London fire crews attend false alarms 'every 10 minutes'

Figures obtained by BBC London show firefighters were sent unnecessarily to nearly 56,000 incidents

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False fire alarms are attended by London Fire Brigade (LFB) almost once every 10 minutes at a cost of £37m per year, figures have revealed.

In 2011, LFB attended 55,719 false alarms with hospitals and Heathrow Airport being the main call-outs.

But the number of call-outs from false alarms has steadily decreased annually from 71,679 in 2007.

LFB said it had worked hard to reduce the number of false fire alarms it was called to but it was still too high.

False alarms are when automatic fire alarms are wrongly activated or when people set off alarms when there is no emergency.

A LFB spokesman said: "The Brigade works closely with organisations across the capital, such as hospitals, universities, hotels and airports, in a bid to reduce the number of false alarms it is called out to.

"Staff from the Brigade visit these organisations to offer advice on how to manage and maintain their fire alarms properly."

Start Quote

False fire alarms can be incredibly disruptive in buildings like hospitals, universities or airports”

End Quote Lee Phillpotts London Fire Brigade
Worst offenders

The majority of false alarms calls are caused by automatic fire alarm systems being set off by things such as burnt toast, steam, aerosols or cigarette smoke or because the system is badly maintained.

The figures also include call-outs caused when people dialled 999 wrongly believing there was a fire and also hoaxes.

LFB said the worst offenders were hospitals, universities and airports.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act showed the site at St Georges Hospital in Tooting, south-west London, which is also the home of the University of London and NHS Blood services, has been one of the worst offenders for false alarms.

In 2011, firefighters were wrongly called out to the hospital 158 times, however this was down from 181 in 2010 and 204 in 2008.

LFB false fire alarm call-outs

  • 2007: 71,679
  • 2008: 68,528
  • 2009: 62,976
  • 2010: 60,624
  • 2011: 55,719

A spokesman for St Georges said: "We have worked hard to reduce the number of false alarms and, as the LFB figures show, these have decreased over the last five years.

"The trust and the university have put in place a set of measures to further reduce the incidence of false alarm call outs, including additional fire awareness training for key staff."

Heathrow Airport falsely called firefighters out 493 times in 2011, down from 513 in 2010.

BAA, which operates the airport, was unable to comment on the figures.

The figures showed the number of false alarms being attended by firefighters in London has fallen by more than 22% over the past five years.

LFB's deputy assistant commissioner, Lee Phillpotts, said: "When our crews are out dealing with false fire alarms, they are then unavailable to attend genuine emergencies or carry out training or community safety work.

"False fire alarms can be incredibly disruptive in buildings like hospitals, universities or airports so it is in everyone's best interests to ensure that alarms are properly fitted and maintained."

He said it was vital organisations worked with the LFB to reduce the number of false call-outs.

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