THE county fire service’s new policy of ignoring automatic fire alarms (AFAs) in schools and businesses is a “disaster waiting to happen”.
This is the view of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in the North West, which has warned that Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is playing a dangerous game.
From this month crews will no longer respond to AFAs in business premises, which includes more than 150 schools across Cheshire West and Chester, unless they are backed by a 999 call.
Bosses say that in 2015/16 just over one per cent of such calls required any “firefighting action” and in these cases resources could have been diverted from genuine emergencies.
Automatic alarms from care homes, hospitals, private homes, hotels, hostels, halls of residence, high risk industrial sites and high rise buildings will still receive an immediate response.
Simon Gibbins, head of protection and organisational performance at the fire service, said: “AFAs cost business time, money and divert firefighters from genuine emergencies and other duties. They also put road users and pedestrians at risk as fire engines respond at speed on blue lights.
“Although the current emergency attendance to places where people sleep will not change, the new procedure will help bring down false emergency calls in non-domestic premises, which include schools.”
However, Les Skarratts, FBU executive council member for the North West, told the Leader the move had not been thoroughly risk assessed.
“Automatic fire alarms are designed to go off in buildings when they detect a fire and ignoring them is a dangerous game,” he said. “Our concern is that this is a disaster waiting to happen.”
The new policy is clearly linked to budget and resource cuts as the fire service tries to reduce the frequency of call-outs, he said. It is reported to cost abaout £300 every time a fire engine attends an incident.
Mr Skarratts said that inevitably some of the AFAs will not be false alarms and ignoring them will jeopardise the safety of businesses’ employees or staff and children at schools.
“Some of them won’t be false alarms and so there will be fires that we won’t be able to respond to in an appropriate time,” he said.
“Not only is it putting communities at risk, it is putting our members at risk as well. It’s a totally unacceptable practice.”
The new system will work so that when a call comes in from a building at any time during the day or evening, a fire engine will not automatically be sent.
A 999 call will need to be made from someone at the premises, who “reasonably believes that a fire has broken out”. Only then will fire engines respond.
Mr Gibbins added: “Fire safety managers at business premises need to be aware of this change and include it in their fire procedures and risk assessment. They also need to make their staff aware that, in the event of a fire, they should call 999 immediately.”
He stressed that staff have been working with local businesses and schools to promote the change.
The fire service is also holding four free presentations at its Winsford headquarter which will cover all aspects of fire safety advice and legislation.
On Friday, May 5, two presentations will be held aimed at school headteachers and their health and safety staff. The first session starts at 9.30am and runs until noon and the second starts at 1.30pm, finishing at 4pm and will be dedicated purely to school staff.
On Monday, May 8, two further presentations will take place for businesses. The first starts at 9.30am and runs until noon and the second starts at 1.30pm, finishing at 4pm. All welcome.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call business safety manager Tracey Carter on 01606 868761.