In emergencies call 999

It can happen to anyone….

Author: Dave Walton

Author: Dave Walton

Firstly, thanks to everyone who commented on my first blog posting whether that be directly onto this site, via Twitter, or in person. It’s reassuring to know that someone is looking and that my efforts may not be in vain. I’ll do my best to inform and prompt debate, those of you that seek ‘wisdom’ and ‘wit’ from me will have to make your own judgements.

So…the relevance of the picture that accompanies this posting, and the title of this blog entry? Well, we’ve had a weekend away in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, not being first call Principal Officer and the fact that it’s Valentines weekend was an opportunity too good to miss. The problem being that I set the fire alarm off in the hotel that we stopped at! It was entirely accidental of course, and was due to steam from the shower. Just moments after I commented on the fact that I didn’t think that the extractor fan was working there was a knock at the door to check that we were okay as the detector head in our room had signalled a fire. The hotel fire alarm policy was such that no call was made to Tyne and Wear FRS, and the alarm didn’t sound around the hotel – my embarrassment was avoided, and my apology was given.

So it was a false alarm, there was no fire, and there was no need for the local FRS to attend. The problem was down to a faulty extractor fan, and the hotel will have to attend to it. Being on a break from work I didn’t ask if the local FRS had attended due to the same fault before, or indeed if the alarm had been actuated – I know that they are looking at policy for Automatic Fire Alarms (AFAs) anyway.

West Yorkshire FRS has been very robust with our policy for AFAs in recent years. Calls are challenged by Fire Control and many attendances are screened out at this stage. We are now well into our pilot for invoicing persistent offenders in order to recover our costs. Our mission is always to work with the person responsible for the alarm system to help them to rectify any problems and to ensure that they don’t suffer the disruption to their day to day business activities that occur when an AFA actuates. My early assessment is that this pilot policy is working well and encouraging the behaviour change that we desired. Yet we still attended almost 8000 AFA incidents in the 2013-14 year, around a third of our total call volume.

Any firefighter or member of control staff will tell you that we never mobilise to a false alarm, it only becomes one once we get there and investigate. But there is more that we can do to make sure that false alarms (mainly AFA, but let’s not forget malicious ones) don’t prevent fire engines being available for those critical incidents when either life or property is at immediate risk. In this coming year we are going to look at HOW we respond to AFAs.

Other UK FRS are already looking at responding with something other than a front line fire engine. A specialist vehicle, with a crew trained to better support businesses to reduce their AFA activations is an idea that we can explore.

Invariably if we attend a property where an AFA has actuated, AND there is a fire, we will have heard about it via a second call or by contacting the premise directly and asking questions of them. I acknowledge that this is not a scenario that happens 100% of the time, but it is in the high 90% range. Nationally, I believe that something in the order of 98% of all AFA activations turn out to be false alarms, and of the 2% that aren’t false alarms, in the order of 98% of those involve less than 1 metre square of burning ( I’d guess that most of those are toast in toasters). So there is scope to do something, with appropriate safeguards and with a pilot period. That’s what we will look at and talk about in the coming year. At this stage I’m not thinking about NO attendance, but I think we should look at HOW we attend.

We live in an imperfect world, and on very, very rare occasions one may ‘slip through the net’, this should be extremely infrequently if we get the policy right. This is already the case with call challenge, and our mobilisation protocols need not be any different. By making a significant reduction in this problematic one third of our call demand we will be better placed to tackle the challenges created by austerity and ensure that resources are more often available for those incident types that need them most. We have a good record of making good evidence based decisions, and we will do the same in respect of AFA incidents.

Interested in your thoughts…

….and I didn’t even mention my partner Becky getting a croissant stuck in the ‘conveyor belt’ toasting machine, and almost causing our own second AFA actuation of the hour. As I said at the start, it can happen to anyone.

2 comments on “It can happen to anyone….

  1. Fantastic, love the fact we are all human. On a serious note, it’s good for you in your position to see how easy it is for a false call. Everyone has a role to play in keeping appliances available for genuine emergencies. Keep up the blogging, as they say, it’s good to talk

  2. Whilst I agree with most of your very well written piece I do have two concerns.firstly if an afa saves just one life or property it’s done its job and I think an appliance should always attend.secondly reducing the call rate by screening/non attendance Is great for the figures etc but sadly these figures are now being used against frs to make very dangerous levels of cuts.I would be interested to Hear your view on this.

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