By Eloise Sheppard, managing director, Call Systems Technology
The annual cost of fires in the UK is estimated by the Fire Sector Federation to be a staggering £9.1 billion. Shockingly, for the fire service, the cost of call outs is rising, and the greatest increases are a consequence of fires in commercial and industrial buildings. From 2017-2018, the UK’s fire brigades attended over 15,000 commercial property fires (including retail and hospitality). Had any of these call outs been attributed to false alarms, the cost in fines for a commercial business found to be a repeat-offender could soon add up for a business.
It’s a fact, fire alarm systems provide vital, early and potentially life-saving warnings in the event of a real emergency. Worrying statistics from the Home Office show1, out of the 582,511 incidents attended by London’s fire brigade in 2018 – the largest proportion at a shocking 40%, were found to be false alarms.
The Fire and Rescue Service have worked tirelessly over the years with varying partners to reduce the number of ‘unwanted’ fire signals generated by hospitality and retail premises. Encouragingly, they’ve experienced a 9% reduction in call outs in recent years to premises protected by automatic fire detection and alarm systems. However, despite this reduction, there is still a need for further significant action and management of false alarms.
The recent restaurant fire at The Ivy in Manchester (January 2019), where fortunately there were no serious injuries or fatalities, was started by an outdoor patio heater. The operator would most likely have utilised some form of pre-alarm system to aid the timely evacuation of the site before emergency services arrived. Another high-profile occurrence was The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London, which recently announced it will re-open in April, following a blaze in June 2018.
Figures for the year 2017/2018 from the Government show that there were 1,706 call outs to fires in retail settings alone which, tragically, resulted in six fatalities and over 100 non-fatal casualties2. If technology had been in place, could some of these incidents have been avoided?
Fire alarms connected to pre-alarm alerting systems such as paging and radios, can be used across retail and hospitality settings to avoid unnecessary evacuations in the event of a false alarm. Having a reliable solution in place ensures that false alarms can be dealt with in a timely and efficient manner, leaving the visiting public completely safe and none the wiser that an alarm has been triggered. By using a sophisticated paging system, designated fire marshals can be discreetly notified to the alarm location. This allows staff valuable time to investigate and decide whether or not to begin evacuating and alerting the fire brigade.
Fire alarms are lifesaving pieces of technology and a must-have for a hospitality or retail operator. 8False alarms and the impact that they have on overstretched fire services, is an issue that all operators should take into consideration. 8The responsibility of ensuring that the emergency services are free and able to respond to genuine need, rather than waste time and money on false alarms, lies with the industry as a whole and is a duty that we should all take very seriously.