Fire service defends charging for bogus call-outs

Photo: Richmond Fire Station.

The fire officer charged with protecting residents across England’s largest county has defended a policy to charge businesses which repeatedly trigger bogus emergency call-outs.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s chief fire officer Jonathan Dyson told a meeting of North Yorkshire and York’s police, fire and crime panel the ultimate goal of charging for false call-outs was to protect the cash-strapped service’s resources for incidents where people’s lives were at risk.

The meeting heard automatic fire alarms were the predominant call-out for the service and the brigade’s policies had always included the option to charge, but it had made that policy clearer recently in its Risk and Resource Model 2022-2025 as it was “starting to see repeat offenders”.

While the service has faced a bleak financial situation for several years due to what panel members have agreed has been long-term underfunding and the cost of covering a vast area, in the 12 months to March 2022, the service was called to nearly 7,600 incidents, of which nearly half were false alarms.

A study of Home Office data in 2021 found only two per cent of confirmed incidents from automatic fire alarms were a result of an actual fire.

It found some 90 per cent of false alarms were due to “false apparatus”, with two per cent being deemed as malicious.

Automatic fire alarms send a signal directly to fire services to respond to, but due to the volume of false call-outs some fire and rescue services now also require a confirmed fire before responding.

The meeting heard businesses in North Yorkshire and York whose fire alarms triggered four false call-out a year would be liable for a charge under the service’s policy.

North Yorkshire councillor Rich Maw questioned whether the policy was “more of a headline rather than actually something that will deter”.

The meeting heard the policy was designed to protect the service’s appliances and firefighters, to ensure time for training, and “to respond to true life incidents”.

Mr Dyson told the meeting the service went to great lengths to ensure it was supporting businesses, and only when it was “absolutely required” would the service start charging for false call-outs.

He said while charging had been proven to be effective in energising managers in places such as universities to tackle people who triggered alarms irresponsibly, he did not anticipate the North Yorkshire service having to resort to charging on a consistent or regular basis.

However, he added: “The problem being of course, to some companies it is cheaper to pay any charge that we incur on them than making the responsible persons do their job or the changes that are required.”