Need to introduce a policy to recoup costs from repeat false fire alarms
A third of all call outs by the Fire Service are false fire alarms according to information received by my office. It has also been revealed that the Fire Service have no policy to recoup the costs associated with repeated false fire alarm call outs
“This is costing the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service millions in needless call outs to premises. Whilst every fire alarm call out requires an urgent and immediate response, repeat call outs to the same address due to faulty equipment or poor procedure should be looked at to recoup some of the cost”
Following concerns raised by constituents I have obtained figures that reveal the number and average cost of fire service mobilisations, including unwanted fire signals. I was shocked to find out that there were nearly 8,000 such false fire alarms in 2013/14[i]. Given the total number of call outs were 24,000 from a budget of £74m, its clear this is a massive drain on Fire Service resources. The Fire Service themselves estimate the average cost of a mobilisation at £3,000, so these unwanted call outs must be costing millions of pounds annually.
As the Fire Service is funded by the Department of Health, to me this is an indirect cost on the cash starved Health budget. Given such budgetary pressures its now time to review how taxpayers money is being spent, and cut out waste.
The figures also reveal that levels of unwanted mobilisations has risen from 22% to 32% in the past four years[ii].
The Minister has now confirmed to me that there is no policy to deal with repeat unwanted call outs[iii].
I am not saying that people should be charged for all false alarm call outs, but rather when there is a persistent and repeated false alarm. In this case I don’t think its unreasonable for organisations to contribute to the cost. I am urging the Health Minister to develop a policy to claw back money from repeat offenders, and deal with this situation. The Fire Service published a report on this issue in 2013, and I have written to the Minister seeking an update, and if legislation is required. This would help the NIFRS budget, and also motivate people to ensure their fire alarm equipment and their response procedures are up to date.
NIFRS have also indicated that they do not routinely calculate the costs of attending individual call types, as it would be a costly exercise .There must surely be a way to take a sample and extrapolate out the costs, in order to get a more accurate assessment of the scale and cost of these unwanted call outs.
[i] NI Assembly Question AQW35859/11-15
[ii] NI Assembly Questions AQW 3667/11-15 and AQW 35859/11-15
[iii] NI Assembly Question AQW 35860/11-15