London Fire Brigade

Brigade says troublesome fire alarm systems could cost £1m

28 November 2012

London fire chiefs said today that the capital’s worst culprits for false fire alarms, including hospitals and universities, could face a bill of over a million pounds each year, under new plans set to be consulted on by the London Fire Brigade. 

The Brigade is set to consult on plans to start charging building owners and managers of premises where firefighters are called out to false alarms from their automatic systems ten times or more in a twelve month period. The Brigade is currently called out to 403 such buildings more than ten times each year. Under the new proposals, these incidents could cost building owners at least £290 for each fire engine that attends.

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

“A fire engine is called out to a false alarm from an automatic system every twelve minutes in London, which is an absurd waste of time, money and resources, especially in this time of financial uncertainty.

“Firefighters ought to be available to attend genuine emergencies or carry out training or community fire safety work, rather than attending thousands of false alarms.

“Often false alarms are caused by poor management or maintenance of alarm systems. Our proposals to charge should send a clear message that building owners need to sort their fire alarms out or face hefty charges.”

False alarms from automatic systems account for over 40,000 call outs every year for fire crews in London, of which almost 28,000 are to non-domestic premises. Amongst the biggest culprits are hospitals and universities.

As well as being time consuming for firefighters, false alarms are also costly - in London, it is estimated that false alarms cost the Brigade around £37 million each year - and the cost to the UK economy in lost productivity is estimated at around a billion per year.

The Brigade is also concerned that false fire alarms can cause complacency – when they go off all the time, there can be a tendency for people to ignore them, in the case of a real fire, this could be disastrous.

The proposal to charge for repeat false alarm will form part of the Brigade’s Integrated Risk Management Plan, known as the London Safety Plan, which sets out how it will work over the next three years. The plan is expected to be subject to public consultation in January 2013.

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.

The Brigade said it hopes the new charging scheme, if brought in, will encourage the proper use and management of automatic fire alarm systems to make sure those responsible for them have the right processes in place to reduce the number of false alarms. The Brigade also wants all building owners to introduce arrangements where the reason for the fire alarm sounding is investigated before calling 999. 

ENDS

Notes to editors

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

About the London Safety Plan (LSP) and the plans to charge for false fire alarms
The Fire and Rescue Services Act requires all fire and rescue services to produce an integrated risk management plan (IRMP) to manage the risks to their communities. The latest London Safety Plan is the fifth version of our plan and shows how we intend to meet those objectives.

The proposals to charge for false fire alarms form part of the LSP. If Fire Authority members vote to take forward this proposal, the Brigade expects to begin a formal month consultation from January. A decision on whether or not to charge will be taken after this period.

The plan says that the Brigade will review its approach to attending AFAs by introducing charging non-domestic premises owners for 10 or more calls to false alarms due to AFAs in a 12 month rolling period.