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Managing Automatic Fire Signals - Report

Published: 1 Oct 2015 09:30
Part of:
Law and order


The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) should review the way it manages and responds to calls originating from automatic fire alarm (AFA) systems, according to a report published today.

The development of a single, national policy is strongly supported by the Inspectorate – who are keen to see a consistent approach towards managing this significant issue. However, the Inspectorate are recommending action to improve that consistency and increase focus on how the risks and benefits of operational response are weighed against each other.

As a key element of their policy, the SFRS currently works to reduce the numbers of false alarm AFA calls by liaising with building occupiers to address their causes. Initial results from a project in Glasgow have been encouraging. But the Inspectorate points out that extending and resourcing this practice over other parts of Scotland may be challenging.

HM Chief Inspector of the SFRS, Steven Torrie, says a more considered and consistent approach to managing AFA calls is needed. Mr Torrie said:

"Around 98 per-cent of automatic fire alarm calls received by the SFRS are false alarms – that is nearly 25,000 per year. Responding to thousands of unnecessary calls is a very significant draw on resources.

"These calls represent a cost to the public and private purse, impact on the environment, divert resources from actual incidents and introduce safety risks to fire-fighters and the general public. I am clear that journeys under 'blue light' conditions can and do lead to vehicle accidents where injury and death can result.

"The SFRS knows what it wants to achieve in reducing the number of unwanted calls, but I believe, with the current policy, it faces a major challenge in reducing calls or the number of 'blue light' journeys made within a reasonable timescale."

HM Fire Service Inspectorate says that there is a lack of consistency in how AFA calls are dealt with in Scotland and that there is not enough evidence of the risks and benefits of responding to AFAs being properly weighed against each other. The report also recognises that reducing demand is the key goal and that modifying responses is treating the symptoms rather than the cause.

Steven Torrie added: "We think that the SFRS should measure the benefits that are gained from responding to AFAs, and also the risks involved in doing so. This then provides a basis on which an informed judgement can be made about whether fewer fire engines could be sent to an AFA call – or some of the appliances sent could travel at normal road speed – without unreasonably increasing the risk to occupiers of buildings with AFA systems.

"At the same time, we welcome the steps that have been taken by the SFRS to work with building occupiers to drive down the number of AFA calls – but to replicate the initial encouraging results from the pilot project in Glasgow City, the SFRS will need to provide similar resources elsewhere in the country."

Notes to editors

1. The report 'Managing Automatic Fire Signals' is available at

2. The purpose of this inspection was: "To consider in detail the policies and procedures which the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is using to manage and respond to calls generated by automatic systems and, in particular:

  • To examine how the SFRS is working with building owners, occupiers, and alarm receiving centre operators to reduce false alarm calls;
  • To assess the extent to which the SFRS is balancing the risks and benefits of how it attends calls generated by automatic systems;
  • To examine how the SFRS determines the speed and weight of response to automatic fire calls and how, and to what extent, the Service varies pre-determined attendance as a result of experience, time of day, or any other relevant factor."

3. The report makes four recommendations:

  • that the suite of policy and procedure documents is unnecessarily complex and recommend a significant simplification in the next iteration.
  • that a consistent Pre-Determined Attendance (PDA) process should be planned for calls originating from automatic fire signals where the cause of actuation is unknown, regardless of how that call is transmitted to the SFRS.
  • that the SFRS should reflect on published reports on the optimum speed and weight of response to AFA calls and, if it intends to take a different approach to that suggested by the research, should explain why.
  • that the Board and Strategic Leadership Team of the SFRS consider numerical targets for a reduction in calls responded to which have been received from automatic systems, and the number of 'blue light' journeys made by fire appliances to automatic fire signals.