Stop wasting time and resources

Fire safetyIf you have a high incidence of false alarms in your healthcare premises then it could finally be time to put your house in order to avoid having to pay lots of hard-earned cash out in the way of charges – but more on that later.

My daughter is a vegetarian and spends a lot of her time hunting down food that is suitable to eat. Living in student accommodation it isn’t always easy for her to spear a spring roll or to bring down some falafel that is full flight across the veldt of the Junior Common Room. I’m mixing my international culinary terms, my geography, and metaphors but I think you’ll get my drift.

In order to keep up her calorie intake, she often resorts to that tried and trusted friend of student kind – the toaster. Now having been bored to tears and near to losing the will to live because of me banging on about the fire industry, she knows better than to insert a slice of her favourite loaf into the toaster if it’s near a smoke detector. However, she’s unusual in this regard; as most students don’t understand the possible consequences of this type of action – the younger generation what are they coming to? Remember, they will be funding our old age via their taxes on another tangent here so better return to the subject at hand!

So, the less well-informed student burns the toast, setting off the smoke detector, the Fire and Rescue guys come running, and a lot of time and money is wasted. One thing to point out here is that the smoke detector has done its job. I mention this as many people attribute false alarms to equipment malfunctions when in reality a lot of them are about premises management.

Not just students
It’s not only students that burn the toast, cooking in general in the NHS is a major cause of false alarms, and a lot of these are actually down to toasters. Indeed, for the financial year 2009/10 there were nearly 22,000 false alarms in NHS premises.

Help is at hand via the revised CFOA/FIA False Alarms Policy. This policy attempts to clarify the relationship between those responsible for the protected premises; the fire alarm service provider; the Alarm Receiving Centres (ARC); and the Fire and Rescue Services (FRS). It ties in the responsibilities of all those involved to their duties under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order.

The policy sets out a distinction between what happens at the premises, the point at which the alarm signal is considered a of ‘false alarm’ if there is no fire; and at the fire brigade, where the signal becomes an ‘unwanted fire signal’. Unwanted because the FRS want to respond to real fires, not false alarms. The policy goes on to look at how this fire signal can be dealt with at the various stages before it reaches the FRS.

Coming back to our less well educated student; they burn the toast and then what happens? Well, the smoke alarm goes off but under the new policy, the FRS will attend the first time there is a signal from the premises. However, if they arrive and it turns out to be a false alarm, the premises will receive a letter from the FRS requiring the premises be registered to the policy. Part of the registration will involve the FRS, the premises and the maintenance provider discussing the best way of managing the problem, which can involve system changes, if appropriate, or in most cases, a change in the management of the system. Therefore, if there is a fire signal from the system in the future, there should be a management system in place to investigate the signal before it is transmitted to the ARC or FRS.

Integrated Risk Management Plan
If it’s a confirmed fire then the signal is passed to the FRS and they arrive with the appropriate level of response, as dictated in their Integrated Risk Management Plan. It is not envisaged that the responsible person is expected to do a full search of the premises – the fire panel should give them the location of the signal and they should be able to check safely if there is a fire or a false alarm.

If no management plan is in place at a later date and a false alarm reaches the FRS as an unwanted fire signal, then the FRS can instigate the changes in the response level given in the plan, but they will still work with the premises to improve the system. If nothing is done and false alarm signals from the premises continue to reach the FRS they will look to take action against the premises under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order.

The policy recognises that in many cases an alarm at protected premises never reaches the FRS as it is handled by the management systems, either it was proved to be a false alarm and the call was cancelled, or it was a fire but was dealt with by the first aid firefighting equipment.

Onsite checks
Regarding signals from an ARC, the policy presupposes that the onsite checks already have been carried out as part of the contract between the premises and the ARC, so the FRS will go to the premises assuming that there is a fire. If it turns out not to be a fire then the same action mentioned above begins.

The policy also treats social alarm providers (Telecare) separately but they still have to confirm that there is a fire, either by call back or their management plan. It also deals with the 999 call to the brigade. All of the above scenarios are covered in flow charts which form part of the policy.

The policy is clear that competent persons have a big role to play and that third party certification is the best method of providing proof of competence, with regard to fire alarms. The policy currently only recognises BAFE SP203 and LPS 1014 as suitable schemes to prove competence in fire alarm systems.

But why is it time to put your house in order with regard to false alarms and what are those charges? In the Localism Bill, which is making its way through Parliament, the Fire and Rescue Authorities – after local consultation – will have the right, if they so choose, to start sending out bills for false alarm attendance to persistent offenders.

So, if you’re one of those persistent false alarm offenders, look out for a bill landing on your desk; the FIA estimates that these invoices will be £350 or more per attendance depending upon where you are and how many fire engines arrive at your door. You have been warned...

For more information:
Tel: 020 31665002
Fax: 020 89410972

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