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What do you think about proposals to change the way automatic fire alarms are responded to in Norfolk?

PUBLISHED: 18:14 31 July 2012

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Hundreds of businesses across Norfolk are to be asked whether they would back a proposal by the fire service not to attend incidents at their premises triggered by automatic fire alarms.

Fire chiefs are proposing to change the way the service responds to some alarms as part of a cost-cutting move aimed at saving about £31,000.

Instead of turning out each time an automatic fire alarm sounds, firefighers would only turn up once there has been confirmation of a suspected fire.

That means crews would not automatically turn up if alarms went off at businesses ranging from shops, pubs, factories, as well as public buildings and churches.

The service is writing to businesses across Norfolk as well as consulting business bodies including Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, The Federation of Small Businesses, and the Institute of Directors to gauge their views.

However, any changes would still need to be approved by county councillors ahead of any implementation, which is expected to be next year.

Group Manager Richard Herrell, head of community fire protection, said currently some 95pc of all automatic fire alarms (AFAs) attended by Norfolk’s fire and rescue service are false alarms, with a third of those among, or about 700 involving business premises.

That meant fire engines were turned out unnecessarily 2124 times last year at an estimated cost of £102,000 to the Norfolk taxpayer.

And he said last year only two of the remaining incidents required any further action by firefighters when they arrived.

“Whether through disruption to productivity, lost custom or general inconvenience, research by the Department of Communities and Local Government suggests that the cost to the UK economy from unwanted fire alarm calls is nearly £1bn per year,” he said. “This change would also free up our crews and resources for real emergencies.2

Many business in Norfolk work with private Fire Alarm Monitoring Organisations (FAMO’s) which provide a link between fire alarm systems and the Fire Service control room. But a high number do not provide up to date key holder information to enable the FAMO to contact the business when the fire alarm sounds.

Mr Herrell said that the changes meant that businesses themselves would have to take more responsibility for ensuring their alarm systems worked properly and their FAMO information was up to date instead of relying on the service to simply turn up.

“Our proposed changes would mean those affected reviewing their fire safety policies and procedures,” he added. “For example they would need to ensure that if the fire alarm goes off during normal working hours they clarify the situation before calling the fire service. Outside normal business hours, it will be essential that arrangements are in place for someone to establish if the fire service is needed.”

It is the second time in three years the service has looked to try and cut costs around AFA call outs - a previous measure in 2009 looked to save nearly £99,000.

The service insists that such a move would bring Norfolk into line with many fire and rescue services across the country who have introduced similar strategies., while the changes would not apply to AFAs operating in premises used for sleeping accommodation, by vulnerable people, schools and some special industrial sites. The response to people’s homes would also remain unaffected.

Harry Humphrey, cabinet member for community protection, said: “Since last April our fire and rescue service has worked hard to drive down the number of false alarms firefighters attend. The service achieved a total reduction of over 600 calls in 2011/12; however officers believe they can go further and become even more efficient without crucially, compromising safety. I am sure Members will be interested to hear about these proposals.”

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber, said: “We are pleased to see that the fire service is going to consult the business community before making any decision which could have a significant impact on key types of businesses. One size may not fit all in this case and we would encourage all businesses to make their thoughts known so a reasoned decision can be made.”

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