Fire service tries out new alarm response

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FIRE engines are no longer being sent to some automatic fire alarms at non-residential properties in Portsmouth.

Hampshire Fire And Rescue Service is instead sending a fire safety officer in a vehicle to automatic fire alarm call-outs from Southsea and Cosham stations.

In a six-month trial the officer will act as a first response to the alarms at any property that is not used as accommodation between 9am and 5pm on weekdays – unless they are warned that it is as a result of a fire.

That officer will check what the cause of the alarm is, offer advice on how to manage the fire alarm system and check the building complies with fire regulations.

But it will not be an emergency response.

Officials say firefighters attend more than 3,500 false alarm call-outs to automatic fire alarms a year, meaning fire engines are unavailable for emergencies and causing a ‘significant drain’ on resources.

They say the trial – the first of its kind – will free up more fire engines to respond to life-threatening emergencies as well as increasing education, training and community safety work.

It could be tested in other parts of Hampshire in the future.

Fire engines will still be the first response to call-outs at schools and buildings where people sleep such as care homes, hotels and hospitals.

Former firefighter and Lib Dem Portsmouth city councillor Andy Fraser said: ‘It has been a long-standing problem that the fire service responding to automatic fire alarms with a fire appliance has resulted in, frankly, a waste of time and effort.

‘It is a problem that has to be resolved by the fire service, but I am also aware that cutting back on operational firefighting response is often perceived as a danger to the public. The simple answer is we have got to do something.’

Lib Dem city council leader Gerald Vernon Jackson said: ‘We all know of situations where fire alarms go off by mistake and if this is going to mean that fire engines are available quicker for residential properties where people are sleeping, then this might actually help fire safety and save lives.’

Julie Jacobs, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said: ‘It is not about cost-cutting, it is about making a better use of resources and trying to cut down on the number of false alarms we are getting.

‘It will better free up our resources to do more training and community safety activities. If there is any doubt in our mind that it is an emergency then we will attend.’