Nearly 40 per cent of all fire calls received in the United Kingdom are false. Recent figures show an annual rate of nearly half a million false calls, about a quarter of which were from automatic fire detection systems.
Mr Howarth said:
'False alarms are expensive, waste valuable fire brigade resources and increase the danger to the public.
'False calls from automatic fire detection systems have been increasing steadily in recent years - this reflects the increased numbers and age of such systems.
'If this increase continues we run the risk of overwhelming the resources of fire authorities'.
Mr Howarth was speaking at the launch of a joint initiative on managing false alarms held by fire chiefs and representatives of companies in the fire detection, alarms and extinguishing systems' field.
He explained that some approaches to tackling the problem are already in hand. These include user-friendly guidance for owners or occupiers of premises with automatic fire detection systems on ways to reduce the numbers of false calls, produced with Home Office assistance.
Mr Howarth pointed out that much can be done to improve the reliability of systems by using nationally agreed schemes and standards:
'Third party quality assurance can also offer great comfort to businesses, as a means of satisfying themselves that systems are designed, commissioned, installed and maintained properly and to a designated standard.
'This should help to reduce false calls due to equipment failure'.
'We have asked the British Standards Institution to look at the existing standard again.'.
The launch will be followed up by a seminar at the Fire Service
College and a series of workshops in the regions.
1. The launch was held by the British Fire Protection Systems Association and the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association in Westminster.
2. In 1995, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 447,000 false calls.