29 November 2011 by Graham Ellicott, Previous FIA CEO

When Government research points to attendance at automatic fire alarm (AFA) signals my question is, why are the fire and rescue services (FRS) opting to reduce attendance to them?

Quoting the DCGL’s newly published, ‘Fire Statistics Great Britain, 2010 – 2011’; “There were 337,300 false alarms attended in 2010-11, a decrease of 5% from 2009-10 and one third lower than the peak level of 507,000 in 1995.”

The number of false alarms is obviously still far too high but not as high as you might have been led to believe by English Fire and rescue Services.  In many cases the FRS has now withdrawn or greatly reduced attendance to AFA signals to which it is not possible to confirm a real fire with a ‘call back’ from the Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). They believe that every call that cannot be confirmed as a real fire is a false alarm. Well, I wish I had this amount of foresight - choosing lottery numbers would be my first port of call!

The inability to confirm that a fire is actually occurring could be down to several factors, not the least of which is that the occupants of the building can’t get to the phone to answer the ARC because they are trapped by the very thing that needs confirmation!

So, what should the approach be with regard to responding to AFA Signals?  This subject has been looked at by the Department for Communities and Local Government in their 2008 report, ‘Costs and Benefits of Alternative Responses to Automatic Fire Alarms - Fire Research Series 2/2008’.

The report looks at the “Optimal response to AFA calls” and concludes that:

“the analysis shows that the optimal strategy minimises fire fatalities and maximises resources released to fire prevention activities while ensuring that response to actual fires is not delayed. The closest match is achieved by a Time and Risk strategy. The analysis presented herein suggests that the T&R1 policy which corresponds to a one pump attendance at day time AFA calls, two pumps to night time sleeping risk and one pump to night time non-sleeping risk properties is the most favoured AFA response strategy.”

So, you may ask if DCLG concluded the above in 2008, why then three years later are English Fire and Rescue Services such as, Warwickshire, West Midlands, Essex and Royal Berkshire not attending some AFA signals? The FIA has asked the question and, to date, has not received any answers other than that which infer the economic climate has changed and thus the way that the Fire and rescue operates has to change as well.

Well, times are tough out there, God knows FIA members know this only too well. Doesn’t this mean that there’s likely to more, rather than less, fires? And that any cut in attendance could be considered foolhardy in the extreme, particularly as DCLG has concluded that an alternative approach is the most appropriate one?

But the madness continues with several other English Fire and Rescue Services also announcing proposals to reduce attendance; the latest ones being Kent, West Yorkshire and Hereford and Worcestershire. Have they not read the Government Research…?