The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has introduced new fines for non-domestic sites which have more than ten false alarm callouts in a year. It is the first service in the country to seek to recover costs from buildings like hospitals, airports and student residences with a poor false alarm record.
The hope is that the fines will encourage building owners and managers to improve the maintenance of their fire alarms.
LFB figures indicate that hospitals are the worst offenders. If charging had been in place last year, hospitals would have faced a bill of £500,000 for the excessive number of times firefighters were called to a fire alarm sounding. An additional £300,000 in fines could have been levied against other locations.
False alarm callouts are costing London £37 million annually and the economy approximately £1 billion in lost productivity, according to the LFB. The main offenders are automated fire detection systems. If they go off repeatedly, it is not only a nuisance for the fire brigade but can also lead to complacency and people ignoring genuine alarms.
Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, James Cleverly, said: “The public deserve and expect firefighters to be available to attend genuine emergencies rather than attending thousands of false alarms. The vast bulk of automatic fire alarm calls turn out not to be fires, these are often caused by poor management or maintenance of alarm systems.
“This is not a money making exercise but we are leading the way in recovering our spend on unwanted call outs and educating building managers to properly maintain their fire alarm systems.”
The £290 plus VAT penalty applies to buildings across the capital but not domestic properties or care homes.
One company that has expressed concern about false alarms is Siemens.
Tony O’Brien head of sales for Siemens Building Technologies Solution and Service Portfolio said, “Fire alarm and detection systems should not cause false alarms; if an organisation suffers from excessive false alarms, it is down to poor technology or mismanagement. A false alarm is referred to as an ‘unwanted fire signal’ as soon as the fire service is summoned. There is a need to properly educate building and facilities managers about the benefits of the right technology to minimise unwanted alarms and how to properly maintain their fire alarm systems.”
There are a number of reasons for a false alarm. These range from steam, smoking materials, poor housekeeping, humidity and temperature change through to poor fire detection system testing and maintenance procedures.
Choosing and applying the correct fire detectors for the location and application reduces the chances of a false alarm from the detector itself. It is the responsibility of fire alarm companies to not only install and maintain the technology but also to advise on best use and minimisation of potential unwanted fire signals.
Tony O’Brien explains: ““The Siemens unique Sinteso™ fire alarm system features advance intelligence which delivers the highest level of protection against all types of fire hazards. Its built-in intelligence means it can offer fast identification and early warning of fire, as well as eliminate potential false alarms due to environmental influences such as welding or steam, etc. The Sinteso system is constantly alert, evaluating each situation minute by minute and taking decisions on complex criteria to ensure a safe environment.”
Advanced Signal Analysis (ASA technology™) is integrated in the detector itself, making each device highly intelligent and 100 per cent reliable, the company said. Innovative detection algorithms simultaneously convert signals such as smoke density and temperature into mathematical gradients and constantly evaluate according to present values. Carbon monoxide detection is combined with this unique technology providing optical, thermal and electrochemical CO sensors, which offer extremely fast detection as they continually monitor all three fire criteria – smoke, heat and carbon monoxide.
Each detector is configured with a unique set of parameters for each location, enabling the system to differentiate between false fire phenomena, such as steam or cooking fumes and a real indicator of fire.
“Alarm systems save lives, protect your business, your reputation and property. As well as this they save the building and reduce the risk of having to make a large insurance claim. There is a danger that repeated false alarms can contribute to the downgrade of the fire service response. Furthermore, excessive unwanted fire signals can lead to complacency, putting lives at risk if and when there is a real fire,” O’Brien said.