Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Fire Industry Association and the British Security Industry Association (L 161)

The Fire Industry Association (FIA) is the trade association with the aim of promoting the professional status of the UK fire safety industry. The Association was born out of a merger between two longstanding and well-respected trade associations, FETA (Fire Extinguishing Trade Association) and BFPSA (British Fire Protection Systems Association). The FIA represents the interests of those companies involved with fire detection and alarm systems, gaseous and watermist suppression systems, portable fire extinguishers and fire risk assessment.

The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) is the trade association for the professional security industry in the UK. BSIA represents the interests of those companies and organisations that manufacture, distribute and install electronic and physical security equipment, those who provide security guarding and consultancy services and alarm monitoring and receiving centres who monitor security and safety systems including automatic fire alarm systems.

FIA and BSIA are referred to as ‘the trade’ in this submission.

Clause 18C of the Localism Bill

The trade is concerned that if charging is introduced for attendance at false alarms by fire and rescue that alarm systems will be disconnected and life safety will be threatened. In many cases it is the most disadvantaged in society whose lives will be threatened by the disconnection of fire alarm systems. These potential fire death victims, for example residents in houses of multiple occupation, in general have no ability to control the level of false alarms from the premises in question.

In addition industry has invested heavily in improving fire protection/detection to its buildings to reduce the risk of fire. This investment has paid dividends as the incidence of attendance at false alarms has fallen by nearly 44% from 507,000 in 1995 to 285,100 in the financial year 2009/2010. If implemented charging could lead to a downgrading of fire systems in company’s future expenditure plans which could halt the decline in false alarms.

With regard to Clauses 18C(3) and (4)(c) according to London Fire Brigade 2% of their false alarms are due to Unsuitable Equipment or Equipment Incorrectly Positioned and thus the question of charging could be seen as somewhat academic. However it is fire and rescue that classify the cause of the false alarm and some brigades will often attribute bad building management as an equipment malfunction. Such was the case in a recent situation reported to the trade where a saucepan on a stove boiled dry and then started to smoke. The alarm went off and the resident turned off the heat and removed the saucepan, but fire and rescue classified this as an equipment malfunction even though the detection system had done its job!

The term ‘persistent’ needs defining, for example a brewery may have five different alarm systems on one site so is it the site that could be accused as a persistent offender or is it the individual system and if the latter how many times does it have to activate to be deemed persistent?

18C (4) This section refers to domestic premises but Bob Neill, in the following exchange on 1 February 2011 at the Committee Stage with Jack Dromey, said that Domestic Premises were not included – see the following extract from parliament.UK.

Jack Dromey: We broadly welcome this clause and its provisions concerning faults and calls from automatic fire systems, such as automatic fire alarms. We also welcome the provisions at sea, although my right hon. Friend is right about the importance of clarity on that. Could the Minister reassure us-this is the one reassurance that I ask for-that the proposed powers will not apply to domestic premises?

Robert Neill: I can assure the hon. Gentleman at once that we do not intend to do that. It is worth stating the general background, because I believe this is the end of this stand part debate. I will endeavour in the course of my remarks to address the pertinent question raised by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich.

The Trade applauds Bob Neill’s decision to omit domestic premises and sees this as a victory for common sense as many of these properties will house the most disadvantaged in society who in many cases will have little or no control over the installation or maintenance of any alarm system.

Prior to 1992 and before the lawsuit between Thorn and Sackville which outlawed the process, there was charging by fire and rescue services for attendance at false alarms. In these cases the charge was made on the alarm receiving centre (ARC) that passed on the alarm signal which is akin to charging the postman for delivering junk mail! The ARCs in turn passed these bills on to the organisations with which they had a contract and in many cases never received payment and thus were left with large debts.

Appendix B of the ‘CFOA Protocol for the Reduction of False Alarms and Unwanted Fire Signals’ (see here) makes it clear that the contract between the fire and rescue service and the ARC is for the cost of the telephone lines (and maintenance of) and nothing more. The ARC is not responsible for the alarm system on the premises or the cause of the activation. This is the responsibility of the responsible person.

Thus if the charge for a false alarm is to be levied on the ARC then they are being billed for something for which they are not contractually responsible and over which they have no control. In this case, based upon their previous bad debt experience, it is likely that they will cease serving the fire community by disconnecting and thus the incidence of false alarms will drop dramatically as there will be no signals passed by the ARC to the fire and rescue service! Whilst this would be good for false alarm reduction it would be a disaster for fire safety.

If there is to be charging for the attendance at false alarms by the fire and rescue services then the charge should be levied upon the Responsible Person’s organisation as it is they that can manage the situation in conjunction with their fire alarm maintenance company. This procedure may be difficult to enforce because of the lack of a contract between the fire and rescue service and the organisation in question. If this is the case then the fire and rescue service could enforce under the Fire Safety Order and make the organisation in question rectify the problem(s) (including faulty equipment, poor management of the building, malicious activations etc.) and if they do not do so then the ultimate sanction would be prosecution under the Fire Safety Order.

In many cases the installed equipment that comprises a fire detection and alarm system will predate the BS EN 54 suite of product standards that have been introduced over the last 15 years. Products that conform to BS EN 54 are far less prone to give unwanted fire signals and building owners with older systems are being encouraged by suppliers to replace them with new equipment as part of the trade’s initiative to drive down further the incidence of false alarms.

The ‘CFOA Protocol for the Reduction of False Alarms and Unwanted Fire Signals’ in the view of the trade consistently applied across the country would drastically drive down the incidence of false fire alarms in the same way that the ACPO Security System’s Policy (see here) has done for remote security alarms.

According to the ACPO Systems Group in 2000 there were 936,620 remote security systems and in the same year the number of false alarms was 921,640, whereas in 2010 there are 1,145,668 remote security systems but only 212,987false alarms.

The main reason for the decline in false alarms from remote security systems is the implementation of the ACPO Security System’s Policy which emphasises the use of design/installation standards that include the adoption of new methods of false alarm reduction. This policy is used across the UK and includes a section which details the Police Response to Security Systems.

In summary the trade’s view is that:-

1. Charging for attendance at false alarms by the fire and rescue service is a bad idea as systems will be disconnected and life safety will be threatened

2. The incidence of attendance at false alarms is dropping and the implementation of charging could reverse this trend if industry decides that it’s being penalised while it is at the same time investing in new equipment

3. Domestic premises should be omitted from any type of charging regime as the most disadvantaged in society are likely to suffer

4. Any charge for attendance at a false alarm by the fire and rescue service should be levied on the organisation employing the Responsible Person and if that is not contractually possible then the enforcement procedures under the Fire Safety Order should be invoked to make the Responsible Person rectify the problem(s)

5. If charges are passed to the ARCs then it is likely that they will disconnect the fire systems and pass no signals at all which would be a disaster for fire safety

6. In the event of charging for attendance at false alarms companies that have invested in new equipment should be treated less harshly than those that are still operating old systems that are inherently less reliable

7. If the ‘CFOA Protocol for the Reduction of False Alarms and Unwanted Fire Signals’ was implemented consistently then the incidence of false alarms would be drastically reduced from 2009/2010 levels as has been the case since the implementation of the ACPO Security Systems Policy.

March 2011