THE number of false alarms attended by the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service has reached its highest level in five years, with thousands of incidents recorded.

The Fire Brigades Union says false alarms use up resources and increase response times to real emergencies, but that “it is always better to be safe than sorry”.

Home Office figures show the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to 6,992 callouts in 2018-19 which proved to be false alarms.

This was the highest number for five years – and 366 more than in 2017-18.

More than two-thirds of the false alarms attended last year (68%) were caused by fire alarms and other firefighting apparatus. This includes people accidentally setting off fire alarms, or when an alarm is triggered and a person is required to call the fire brigade as part of protocol, such as security guards.

A further 29% were calls made in good faith, where the caller believed that a fire, or non-fire incident such as a road accident or medical problem, was an emergency requiring the fire service.

There were also 203 malicious false alarms, where a person deliberately called the fire service to a non-existent incident.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “False alarms, including malicious alarms, use up resources which could be better served elsewhere and increase response times to actual emergencies.2

“But it is always better to be safe than sorry, and fire services should always be called when any alarm is raised.

“The latest Government figures confirm what firefighters are feeling on the ground – they are under increasing pressure, responding to more incidents with scarcer resources, as budgets and firefighters continue to be cut.

“We are deeply concerned that, after massive cuts to fire safety officers, and years of deregulation, there has been a significant increase in fires in England. This makes it more crucial still that fire alarms are treated seriously.”

In Dorset and Wiltshire, officers spent at least 1,650 hours at the scene of false alarms last year. Most incidents were attended by a crew of between four and nine people.

On five occasions, more than 30 officers were mobilised to deal with a single false alarm.

Across England, fire and rescue services responded to 238,000 false alarms in 2018-19, marking the highest level of callouts in five years.

However, the number is still 26% lower than it was 10 years ago, according to the Home Office.

Area Manager Andy Cole said: “The service never knowingly attends a false alarm, we attend emergencies that have been reported to us via a 999 call.

“Where it later becomes clear that the incident was a false alarm, then we will always look to see whether there are ways of preventing similar call-outs in future.

“This can include the work done by our protection teams in giving advice to businesses on how to reduce the risk of unwanted fire signals, or the education work undertaken by our prevention teams.” However, if someone believes there is a fire or another issue requiring our immediate assistance, they should always call 999 – we would rather attend a false alarm than not attend a genuine emergency.”

A spokesperson said: “It is for local fire and rescue authorities to determine how they deal with false alarms.

“The National Fire Chiefs Council has provided authorities with guidance, including how best to support those responsible for maintaining automatic alarm systems.”