Firefighters' Threat over False Alarms; Pounds 18m Wasted on Needless Call-Outs
Byline: By Paul James Chief Reporter
FIRE chiefs last night threatened to stop responding to alarms set off at hospitals after false call-outs to wards cost them pounds 1.1m in the past year.
The warning came in the wake of a rise in false alarms across the North-East that saw almost pounds 18m of firefighters' time and resources wasted on unnecessary call-outs.
Crews in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and Durham raced to 9,093 false alarms last year, up from 8,915 in 2005, with each costing pounds 1,970, according to Government figures.
And 593 of these were to hospitals in Tyne and Wear - the top four sources of false alarms in the area - where toasters, air fresheners and aerosol sprays are blamed for triggering the automatic alarms that firefighters are duty-bound to attend.
Dave Simpson, assistant chief fire office in Tyne and Wear, yesterday warned repeat offenders that if they did not take action the brigade may demand a 999 call before responding to an automatic alarm.
Mr Simpson said that using Government calculations, Tyne and Wear's 6,235 false alarms, up from 5,771 last year, cost the brigade pounds 12,282,950 - the equivalent of a fifth of its pounds 60m budget.
Each unnecessary call-out costs pounds 1,970, according to the Economic Cost of Fire report published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Adding the cost from Northumberland (798 false alarms) and County Durham (2,060) to the total means the total regional bill is pounds 17,913,210 - with pounds 1,168,210 accounted for just from the Tyne and Wear hospitals. Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary has introduced ward alarms and toasters that can only be plugged into kitchen sockets, reducing the number of needless call-outs from 97 in 2005 to 88 last year.
And toasters have been banned from wards at Sunderland's Royal Hospital, which was top the list for false alarms last year with 185 in a year.
Mr Simpson said: "The area we have the greatest problem with is hospitals. …