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From Wednesday, 1 January the London Fire Brigade (LFB) will be the first fire service in the country to recover costs from buildings like hospitals, airports and student digs with a poor false alarm record.
The Brigade hopes the charging scheme will encourage those responsible for buildings to improve the maintenance of their fire alarms in order to reduce the number of times they go off unnecessarily. Time spent at unnecessary calls has a knock-on effect on the amount of time fire crews can spend on training, community safety and could delay attendances at real emergencies.
New figures released today show that if charging was in place last year hospitals alone would have faced a bill of £500,000 for the excessive number of times firefighters were called to a fire alarm sounding. Hospitals are responsible for the vast majority of the false alarms that the capital’s firefighters are called out to.
In a bid to highlight the extent of the problem, the Brigade has released the names of London hospitals that called the Brigade over 70 times to false alarms last year. They are:
Hospitals - 2012/13
St. Georges Hospital, SW17 - 136
Kings College Hospital, SE5 - 129
Chase Farm Hospital, EN2 - 128
Royal London Hospital, E1- 98
Hillingdon Hospital, UB8 - 94
Ealing Hospital, UB1 -94
Homerton Hospital, E9 - 87
Royal Free Hospital, NW3 - 79
Firefighters were called out to 403 locations more than ten times last financial year and had the charge been in place the Brigade would have recovered around £800,000.
False alarms from automatic systems account for around 40,000 call outs every year, making up a third of all incidents for fire crews in London. Over the last two years there has been a 15 per cent reduction in the number of false alarms at non-residential buildings but the Brigade said that the figures are still too high.
Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, James Cleverly, said:
“The public deserve and expect firefighters to be available to attend genuine emergencies rather than attending thousands of false alarms. The vast bulk of automatic fire alarm calls turn out not to be fires, these are often caused by poor management or maintenance of alarm systems.
“This is not a money making exercise but we are leading the way in recovering our spend on unwanted call outs and educating building managers to properly maintain their fire alarm systems.”
The Brigade will recover the cost from those responsible for the fire alarm systems where firefighters are called out to false alarms ten times or more in a 12 month period. The £290 plus VAT penalty applies to buildings across the capital but not domestic properties or care homes.
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 pounds per year.
Notes to editors:
Further details on how and why the Brigade is recovering the cost for false alarms on the reducing false alarm page.
If charges had come into force between 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013.
Type of property - number of charges - amount
Hospital - 1,722 - £499,380
Airport - 229 - £66,410
Student Hall of Residence - 156 - £45,240
College/University - 98 - £28,420
Nurses'/Doctors' accommodation - 90 - £26,100
The cost recovery plans are outlined and consulted on in the Brigade’s Draft Fifth London Safety Plan.
False fire alarms
The false alarms at the hospitals mentioned are those generated by automatic fire alarm systems and fire detection systems.
There were 25,550 attendances in total to non residential or other building AFAs in 2012/13 (as compared to 29,923 and 27,839 in 2010/11 and 2011/12 respectively.)
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 dust .
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.
Recovering costs forms one part of the Brigade’s efforts to reduce unwanted call outs and fire chiefs will continue to give advice and guidance to building owners to help them reduce false alarms.