The new Localism Bill has perhaps as many detractors as it has advocates but whether for devolution or against there are a growing number of industries worried about how it will impact on their sector.
For the Fire Protection Industry the concern is Chapter 2 – clause 18 (Fire and Rescue Authorities) and the concept of charging ‘a person’ for false alarms.
Professional fire-protection companies are totally behind the concept of reduced false-alarms to the fire brigade. Like many companies though we don’t want the baby out with the extinguishing water.
On the back of the maverick action of the London Fire Service, who are intending to independently stop responding to fire-alarm activations, the ramifications of this bill could have a huge effect on fire alarms and fire-alarm maintainers.
Just who is ‘a person’? – How enforceable is such a bland phrase?
Our industry is not alone in its concerns as highlighted in a great article in the Landdlord-Law Blog ‘Localism Bill to amend tenancy deposit regulations’.
Service providers and commerce caught up in this legislation need reassurances that well-intentioned devolution doesn’t have a massive negative impact on particular industry sectors.
The Fire and Emergency Service are considering a non-attendance policy to automated fire alarms and with false-alarm rates running as high as 40% then who can blame them?
The London Fire Brigade is driving these dramatic proposals as they look for ways to cut the 1,000 false calls they deal with in a typical week.
Most of the calls are from poorly or non-maintained fire alarms. Currently we have reached the position where the Fire Service can be used as free back-up instead of businesses properly meeting their requirements under the fire safety order.
The proposal suggests that fire crews would only respond if they could be sure a fire had started and specifically that alarm activation would not be actioned unless a phone call was also received.
We are all for sorting out the poor standard of fire alarms and indeed cowboy maintainers but insisting on a human confirmation really just negates totally the use of remotely monitored systems; if someone has to be present to ring through a call then an automated response is useless.
The move to tackling the false-alarm rate is both sensible and long overdue and has been on the cards for years. However, original studies were based around copying the police model to dealing with automated burglar-alarms. ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) policy on intruder alarms massively reduced the number of false calls but by the introduction of technology. ‘Confirmed Signalling’ ensures that police can only be called when more than one method of activation is employed (e.g. two detectors operate independently within a certain time frame or a detector activation is confirmed via CCTV images or audio).
Surely something similar can be employed with Fire Alarms.
A further requirement of ACPO is that the maintenance company must have third-party certification, ensuring levels of quality and regular auditing to weedle out the cowboys.
In the intruder industry a company must be NACOSS or SSAIB approved. Such a scheme is already in place for the fire industry - BAFE approval. Merely insisting that fire alarm maintenance companies were BAFE would dramatically reduce false alarms in a short period of time.
Surely it would be better to have well behaved fire-alarms with good automatic confirmation procedures rather than only responding to human intervention. How many fires start when there are no humans around to intervene?
Even when businesses have carried out their own fire risk assessment many of them mistakenly underestimate the amount of records they should keep. The vast majority of UK businesses, if inspected tomorrow, would fail a fire-safety inspection due to insufficient checks and record keeping.
“Do you test your fire alarm weekly?” we ask – “Weekly?” comes the reply. The fire-safety order requires certain fire and emergency provisions to be checked regularly. Some checks have a weekly frequency, others monthly and even some daily!
Here is a list of fire-protection provisions and there required inspection frequency:
Fire Alarm – Daily Check by user no recording required.
Fire Alarm – Weekly test by user and recording in fire-safety log.
Emergency Lights – Monthly test by user and recording in fire-safety log.
Fire Extinguishers - Monthly test by user and recording in fire-safety log.
The fire-alarm daily check is visual inspection of the control panel to ensure there are no faults displaying.
Fire-alarm weekly test requires the user to operate a call-point (different point each week) and ensure the system operates correctly and can be heard throughout. The test should occur at the same time each week so that occupants are aware that it is indeed a test. The test should then be recorded in the fire-safety logbook. Should any faults be present then this and the remedial action planned should also be recorded.
Emergency light monthly tests require the user to test every emergency light in the building. This is not a duration test and requires the user to note merely that the light successfully lit. This is usually achieved via operation of a test-key facility. The test should then be recorded in the fire-safety logbook. As with fire alarms should any faults be present then this and any remedial action required should also be recorded.
Fire Extinguisher monthly inspections require the user to inspect every extinguisher in the building. The inspection involves checking the following: Is the extinguisher mounted on its bracket? – Is it under the correct sign? – Is the pin in? Is the anti-tamper tag in place? If there is a pressure gauge is it reading in the green band? Are the extinguisher operation instructions, on the body, legible? Again the test should be recorded in the fire-safety logbook and any faults present and remedial action planned should also be recorded.
This is the most common failing in fire-safety provision yet the most easily discovered by an investigating body.