Does Your Building Have an Automatic Fire Alarm?

Over the last 18 months the Fire Industry Association (FIA) has been urging businesses to review their fire risk assessments following policy changes made by Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) which could result in no or reduced attendance to Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) signals.

Many fire services in England have published new policies or guidance for attendance to AFA signals from Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs). The FIA is very concerned that lives, property and jobs could be put at risk by these changes.

For example, in the case of West Midlands FRS, their policy states that they will no longer respond to calls from ARCs between 8am - 8pm unless the premises is a specified life risk building. During the rest of the day they will respond to all calls received through an ARC but with an appropriate level of response depending on the premises type.

Warwickshire FRS made a more extreme change to their attendance policy. They will not attend automatic signals from fire detection and alarm systems in non-domestic buildings between 7am - 8pm unless these signals have been investigated and confirmed as a real fire.

Many businesses rely on the principle that in the event of a fire occurring, when their building is empty (typically evenings and weekends), their detection system will send a signal to call the fire service to attend. Businesses with AFA systems should contact their local Fire and Rescue Service to discuss their attendance policy. If their local FRS’s policy has changed, they should consider changing their fire risk assessment to take account of any alterations, particularly when their buildings may be empty or when they have a number of disparate lone workers.

What is more, in February 2012 the Government gave Fire and Rescue Authorities the power to go to public consultation on whether to charge for attendance at false alarms from AFA’s. This would apply to ‘persistent offenders’ at non-domestic premises activated by proven malfunctioning or badly installed equipment. The idea being that this will encourage businesses to properly maintain their fire alarm systems and fire safety management, resulting in reduced time and money lost by fire services.

It is not known how the charging would work or who would be responsible for paying the bill: the ARC or building owner? The FIA estimates that these invoices will be £350 or more per attendance depending upon where the premises is located and how many fire engines are called out.

If the ARC is to be responsible, then based upon their previous experience with the fire service charging about 20 years ago, it is highly likely that they will leave the industry all together. If the ARC’s do leave the fire sector then, of course, there won’t be an AFA false alarm problem because there won’t be any fire signals transmitted to the fire and rescue service!  While reducing false alarms signals, this would also be a disaster for fire safety.

The FIA feels strongly that charging for attendance at a false alarm is ill-conceived and it could lead to fire alarm systems being switched off in order to avoid being charged.  The FIA reminds the Responsible Persons that they are legally responsible for all fire safety issues within their premises and recommends that they check with their local fire service to see what their attendance policy is and if it would affect them. Businesses are advised to review their fire assessment accordingly and discuss this and any false alarm issues with their fire alarm maintenance company.

Next month we’ll be discussing false alarm management in more detail.

FIA CEO Graham Ellicott

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