Alarm bells ring as school call-out numbers rocket

FIREFIGHTERS have been called out to more than 900 false alarms at schools, nurseries, colleges and universities across the Lothians over the last year.

• Number of false alarms set off at educational institutions on the rise

• Only a handful of over 900 call-outs were genuine emergencies

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• Automatic fire alarms mostly to blame

• Schools may face heavy financial penalties for non-emergency call-outs

New figures revealed that around 95 per cent of term-time calls to educational establishments were false alarms and that only a handful were for genuine emergencies, including 37 fires.

The total number of false alarms rose from 873 to 936 between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, the figures released under Freedom of Information showed.

The unnecessary call-outs were mainly the result of automatic fire alarms (AFAs) going off, although they also included 41 hoax and malicious calls.

Green councillor Gavin Corbett branded the figures “deeply worrying” and said some call-outs were the result of faulty appliances or cooking activity.

He added: “We need to be reassured that schools and the council are taking every possible step to reduce these types of call-out. I fear the day that a fire vehicle is delayed getting to a genuine emergency because it is stuck with something that could have been avoided.”

Fire services can charge £450 per hour to send one truck and a crew to non-emergencies, which means the false alarms could have racked up a bill of more than £420,000.

The worst offenders were schools, where call-outs have increased from 513 to 603 over the last year, followed by colleges and universities.

Edinburgh Napier University received the highest number of visits, with firefighters called out 38 times.

Councillor Mike Bridgman, convener of the Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Board, said: “The service has an obligation to attend any alarm call. The fire service does school visits and speaks to students at universities to make them aware that if they’re having to come to halls of residence on a false alarm because of whatever kind of prank, then it could be taking them away from a very important job.”

A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service said: “There can be a number of reasons for these type of activations, including system errors, poor maintenance of alarm systems, badly sited alarms and adverse weather.

“Indeed, one of the possible reasons for the slight increase in the figures this year could be down to that [weather]. We know that very heavy rain or high winds can see an increase in activations and we’ve experienced long periods of this type of weather in the past year.”