False alarms costing 999 services in the North East a fortune

Figures logged over the past five years reveal nearly 28,000 false call outs across the North East

Sunderland Royal Hospital
Sunderland Royal Hospital

Fire crews in the North East are being called out every 90 minutes to false false alarms sparked by faulty equipment or burnt toast.

Figures collated over the past five years reveal the extent of valuable time of firefighters being taken up by the call outs to places with automatic fire alarms such as businesses and hospitals across the region.

Alarmingly crews with Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and Durham and Darlington Fire services have been sent out to almost 28,000 999 emergencies in the past five years, thats 15 a day on average, where there turned out to be no fire or immediate danger.

The fake emergencies mean fire appliances are tied up at times when there could be a real emergency, or when firefighters could be working in the community offering safety advice and fitting smoke alarms.

In 2012/13 Tyne and Wear fire service crews responded to 2,671 false automatic alarms, Durham and Darlington crews 1,259 and Northumberland crews 642. Over the five year period from 2008 the total number of call outs was 15,345, 7,061 and 3,602 respectively.

Places most demanding of the fire services’ time include Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital with 60 false automatic alarms in 2012/13, Newcastle General Hospital with 51, the MetroCentre with 44, Durham County Hall with 30 and Darlington Memorial Hospital with 34.

Oliver Sherratt, Durham County Council’s head of direct services, said: “We work with fire brigade to ensure our fire alarm systems are in good working order and have recently replaced and updated detection equipment in County Hall, which has already significantly reduced the number of alarm activations and potential call-outs to the fire brigade.

“Since April, we have also been operating under new arrangements introduced by the Fire Brigade, which mean that during office hours the fire brigade no longer respond to automated fire alarm activations. Instead they now only attend County Hall when we make an emergency call and we have only had one.”

The scheme rolled out in April means firecrews no longer respond to automatic alarms in low to medium risk businesses between 9am and 5pm on weekdays.

Stuart Errington, deputy chief fire officer for Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, added: “We are committed to responding to genuine emergencies and making the community safer but in order to do this, we need to ensure our fire crews are not tied up unnecessarily responding to false alarms.”

The place with the most false automatic alarms in the region was Sunderland Royal Hospital. Clocking up 99 false call outs in 2012/13 it also placed in the top 20 places with high call outs in the UK.

Since 2009/10 the number of false call outs to the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has dropped year on year after it launched a new initiative aimed at educating businesses.

Rolling out a pilot the service’s Protection and Technical Team has been targeting organisations which repeatedly have false fire alarms in their buildings in the hope of educating them about what they can do to prevent false alarms from happening in the first place.

As part of the project community fire station managers visit each organisation on its first false alarm and then send specific advice to the person responsible for the building on how to reduce false alarms.

Area manager Kevin Gardner for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said: “We are working closely with a range of diverse partners including hospitals, shopping centres, student accommodation and local housing associations in an effort to reduce the number of calls from automatic fire alarms. This is reducing the amount of false alarm calls substantially, which means the Service can use its’ resources more effectively at real emergencies.

A spokesman for City Hospitals Sunderland said: “The trust is working continuously to reduce its false alarms. The largest group (43) comprises suspect smells, when staff genuinely think they can smell fire – the recommended course of action.

“Break glass units also being accidentally activated by patients/visitors pressing the glass to exit wards (27) have also been a problem. System faults (20) have also been identified and the alarm system is currently being upgraded. Food processing and smoking materials have been the cause of nine false activations. All staff undergo mandatory annual fire training to maintain essential information and high level awareness.”

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