Fire Service Response
The Increase in the number of false alarm activations in recent years has seen Fire Authorities adopt a variety of Fire Service Response arrangements to calls originating from automatic fire alarm systems.
What You Need to Know
Some Fire and Rescue Services have introduced substantial delays in their response to automatic fire alarms, which could have potentially disastrous consequences for businesses that have invested money in providing fire detection linked to an alarm receiving centre.
Automatic fire detection has two functions:
- To alert occupants to a possible fire and initiate early evacuation. This can save lives.
- To alert the Fire Services to a possible fire when the building is unoccupied and to initiate an immediate response. This can save money, businesses, jobs and livelihoods.
The response to automatic fire alarms will vary according to where your business is located and may be subject to changes in the future. Response is currently determined according to the Fire Service designated risk profile of a particular address and the time of day that an automatic fire alarm call is received.
Regardless of the risk profile of your premises and the time of day, if your business is located in Central Scotland, Tayside, Cleveland, Merseyside or Buckinghamshire, you will receive the expected emergency response at all times.
Arrangements for commercial premises (offices, shops, warehouses, factories and the like) in other Fire Authorities will have a varied response if an automatic fire alarm activation cannot be confirmed by somebody at your premises. Some Fire and Rescue Services may send a car to investigate. Others may send one fire fighting vehicle at normal road speeds without blue lights, which will be re-assigned if a confirmed fire alarm or reported fire is received on the way to your facility. Another fire fighting vehicle will then need to be assigned to investigate your fire alarm activation and this may have to travel from outside the local area, adding more delay.
If your business is located in West Midlands, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire or Hereford and Worcester, and your automatic fire detection system activates during the day or night, you will be duly called by your alarm receiving centre and advised of the activation of your alarm.
The Fire and Rescue Service will not respond. If the protected premises are unoccupied, you or a nominated key holder will have to go to your premises and check if there is a fire and dial 999, assuming this has not been already done by a public-spirited passer-by.
These regional variations can make the difference between a partial loss and a total loss as a result of a fire!
So What Should You Do?
We advise all policyholders who have facilities fitted with monitored automatic fire detection systems to find out the local Fire and Rescue Service response arrangements for their area. These arrangements will need to be taken into account as part of any Fire Risk Assessment.
There are three key questions:
- How is a Fire and Rescue Service response initiated?
- How long will a response take to arrive?
- What happens when the Fire and Rescue Service do arrive and the premises are unoccupied?
Once the local situation is clearer, you may have to consider additional measures to confirm there is a genuine incident. These could include:
- Nominating additional key holders living close to your facility to respond to alarm activations by attending the premises and dialling 999 if a fire is confirmed
- Enter into a mutual assistance or neighbourhood fire watch arrangement with neighbouring businesses that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or have a security guard on duty
- Install a remotely monitored CCTV system so that in the event of an alarm activation the alarm receiving centre can view the images and confirm a fire situation
- Liaise with your local fire service so they are familiar with your fire alarm system, the layout of your premises and the level of occupancy
Avoiding False Alarm Activations
The primary cause of false alarm activations is poorly maintained systems. It is vital that any alarm system is kept reliable by ensuring programmed maintenance is undertaken by a company certified to carry out such work. You should also follow up on any previous false alarm activations from your system and ensure that action was taken to identify and correct a system fault.
Having the correct type of fire detection installed to suit the environment it is operating in can also help to minimise the potential for false activations. For example, a change of usage in part of the premises may increase the potential for false alarms to occur if the environment becomes unstable.
Don’t be a victim
In order to avoid becoming a victim of delayed response by the Fire Service, the single most important way to protect your premises and business is by a rigorous program of fire prevention activity.
- Make sure that sources of ignition are controlled, especially ensuring that building electrical systems and portable appliances are safe
- Ensure the controlled storage and use of flammable materials such as gases and fuels
- Initiate a regular inspection program and always ensure that all areas are checked before locking up and leaving the premises unattended
- Do not store or keep combustible materials close to the outside of the building when these can be ignited deliberately or accidentally and spread to the building fabric
For more information, visit nmu.co.uk/risk-control or call the Risk Control team on 0121 236 6550.