A response update from the London Fire Brigade

Lauren Lee

Lauren Lee
Senior Consultant, Assurity Consulting
20th June 2024

As reported on their website, London Fire Brigade attended around 38,000 false alarms in 2017. That’s around 104 every day in London alone. Additionally, less than 1% of incidents reported by automated systems are genuine fires - the remaining 99% are false alarms. Last year, the London Fire Brigade attended around 60 false alarms generated by automatic fire alarms in non-residential properties each day. Responding to these incidents took up roughly 23,500 hours of firefighters’ time. 

It is no surprise then to hear that Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) teams and Responsible Persons have been instructed to make some adjustments and improve the systems in place by distinguishing between false alarms and confirmed fires. 

Exemptions and reviews

The London Fire Brigade is proposing to continue to respond to automatic fire alarms in buildings where people are likely to be sleeping or hazardous materials might be present. They would also continue to respond to automatic fire alarms in buildings of substantial public significance such as heritage sites. As reported on their website, the below sites appear to be ‘exempt’: 

  • Sleeping occupation:
    • Private houses/ dwellings 
    • Flats (including high-rise)  
    • Houses of multiple occupation  
    • Mobile/ park homes  
    • Houseboats   
    • Hospitals  
    • Residential care homes/ nursing homes/ hospices  
    • Specialised housing premises (e.g. sheltered housing, extra care sheltered housing, supported living)  
    • Children’s homes  
    • Student accommodation/ halls of residence  
    • Residential boarding schools
    • Schools
    • Nurseries
    • Heritage Buildings  
    • Hotels/ motels/ B&Bs and other guest accommodation  
    • Hostels  
    • Prisons/ Youth Offender’s institutions/ other secure establishments 
  • High risk sites storing volumes of dangerous substances (COMAH sites) will continue to receive an emergency response. 
  • Buildings of substantial public significance, where exemption is considered appropriate through an annual assessment of risk, will also continue to receive an emergency response. 

Currently, there are no plans to review exemptions, however, new policies for identifying and exempting high-risk buildings may lead to periodic reviews. At present, the London Fire Brigade is not accepting exemption applications. If the belief is held that a specific building presents a defined risk, the local Borough or Prevention and Protection team need to be contacted. 

From October 2024, the designated Responsible Person must communicate any ‘exemptions’ to the London Fire Brigade during an emergency call. The London Fire Brigade website states “If your premises is exempt from this policy, then ensure the person responsible for calling London Fire Brigade via 999 in the event of a fire, is aware of the exemption and can relay that information to London Fire Brigade in that call. Please note that all automatic fire alarm calls to fire in commercial buildings between 7:00am and 8:30pm, will be subject to consideration before any emergency response is made, so please ensure the advice above is clearly understood by your call operators and do not assume any exemptions.”

In terms of handling multi-use buildings, if an alarm affects sleeping accommodation or other exempt premises, the London Fire Brigade will respond. The specific nature of multi-use buildings should be communicated to the nominated Alarm Receiving Centres.

Schools will receive responses during the day even if unoccupied, although premises involving animals will not be automatically exempt unless specific risks are identified locally. For commercial properties with no apparent fire, the London Fire Brigade will not attend, and it has been advised that insurance providers are informed about this new policy.

This isn’t a ‘new’ approach, as all but four Fire and Rescue Services across the UK already have similar policies in place. There is no legal requirement for any Fire and Rescue Service to attend an alarm if it hasn’t yet been confirmed as a real fire scenario, so it’s not surprise that they’re looking at ways to reduce wasted time.