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Suffolk fire service to consider reducing automatic fire alarm response

PUBLISHED: 05:30 24 January 2019

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service is considering changes to its response for automatic fire alarms. Picture: SIMON PARKER

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service is considering changes to its response for automatic fire alarms. Picture: SIMON PARKER

Fire crews in Suffolk could dramatically reduce the number of automatic fire alarm calls they attend, under new plans to be put to the public.

Mark Hardingham from Suffolk Fire and Rescue said it was about using resources most efficiently. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNMark Hardingham from Suffolk Fire and Rescue said it was about using resources most efficiently. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A draft of Suffolk Fire and Rescue’s integrated risk management plan (IRMP) for the next three years has been published ahead of next week’s county council cabinet meeting before going to public consultation.

In it, the fire service is proposing to review its response to automatic fire alarms, which make up the majority of its false alarms.

Around 45% of all calls the service attended in 2017/18 were false alarms, which had a “major impact” on the fire service, the report said.

Now, the public are being asked whether SFRS should stop or reduce the number of automatic alarms it attends based on the level of risk, and impose tougher sanctions on premises owners where false alarms are persistent.

Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch, said the public needed to be informed over reduced crews. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHPhil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch, said the public needed to be informed over reduced crews. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service chief officer Mark Hardingham said: “We are looking to consult with the public on a number of areas of our work, one of these being how we respond to automatic fire alarms.

“The data shows that the majority of these callouts are false alarms.

“In recent times, the approach of fire services to automatic fire alarm signals has changed significantly and we have introduced measures to limit our fire engines and firefighters being sent to these false alarms.

“We are seeking views from the public on different options to inform our future review of how we respond and use our resources most effectively.”

Currently if there is a risk of people being asleep in a building a fire engine will always be sent, but automatic fire alarm calls at commercial and industrial sites during working hours would only have a fire engine deployed if a 999 call is also received.

Other areas for public consultation include response to road traffic collisions, shift patterns, specialist rescue callouts, and changes to how response times are categorised.

But Phil Johnston, chairman of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Suffolk branch, said the proposals did not inform the public that the service utilised reduced crews – fire engines with three firefighters instead of four or five, and meant its endeavour to provide an appropriate response was compromised.

“The emergency response talks about having the right fire crews in the right place at the right time delivering the correct response,” he said.

“It doesn’t mention one of the things that the FBU has a major issue with which is the so-called reduced crews of three people.”

He added: “They should be notifying the public on this decision for the standard of emergency response they are providing, and that standard has dropped because they will have crews that won’t be able to do certain things – certainly not the lifesaving interventions.”

Mr Johnston said the plan did not have enough scope for the public to reasonably be able to respond.

He added: “When the public call for a fire engine they expect it to arrive, a crew to get off that and get to work. With a reduced crew you won’t be able to do that in all circumstances.”

A formal response is set to be written by the FBU outlining its fears.

It is not yet clear when the consultation will be launched, but is expected to last for around 12 weeks.

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