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London Fire Brigade to charge for false alarms
The London Fire Brigade (LFB) will be the first fire service in the country to charge firms for calling out its firefighters to false alarms.
From January 1, they will be clawing back the costs of callouts to false alarms from buildings like hospitals, airports and student digs, the LFB says.
The brigade will recover the cost from those responsible for the fire alarm systems where firefighters are called out to false alarms 10 times or more in a 12 month period.
The £290-plus-VAT penalty, which will not hit domestic properties or care homes, will apply to buildings across London.
Firefighters were sent back to 403 locations more than ten times due to false alarms in the last financial year.
The LFB would have recovered about £800,000 if the fees had been in place, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) says.
Charges to hospitals, which are by far the biggest culprits in unnecessary call-outs, would have added up to nearly £500,000 being paid back to the LFB and it would also have given fire crews more time to spend on training and community safety, the LFEPA said.
LFEPA chairman James Cleverly said: “The public deserve and expect firefighters to be available to attend genuine emergencies rather than attending thousands of false alarms.
"The vast bulk of automatic fire alarm calls turn out not to be fires, these are often caused by poor management or maintenance of alarm systems."
The LFB, which was called out more than 70 times to false alarms last year by London hospitals, have named and shamed some of the worst offenders in 2012-2013.
St Georges Hospital in Tooting tops the list with 136 false alarms followed by Kings College Hospital in Denmark Hill with 129 and Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield with 128.
The Royal London Hospital in the East End made 98 false alarms, while the Hillingdon Hospital and Ealing Hospital, each made 94.
There were 87 false alarms from the Homerton Hospital in Hackney and 79 from the Royal Free Hospital in Belsize Park, according to LFB.
The brigade hopes the charges will lead to better maintained fire alarms so they do not go off so often and so unnecessarily.
Fire alarms act as a vital early warning system, helping keep people safe by alerting them to fires and giving them more time to escape.
However, the majority of automatic fire alarms are false alarms caused by faulty or badly maintained systems or things like burnt toast, steam or dust.
The false alarms at the hospitals were generated by automatic fire alarm (AFA) systems and fire detection systems.
Faulty or badly maintained systems or things like burnt toast, steam or dust are to blame for most of the false alarms from AFA systems, the LFB says.
There were 25,550 attendances in total to non residential or other building AFAs in 2012/13, while there were 29,923 in 2010/11 and 27,839 in 2011/12.
Mr Cleverly said: "This is not a money making exercise but we are leading the way in recovering our spend on unwanted call-outs and educating building managers to properly maintain their fire alarm systems."
It is estimated false alarms cost the Brigade around £37 million each year - and the cost to the UK economy in lost productivity is estimated at around a billion pounds per year, according to LFB figures.
They have calculated hospitals would have paid out £499,380 for 1,722 penalties if charges had come into force between April 1, 2012, to March 31.
Airports would have paid out £66,410 for 229 penalties, while student halls of residence would have added £45,240 to the pot for 156 incidents.
Colleges and university, with 98 penalties, would have faced £28,420 payout along with the £26,100 charge that would have been levied upon nurses and doctors accommodation who would have had 90 penalties.
The LFB also warns that a good upkeep of a fire alarm is key as they are a vital early warning system which can give people more time to escape.
The LFB said it was "concerned" that regular false fire alarms can lead to complacency which will see people ignore them.
"In the case of a real fire, this could be disastrous," a spokesman said.