IFSJ Exclusive: No cause for alarm with STI

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STI looks at why false fire alarms are continue to cost the UK

False fire alarm numbers continue to rise post-pandemic causing major issues for the economy by wasting vital time and resources.

The latest Home Office figures from the year ending September 2022 reveal fire and rescue services attended 238,885 fire false alarms, the largest total of false fire alarms in over a decade, an increase of 10% compared with the previous year.

With an 18% increase from the previous year for malicious false fire alarms, 6,473 false alarms were determined, the number still rising post-COVID.

False fire alarms continue to be the largest proportion of incidents attended at 38% and so it is increasingly important to minimise false alarms to ensure both the safety of individuals and the efficient use of emergency services.

The British Standard BS 5839:2017-1 recommends that: “All MCPs should be fitted with a protective cover, which is moved to gain access to the frangible element” – to reduce false alarms.

The recommendation is essential in helping to ensure that buildings are adequately protected against the risk of false fire alarms, leading to complacency and therefore possible fatalities.

Protective covers can also act as a deterrent to malicious activations of call points, a teenager was arrested in Aberdeen after setting off fire alarms more than a dozen times, which police investigated as ‘deliberate and malicious’. Firefighters attended calls and wasted time and resources, meaning they could not respond to real emergency calls.  

False alarms are costly and disruptive, amounting to around £1 billion a year for the UK they often require emergency responders to mobilise and respond to a non-existent emergency, wasting resources and time.

False fire alarms can be costly for building owners with fines introduced for repeated false alarms from emergency services, as they may have to attend multiple times, causing a drain on resources that could be better used elsewhere.

They can also cause panic and confusion, particularly if they occur frequently, making it harder for people to take the necessary steps to evacuate safely in the event of a real fire. Frequent false alarms can lead to complacency among building occupants, who may not take real fire alarms seriously, potentially putting themselves and others at risk.

Firefighters attended false alarms a considerable number of times at Basset Lodge, an independent living facility for many elderly and disabled people. False fire alarms are not only disruptive for staff and residents but also pose a risk to their safety, and place additional strain on fire and rescue services.

Residents of the facility said they were concerned that fire crews may not attend if there is a real emergency due to the number of false alarms. A 73-year-old resident, who has lived at the site for 19 years, expressed her frustration with the situation, said that the false alarms are causing panic among those with disabilities and health problems. She also noted that some tenants have to use the stairs because the lift is not working due to the alarm system.

These repeated false alarms can lead to complacency in the public, lowering the sense of urgency in real evacuations.

“Protective covers can help to control the number of accidental and malicious fire alarms.”

Protective covers can help to control the number of accidental and malicious fire alarms, but there are many ways in which you can reduce false alarms, for example regularly checking and testing equipment to ensure it is not faulty is one approach to preventing unnecessary risk for the fire department and public from false alarms.

As the original call point cover manufacturer, Safety Technology International manufacture tough covers that have been specifically designed to help deter false fire alarms and to prevent malicious or accidental activation of manual call points. The strong, durable construction of our Stopper polycarbonate call point protectors means they can withstand the toughest knocks, whilst offering lasting protection against false fire alarms.

With various models available in a range of sizes and colours, and multi-language or custom text options, we have covers suitable for most applications or devices. Sounder models help to deter malicious activations with an audible alarm that draws immediate attention to the area. Waterproof models also allow for outside application, protecting devices and manual call points against the ingress of dust or water.

You can view the full Stopper range on stand FI.2620 at FIREX International between 16-18 May 2023. 

10-year high

In the year ending September 2022, UK Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) attended 238,885 fire false alarms according to a report from the Home Office. This marks the largest total of fire false alarms since the year ending September 2012, and a 10% increase compared to the previous year’s figures of 217,925. False alarms were categorized into three types: due to apparatus, good intent, and malicious.

Due to apparatus calls accounted for 68% of all false alarms, with 163,257 recorded in the year ending September 2022. This represents a 10% increase from the previous year and a 9% increase compared to five years ago.

Good intent calls, made in good faith by the caller believing that the FRS would attend a fire, accounted for 29% of all false alarms. The number of good intent calls was 69,155, an 8% increase from the previous year and a 4% increase compared to five years ago.

Malicious false alarms, made with the intent of getting the FRS to attend a non-existent incident, accounted for 3% of all false alarms. The number of malicious false alarms was 6,473, an 18% increase from the previous year but a 9% decrease compared to five years ago.

The proportion of total incidents that were fire false alarms in the year ending September 2022 was 38%, which has been relatively stable over the past decade, varying between 38% and 44%.

The report notes that the number of fire false alarms attended by FRSs in England had been on a downward trajectory, from a peak of around 393,900 in the early 2000s to a low of around 211,000 in the year ending September 2015. However, since then, there has been a gradual increase to around 239,000 fire false alarms in the year ending September 2022.

The report suggests that the increase in false alarms may be due to a range of factors, including increased use of automatic fire alarm systems and changes to building use and occupancy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This exclusive article was originally published in the May 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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