East of Scotland firefighters attended almost 10,000 unwanted false alarms last year

Firefighters across the East of Scotland responded to almost 10,000 unwanted fire alarm signals last year - the equivalent of around 27 a day.

The figure has been revealed as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) gets ready to change the way it responds to unwanted fire alarm signals. 

From 1 July, 2023 an alarm activation will require those with fire safety responsibility, known as dutyholders, to investigate the cause of an alarm and only call 999 once a fire has been confirmed. This approach is already embedded across several other UK fire and rescue services, who require a confirmed fire before they send fire appliances.  

The change in response will affect all premises and businesses who do not provide sleeping accommodation. Hospitals, care homes, hotels, student accommodation and domestic dwellings will continue to receive the current level of emergency response.  

Workplaces are being reminded to provide adequate training for staff on the new process and put in place fire safety provisions.  

Deputy Assistant Chief Officer Stewart Nicholson is the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Head of Service Delivery for the East of Scotland. 

He said: "We will continue to work with dutyholders to help them better understand their obligations, but I must stress the importance of having adequate training in place for staff and in ensuring appropriate fire safety provisions are in place within your premises. 

"By changing our response to these types of incidents, we can potentially free up 64,000 hours every year giving firefighters more time for other activities, such as training and fire safety prevention work.  

"However, there are benefits to businesses too by preventing these incidents from happening in the first place. On average, every unwanted fire alarm signal interrupts business for around 27 minutes each time.” 

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s East region covers areas including Lothian and Borders, Falkirk, Fife as well as Stirling and Clackmannanshire. 

Edinburgh University is one of the institutions to have taken active steps ahead of the transition. 

A spokesperson for the university said: “We are pleased to support this new approach and have been working closely with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to adapt to the changes in our non-sleeping buildings. 

"We have well-tested fire action plans in place across all buildings on our campuses and have been working with our security teams and fire safety wardens who are trained on how to respond to and investigate fires.” 

The University of St Andrews is another institution to have been proactive in its efforts. 

A university spokesperson said: "We are working with internal and external stakeholders to prepare for the challenges the new SFRS models of response to fire alarm activations in commercial buildings are likely to present from 1 July. 

"We are engaging with SFRS and our staff across the university estate to raise awareness of these changes and will also be updating any relevant policies and operating procedures which may be impacted as a result. 

"Key staff are being afforded appropriate training, supported by technological systems to allow them to safely investigate alarm activations within our buildings." 

Unfortunately, most signals from automatic fire alarm systems are not actual fires – they are false alarms often caused by cooking fumes, dust or a lack of maintenance. This means our fire crews are called out unnecessarily. 

This change in response to unwanted fire alarms creates capacity for operational crews to respond to real emergencies, whilst reducing the road risk and the impact on the environment caused by fire appliances making unnecessary blue light journeys.  

Across the whole of Scotland, the number of unwanted fire alarm signal (UFAS) incidents during 2022 was around 30,000, which is the equivalent of around 80 a day. 

The forthcoming changes on 1 July, 2023 follow the outcome of a public consultation held in 2021. The business advice pages on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service website has guidance to help dutyholders get ready.