AFA business response to end in Bristol

AFA business response to end in Bristol

AVON FIRE and Rescue Service (AFRS) has announced that its crews will ‘no longer respond’ to automatic fire alarms (AFAs) at businesses in Bristol ‘until a blaze is confirmed’.

Bristol Post reported on the AFRS change in policy, which will see its firefighters ‘no longer automatically respond’ to fire alarms at business premises across Bristol ‘unless they know for certain the building is alight’. This will cover businesses, shops and factories, and will come into force on 1 April, as a result of the implementation of AFRS’ service plan for 2019 to 2022 – which ensures it is ‘better able to match resource to risk and ensure public safety’.

From April onwards, when an automatic call is received from an alarm receiving centre, a response will ‘not be automatically mobilised’, and crews will only attend if a key holder can confirm there is a fire, or a secondary call to 999 is made confirming the fire. The policy changed as a result of 5,700 automatic fire alarm calls attended by AFRS in 2018/19 that turned out to be false alarms.

A wide range of domestic premises and sleeping accommodation will still receive a response to alarms, including residential flats, houses in multiple occupancy, hotels, student accommodation and sheltered housing; as will high risk premises including hospitals, heritage premises and Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) sites.

AFRS pointed out that ‘unnecessary’ responses have a ‘wider impact on the community’, as calls divert ‘essential services from real incidents’ as well as causing risk to the public and crews, with training disrupted alongside arson reduction and community work; while AFRS costs increase. In turn, businesses ‘suffer downtime from evacuations, face disruption to production’ and can ‘potentially’ have their reputation impacted.

Its spokesman commented: ‘All businesses are reminded that fire alarm maintenance, false alarm reduction and procedures to identify false alarms are the responsibility of the premises’ responsible person. Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all premises have a responsibility to ensure they have appropriate procedures in place to manage false alarms within their premises.

‘All premises with an AFA system should also have call filtering at the premises to ensure false alarms are identified prior to the fire service being called. Business owners in the AFRS area should act now and ensure they have an effective investigation procedure.’

Steve Quinton, the service’s temporary area manager for operational response, added: ‘Ninety seven per cent of all alarms attended last year turned out to be false alarms. Each false alarm diverts our emergency vehicles away from real emergencies. False alarms also impact on our prevention and protection work, core and critical training and increase the risk to road users from unnecessary blue-light responses.

‘These new procedures will bring the service in line with other fire and rescue services across the country and also addresses concerns raised following a visit from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services HMICFRS visit in 2018. I would like to encourage all businesses to now ensure they have suitable procedures in place to manage their alarms and ensure all staff are aware of their procedures and that alarms are fully tested in accordance with the relevant standard.

‘Staff from our technical fire safety department will also be available to assist businesses and ensure they know their responsibilities.’