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.

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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.”

7 comments

  • Well Norman, you can sleep easy, because if you read the article it says " the changes would not apply to ... premises used for sleeping accommodation, by vulnerable people, schools and some special industrial sites. The response to people’s homes would also remain unaffected." Seems pretty clear to me that you're still covered

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    Tom Jeffries

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012

  • Charge for the actual cost of each and every call out - private individuals, businesses and public services. This leaves the provision of the service within the public services but puts the onus of safety on the recipient. This should include care homes and other residential premises - which should be required to have automated callout with the cost borne by the user. The Fire Service will continue to attend - without compromise to individual safety.

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    Normal bloke

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

  • I live in a retirement home without a full time warden. Due to various things such as bugs and such setting of the alarm ,the fire brigade attended three times within hours. All false alarms. But what if they were ignored on one occasion. It is this very occasion that tragedy will strike. The previous person who suggested that a one car system would solve the problem is spot on. But common sense is so often ignored by the powers to be . It will be interesting to see what risks are taken with people lives to save money.

    Report this comment

    norman hall

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012

  • If the 5% that are real fires are mainly business premises, these are the ones that are vunerable at night, why not dispatch a car with one man to confirm the activation is real or false, thus saving loads of money of turning out a full fire unit to these things? Surely you are not expecting the public to accept that you will not attend unless you actually have flames seen? The 5% of properties would burn down to the ground by the time this had happened. Insurance companies will have to pay out 10 times the amount of supposed savings that the fire bridage is trying to achieve.

    Report this comment

    Farquarson-Smythe

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012

  • The other comments say it all really. If it is an alarm, automatic or personally actuatated button then the fire service shouldwill attend. The only issue in this discussion is should false alarms be paid for and who should have automatic alarms. Obviously any automatic alarm typically used in multiple occupancy homes, schools and colleges etc will always have a non-negotiable instant response..

    Report this comment

    Dave01

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

  • I would not change it, but the full costs of the false alarm should be paid by those concerned. That would concentrate the mind on reducing them. £2000 + a call out would have an improving effect

    Report this comment

    Johnny Norfolk

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

  • Thank you Tom for pointing that out. The old eyes aren't what they used to be.As for " normal bloke" ? If as you suggest all call outs should be paid for, I and my fellow tenants and many others like us would simply have our rents raised . Do not be misled by the term " care " when referring to accommodation. They are businesses and profit driven so all charges will be passed on to tenants on fixed incomes in many cases.

    Report this comment

    norman hall

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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