Firefighters are called out to thousands of “disruptive and costly” false alarms every year, the Express can reveal, wasting up to a third of critical resource at a time when it is needed most.
Crews in Yorkshire have been called out to more than 23,000 false fires prompted by automatic alarms at private businesses, hospitals and schools since April 2015, the new figures show.
The potential sum of firefighters’ time and resources would total nearly £8m if counted separately from their working day, the investigation can reveal.
And, it has emerged, these alarm call outs account for a third of all incidents in some parts of the region.
“The practical cost is in the loss of this lifesaving resource,” said David Williams, chairman of the Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union.
“We don’t want to be at a hospital looking for a fire alarm, when just around the corner someone is hanging out of their window because their house is on fire.
“That’s time you can’t get back.
“That’s when it’s critical.”
The highest number - nearly half the total sum - were in West Yorkshire where firefighters responded 11,064 times. The authority here is now issuing invoices to repeat offenders.
Each call out in North and West Yorkshire takes one fire engine and four firefighters out of service, with an estimated cost of between £323 and £355 an hour.
Critics argue that this isn’t money spent, as firefighters would be on duty regardless, but admit this is a huge waste of resource which could be better deployed
“The numbers are down 80 per cent on what they were 10 years ago – but they still count for a third of all incidents that we attend,” said Dave Walton, deputy chief fire officer for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) (pictured).
Across the country, other services have also taken more drastic measures. Fines were introduced for businesses in London in 2014, and Leicester considered the same.
London Fire Brigade Service asks to recover £326 plus VAT for being called out to premises it considers to be persistent offenders. This applies after the tenth call out to the same address in a 12 month period, and for each call after that.
The Express investigation, based on a series of Freedom of Information requests, found there were a total of 23,281 false call outs to automatic fire alarms since the start of last financial year.
Fire authorities have been working to tackle the issue, but say the weight of responsibility has to lie with private businesses.
“If we don’t reduce the demand as much as we can, then our fire crews cannot respond to incidents where they are most needed.” Mr Walton added.