Three new fire vehicles which are used to respond to automatic fire alarms in the West Midlands have already attended more than 400 false alarms in the past few months since being introduced. West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) introduced the first of its Business Support Vehicles (BSVs) in February this year, as part of efforts to stop fire engines and crews being deployed unnecessarily.
More than 100 of the premises attended by the BSVs have been given advice and support to make them and the people working there safer. It is estimated that responding to 10,000 false alarms costs WMFS more than £2.3m a year.
Group Commander Simon Barry, of WMFS, said: “We aim to get to serious incidents in five minutes, but false alarms can delay our response to genuine emergencies. They are unwelcome disruptions for firefighters when they are training or undertaking vital prevention work in our communities. “They place fire crews and other road users at risk, and also carry a great financial cost in terms of fuel and wear and tear on our vehicles. Hundreds of unnecessary journeys also have an impact on the environment. Our three Business Support Vehicles are one of the many ways we help West Midlands firms and employers, by helping to minimise the disruption and loss in productivity that comes from repeated false alarms and evacuations.
The three vehicles are a Range Rover, a Mini and a Land Rover Discovery, and are based at West Bromwich, Ladywood and Coventry community fire stations. They are driven by Fire Safety Inspecting Officers and operate 12 hours a day at times when false alarm calls are known to be most frequent.
When a call linked to an AFA is received, Fire Control operators use their ‘call challenge’ skills to decide whether or not to deploy the nearest fire engine accompanied by the nearest Business Support Vehicle. Work is being undertaken that will lead to a BSV attending an AFA call alone, if appropriate based on the call information received. The BSV fire safety officers will provide support and advice to organisations to which they respond, to ensure they are doing all they can to keep their employees and the public safe – including the suitability and management of the fire alarm system.
G/Cmdr Barry added: “The approach will also help us to protect our five-minute attendance time for genuine incidents when life is in danger. Instead of tying up a fire engine for a long time dealing with an AFA call and any arising issues, the BSV officer can do that work and free up the engine and crew.”
Councillor John Edwards, Chair of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority, said: “The use of BSVs in this unique and ground-breaking way supports our business communities and helps them reduce the demand on our shrinking resources, keeping firefighters and fire engines available to respond to real emergency incidents.”
Since 1 June, WMFS has started to challenge all calls received from Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs) instead of deploying a fire engine automatically. Fire control operators speak to someone at the premises concerned, to establish whether or not a response is needed. However, WMFS still automatically responds to hospitals, prisons and care line calls at all times, as well as premises that confirm that there is a fire via the 999 system.