Bedfordshire's firefighters attend more false alarms than fires

National Fire Chiefs Council says commercial property owners are to blame

Bedfordshire’s firefighters attended more false alarm incidents than actual fires last year, new figures show.

Home Office data shows Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to 6,259 call-outs in the year to September.

Of those, 42 per cent were a result of false alarms, while just 23 per cent were for actual fires.

The largest proportion of false alarms occurred due to faulty equipment, such as broken fire alarms and smoke detectors

The false alarms to the service last year included 69 deemed ‘malicious’ – such as fake or hoax calls.

Unnecessary callouts can be costly and time-consuming for emergency services.

While malicious callers accounted for 5,473 calls to fire services across England last year, the largest proportion of false alarms occurred due to faulty equipment, such as broken fire alarms and smoke detectors.

In Bedfordshire, 1,672 callouts were made for this reason, accounting for more than a quarter of all incidents attended by the area’s firefighters last year.

A further 772 false-alarm calls were made in good faith – where the public believed that a fire may have genuinely been taking place.

The National Fire Chiefs Council said a false alarm is attended to almost every 90 seconds in the UK and can cost up to £450, taking resources away from genuine emergencies and increasing the service's carbon footprint.

Paul McCourt, who leads on tackling unwanted fire alarms at the NFCC, said that while a "considerable reduction has been seen in recent years... More needs to be done to limit the impact these false alarms have."

He said owners of commercial properties, which are to blame for many false alarm callouts, have a "wider social responsibility" to deal with them.

"By ensuring correct and compliant alarm design and maintenance they can help reduce the number of unwanted fire signals." Mr McCourt added.

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

The number of callouts for Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service increased 6 per cent% this year, compared to 5,890 in the year to 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.

Andy Dark, assistant general secretary at the Fire Brigades Union, which represents firefighters, says that fire brigades need better funding to handle false callouts.

He said: “It is vital that fire and rescue services have enough resources to deal with all callouts – even where later down the line it is found that it was a false alarm.”

Mr Dark added that cuts to staff numbers and equipment since 2010, increasing response times and fewer crews being sent to fires have made dealing with actual fires more difficult.

A Home Office spokesperson said the Government has ensured that fire departments have "the appropriate resources and funding to do the job."