 2011 are provisional end of year figures.

False alarms Twitterthon
The Brigade will be tweeting about all of the false alarms its crews are called out to on Tuesday 31 January in a bid to highlight how many of these calls its firefighters are called out to each day. You can follow the Brigade @LondonFire

What is a false alarm?
The Brigade attends three types of false alarm calls; those made with good intent (eg where someone sees steam from a building and believes it to be smoke from a fire) of which we attend 12,769 in 2011; Malicious hoax calls of which we attended 2,149 in 2011; and false alarm calls from automatic fire alarm system (AFAs), which is the focus of this press release, of which we attended 40,734 in 2011

A false alarm from an AFA is when the alarm goes off as a result of anything other than a real fire. AFAs can go off when they are exposed to things like steam, cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays and light smoke from cooking, like burnt toast. They can also go off when the alarm system is faulty or not being used or maintained properly.

False alarms from AFAs: Who are the worst offenders?
The worst offenders are hospitals, universities and airports, including Heathrow. Hospitals account for a huge number of false alarm call outs - hospitals produced 4,590 false alarm call outs in 2009-10.

How much do they cost?
More information on the cost of AFA false alarms can be found in a guide produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘A guide to reducing the number of false alarms from fire detection and fire alarm systems.’

The guide states that AFA false alarms cost £1 billion a year and that one medium-sized company found that the average false alarm at one of their sites cost them £1,200, and at another site costs amounted to around £126,000 in one year alone.

Who to contact if you are concerned about false fire alarms in your building
You should contact your local fire safety office – there is one in each borough across London, details of which can be found on the Brigade’s website.

Further information
More information on false alarms can be found on the Brigade’s website . The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has also produced a detailed guide to reducing the number of false alarms.

If you would like further information you can also contact Emma Cullen in the Brigade’s press office on 020 8536 5922.