Worst offenders face fines after false alarms account for 33% of all non-domestic fire and rescue call-outs in Tyne & Wear

Business owners who fail to fix faulty fire alarms could be slapped with fines under new plans by fire chiefs.

Friday, 12th July 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 15th July 2019, 2:27 am
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service says resources are being wasted dealing with false alarms

According to new data, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) responded to hundreds of calls triggered by automatic fire alarms (AFA) last year.

Between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, a third of all AFA call outs for non-domestic premises were linked to malfunctioning equipment.

This included 566 incidents where there was no action needed.

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Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther.

In a bid to tackle the false alarms which create a drain on resources, fire chiefs have agreed to explore potential fines for persistent offenders.

While the proposals are at an early stage, they could mirror policies used by fires services in County Durham and Darlington, and Northumberland.

This could include a fine after the third false alarm.

Chief fire officer for TWFRS, Chris Lowther, said: “It’s not something that’s currently in our policy but it is something we can work on and bring forward to a proposal.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service's headquarters in Washington.

“What we need to see is the compliance of occupiers to reduce unwanted fire signals so that the action of the fire service is directed towards actual fires, home safety checks and business safety checks.”

The comments came during a meeting of the TWFRS Policy and Performance Committee.

In practice, Mr Lowther added, fines could be given out to property owners who persistently fail to maintain fire alarms after being given advice from firefighters.

Committee chairman and leader of Newcastle City Council, Coun Nick Forbes, welcomed the plans.

“If you run a business then part of your responsibility is to make sure it’s in good condition and has working smoke alarms,” he said.

“You can’t rely on the fire service to be, in effect, your early detection system particularly when public resources are so stretched.

“We need people to take responsibility for their own premises and a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy would seem to be quite sensible in sending a message to make sure people keep their equipment in good working order.”

Non-domestic premises can include schools, colleges, hospitals, retail lots, residential homes, student accommodation, offices, call centres and sporting venues.

The meeting heard while there were 30,000 business premises in Tyne and Wear, false alarms often come from repeat offenders.

If a new policy is adopted, Coun Bruce Pickard added, the fire service should take a “support first” approach before moving to enforcement.

After backing from councillors, fire chiefs will now work up a formal proposal which will be discussed later this year.

Coun Forbes added: “It’s a basic requirement for someone operating a commercial premises that they have a working fire alarm.

“If we find there are some properties where the fire service has been called out on multiple occasions and not able to do home safety checks, education and training and fire prevention in other parts of the communities, then it’s ultimately a loss to everybody as well as irresponsibility on behalf of the owner.

“It also means people get desensitised to fire alarms which could be really problematic in a real fire as it might slow people getting out of the building.

“It’s worth us having a close look at, and at the very least, sending a clear message to people who don’t have working smoke alarms, that we’re taking a close interest in their premises.

“We will be looking very carefully on how we might serve enforcement notices.”

Automatic Fire Alarms (AFA) in Tyne and Wear 2018/19

There has been a 2% (28) reduction to automatic fire alarms from a non domestic premise on last year. 33% (566) of AFAs to a non domestic premises were due to faulty alarms There has been a 2% (59) reduction to AFAs in a domestic premises 46% (1178) of domestic AFAs were due to cooking or burnt toast