Firefighters attend more false alarms than real fires in Northamptonshire, figures show

Hoax calls and faulty equipment leads to nearly 800 avoidable call-outs

By Kevin Nicholls
Thursday, 31st March 2022, 10:32 am

Firefighters attended more false alarms than actual fires in Northamptonshire last year, according to new figures.

Home Office data recently published shows the county’s Fire & Rescue Service responded to 5,070 call-outs in the 12 months to September 2021.

Of those, 34 percent were a result of false alarms — while just 31 percent were for actual fires.

Nearly 800 Northamptonshire firefighters' callouts were unnecessary in the year to September 2021

Of the false alarms, 891 calls were made with good intent where people reported what they honestly believed to be a fire.

But 82 were deemed ‘malicious’ — fake or hoax calls — while another 686 were down to to faulty equipment, such as broken fire alarms and smoke detectors.

Darren Dovey, the county’s Chief Fire Officer, said his crews treat all 999 calls the same right up until they find out incidents are not what they seemed.

He said: “The fire service does not attend false alarms — but we do mobilise to reports of fires that turn out to be just that.

"In the case of automatic fire alarms, we will mobilise to properties where there is risk to life — such as care and residential homes and hospitals.

"But if the address is a building with no risk to life and an alarm monitoring company is employed we ask for someone at the premises or a designated key holder to call 999 if a fire can be confirmed.

"This has reduced unnecessary mobilisations to false alarms and means we are available to attend other incidents.

“But we urge all residents and property owners to install and check their smoke alarms regularly and where a premises has an automatic fire alarm, there is a legal obligation to ensure that the building is managed properly and the alarm system maintained.

"False alarms cost time and money, are an unnecessary drain on our resources, they are potentially putting lives at risk, and can disrupt other duties such as training and community engagement activity.”

The National Fire Chiefs Council revealed crews attend one false alarm almost every 90 seconds in the UK and can cost up to £450 a time, diverting precious resources away from genuine emergencies and increasing the service's carbon footprint.

The proportion of fire calls which turn out to be false alarms is lower than in many other areas and Paul McCourt, who leads on tackling unwanted fire alarms at the NFCC, said there has been a "considerable reduction” in recent years.

But he says more needs to be done to limit the impact of false alarms.

Some local services charge if they are called out repeatedly for false alarms resulting from equipment failure with bills for the worst offenders running into hundreds of pounds.

The total number of callouts for Northamptonshire firefighters dropped four percent this year compared to 5,254 by September 2020.

Across England, fire services also saw a decrease in the number of incidents they attended — there were 537,039 callouts in the 12 months to September 2021, a slight drop on the 539,418 made the previous year.