Belfast Telegraph

False alarms costing Fire Service dear

By Noel McAdam

More than 60% of calls or alerts to the Northern Ireland Fire Service are false alarms, a report revealed today.

And a higher proportion of the fake alerts are being responded to, resulting in a huge waste of money, the Audit Office warned.

There has been a reduction in the number of full emergency responses to hoax calls, but fire chiefs could do more to cut such responses to false alarms from automatic fire detection equipment, its latest report said. “These false alarms make up over a third of all incidents attended and have been increasing over the past three years,” it said.

The overall number of false alarm calls and alerts has fallen since 2007 — from 32,484 in 2006 to 29,423 last year — a drop of over nine per cent. But fire crews were sent out to almost all the alerts which were due to faulty fire detection apparatus (97%). “(Overall) mobilisation rates have increased from 37% to 40%. Mobilising a fire crew to what proves to be a false alarm is a waste of resources,” the report said.

It also reiterates that historically there has been a higher incidence of fires and deaths and injury from fire in Northern Ireland compared to similar sized regions in England.

And while the level of arson cases has fallen by more than a third in the last five years, the level remains “substantially higher” than elsewhere in the UK.

“With the pressure on finances mounting for all public services, the Fire Service will need to continue to identify how it can be more efficient and reduce costs,” it said.

In 2010/11 there were 11 accidental fire deaths in homes and 137 serious injuries. There were 806 residential fires and 1,832 deliberate blazes.

Had the Commission been scoring NIFRS on the seame basis as a review of English fire and rescue services, it would have resulted in a level two award - “an organisation that meets minimum requirements and performs adequately.”

Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said the Commission noted that NIFRS benefited from “dedicated, loyal, hard-working staff who are proud to work for the service and deeply committed to delivering a good service to their communities.”

His report, however, recommended the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety - in which the fire and rescue service is subsumed - should “further enhance” the way it challenges the fire service in how it uses its money and other resources and monitor its performance more systematically against other UK and Republic of Ireland fire services to produce improvement.

Factfile

Of 29,423 false alarm calls to NI Fire and Rescue last year

  • 3,036 were malicious hoaxes;
  • 18,154 were made with ‘good intent’, and
  • 8,233 were due to apparatus failures.

The latter almost all resulted in fire crews being sent out.

However, false alarm calls have fallen by 9.4 % since 2006.

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