Proposed improvements to the automatic fire alarm (AFA) attendance policy

We believe we can do more to keep people and businesses in Lancashire safe if we change the way we respond to AFA calls from certain buildings.  Around 2,000 times every year, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) sends fire appliances on blue lights and sirens to buildings which are not used for sleeping, where the fire alarm has generated an automatic call (referred to as an automatic fire alarm or AFA), or someone has called us because their fire alarm is sounding and there are no signs of fire.

Over a five-year period, less than 0.2% of these calls were found to be a fire when our crews arrived. That’s four in every 2,000. These false alarms are typically caused by cooking fumes, dust or poor fire alarm design and maintenance.

We want to align our response with most other fire and rescue services and attend AFAs in non-sleeping risk premises only if the building has been checked by the occupier and signs of fire are confirmed.

Buildings used for any form of sleeping, such as hotels, care homes and hospitals, will be exempt from these changes.

We plan to make this change in two stages; during daytime only in year one and, subject to review, at all times from year two onwards. We want to make these changes so we can:

–   Continually improve fire appliance availability and speed of response to genuine emergencies.

–   Send more fire appliances to confirmed fires. A 999 call from a responsible person who has confirmed signs of a fire allows control rooms to upgrade the attendance based on accurate information and removes the time delay using a fire alarm monitoring service (the call centres which monitor fire alarms and call our fire control) can sometimes cause.

–   Reduce road risk to public and our crews by removing unnecessary ‘blue light’ journeys.

–   Reduce business disruption and productivity losses experienced waiting to give the ‘all clear’.

–   Increase time available for crews to reduce risk through home and business fire safety checks.

–   Increase the time available for our crews to undertake essential training.

–   Reduce impact on the environment by lowering carbon emissions and vehicle wear and tear.

–   Reduce the financial burden on the public purse and businesses.

The legal responsibility for dealing with a fire alarm actuation rests with the responsible person at the building and most fire and rescue services now seek confirmation of signs and symptoms of a fire before sending any fire appliance attendance to non-sleeping risk premises. Current procedures ensure that every 999 caller and fire alarm monitoring centre contacting us about a sounding fire alarm is asked if the building has been checked.  If the caller states they have not checked, we send a fire appliance even if there are no signs of fire.  Workplaces and businesses then face significant disruption waiting for fire engines to arrive and again whilst fire crews confirm that, on over 99% of occasions, there is no fire, and the cause is a false alarm.

If we make these changes, we will continue to engage with businesses to ensure responsible persons have in place effective evacuation plans and emergency procedures and make prompt 999 calls when required.  We will also continue to provide advice on how false alarms can be avoided. I want to emphasise that once a fire alarm has activated, an evacuation should always take place. This change simply allows businesses to take ownership for undertaking their own building check and the ability to resolve their own false alarm event quickly and safely, without disrupting emergency cover for wider society. If any signs of fire are discovered at any stage during the check, a 999 call can be made, and we will attend quickly with the appropriate resources.

We recognise changes of this nature carry an element of risk and uncertainty, however in this case, failing to act and maintaining the current approach also carries significant risk, specifically regarding the reduction in emergency cover which is experienced when fire engines are tied up responding to AFAs and the road risk whilst on route to them.  We believe that on balance the proposals constitute an overall reduction in risk and if we implement them, we will continually monitor the impact of the changes.

We are asking for views by writing to all premises where we have responded to an AFA in the past three years, and by consulting with a range of other key stakeholders.

We would like to hear your views and you can complete our survey online. You can also e-mail if you require any further information or would like this document in an alternative format.

The consultation closes on Tuesday 21 September 2021.

Thank you,
LANCASHIRE FIRE & RESCUE SERVICE BUSINESS SAFETY TEAM