Fire service aims to reduce calls outs to automatic fire alarms

Shaun LowthorpePlans for firefighters to reduce the number of automatic fire alarms they attend in a bid to trim budgets moved a step closer yesterday.Shaun Lowthorpe

Plans for firefighters to reduce the number of automatic fire alarms they attend in a bid to trim budgets moved a step closer yesterday.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service needs to find savings of �99,000 over the coming financial year, and bosses believe they can find the cash by reducing the number of call outs to false alarms (AFAs).

Members of the county council's fire and community protection discussed the plans yesterday.

But the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) warned that while it agreed there was a need to reduce the number of false alarms, it would be concerned at any plans to reduce attendance by firefighters.

Over the past three years, some 43pc of fire calls in Norfolk have turned out to be false alarms, of which 71pc were AFAs.

The authority believes that new policies around exactly which AFAs firefighters attend, and work to reduce the number of false alarms, will not only make people safer by freeing crews to attend genuine emergencies, but will help meet the �99,000 shortfall.

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Richard Elliott, chief fire officer and director of community protection, said while the scale of the funding challenge was less than other demand-led departments, such as children and adult services, the department had the lowest costs in the country so any savings would be challenging.

Under the proposals, control staff would ring ahead to find out if the call out was genuine, but if contact could not be made crews would still be sent.

Mr Elliott said the proposals would also save time and inconvenience for businesses and occupants of other premises with automatic alarms.

'If you are running a production line, it's not half an hour that's lost, but it's very often several hours,' he said. 'It's totally wrong for people to be unnecessarily inconvenienced, particularly the frail and elderly.'

Many of the problems come from errant equipment or poor contact with firms operating the alarm systems.

Green councillor Andrew Boswell asked if repeat offenders could 'fined', while Lib Dem councillor Marie Strong suggested alarm firms should be named and shamed.

But Mr Elliott said the service could not issue any fines.

'We are prevented from charging,' Mr Elliott added. 'We have to find other ways.'

Neil Day, regional official for the FBU, said: 'We want the number of false alarms reduced and would support any initiatives that would do that, but we don't want anything that will compromise our attendance to genuine alarms.

'We also don't want any policy introduced that will result in a delay between the time the alarm sounds and the time we arrive. We need to make sure any fire is contained and to do that it's vital we get there quickly.'