False fire alarms are a problem that many business owners face. These alarms can be costly, both in terms of the money spent on them and the time they take up. Every year false fire alarms cost taxpayers in Britain around £1bn. The percentage of false alarms to the Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) increased from 58% in 2014-15 to 98% in 2020/21¹.
As of 1 July 2023, firefighters in Scotland will no longer respond to automatic fire alarms in commercial premises in an effort to reduce the number of unnecessary callouts. The change was announced by The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) on 23 March 2023, and they encouraged businesses to ensure their fire safety procedures were adequate and in place before the change came into effect. The change affects offices, factories, shops, museums and leisure facilities, who will now need to confirm signs of fire before services will be called out. The changes are being implemented following the outcome of a public consultation held by SRFS in 2021, concerning the options to reduce the number of false alarms to allow firefighters to have more time for training and fire safety prevention work to support communities, as well as the availability to attend real emergencies.
In cases where there is a real fire, the fire service will respond when contacted by dialling 999 and giving confirmation of the presence of fire, but the automatic alarm will no longer be sufficient by itself. The SRFS reports that fire service crews are called to an average of 28,000 false alarms each year, with each incident involving nine firefighters and two fire appliances as part of the response – meaning up to 252,000 members of crew can be unnecessarily called out to false alarms each year.
The above change will not apply to sleeping premises such as hospitals, domestic dwellings, care homes, or hotels, who will continue to receive emergency responses as normal.
This change has already been implemented by other fire and rescue services across the UK, such as Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, who in May 2023 expanded their times between which they do not respond to automatic fire alarms on commercial premises to 24 hours, seven days a week. Other services such as Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue continue to operate a reduced callout service which sees them only respond to automatic fire alarms in commercial premises outside the hours of 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The SRFS has reminded duty holders that they must ensure that their premises are safe for staff, visitors and occupants in the event of a fire, and that duty holders have a responsibility under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 to maintain the facilities and equipment provided. Failure to do this could lead to prosecution. Duty holders should also work with their fire risk assessor and update their fire risk assessment with any changes.
The SRFS outlined several other key steps that duty holders can undertake in the wake of the new changes:
- Review the Fire Safety Risk Assessment.
- Keep a log of all false alarms to identify any trends.
- Check detector types and their locations.
- Upgrade automatic fire detection (AFD) systems with modern ‘multi-sensing’ detectors.
- Fit manual call points with protective covers in problem, vulnerable or high traffic areas.
- Keep AFD systems appropriately maintained.
- Consider whether a link to an Alarm Receiving Centre is necessary.
Duty holders should also contact their insurance company to discuss the changes in response to Automatic Fire Alarm activations.
7th July 2023