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Source: NZ Herald
Additional reporting APN
Firefighters are arriving at a third of their callouts to find they are false alarms - a problem costing the Fire Service and the worst offenders millions of dollars.
Details released to the Herald under the Official Information Act have shown fire crews have chalked up almost 15,000 unnecessary callouts since last July, amounting to around 26 per cent of the total dispatches so far.
At the end of the last financial year, the total number of false alarms stood at 27,460 - around 35 per cent of callouts.
The rates were highest in large cities - up to two-thirds of Auckland fire station callouts were typically false alarms. The Auckland addresses with the highest number of callouts were typically multiple-building sites with many alarms, including the Grafton campuses of Auckland City Hospital and Auckland University.
"In other cases the callouts relate to the inherent nature of the occupancy, construction projects, obsolete alarm systems that are being gradually replaced, incorrectly placed smoke detectors and so on," said Fire Service national commander Paul Baxter.
Schools also tied up emergency services with thousands of false alarms over the year to March, with King's College topping the list with 24 false callouts. Of the 2312 unnecessary callouts recorded across all schools and educational institutes in the same period, 71 were to the University of Auckland's Tamaki, Grafton and City campuses.
The university said the false alarms were linked to construction projects across its campuses and false alarms were inevitable.
The Fire Service could not quantify how much these calls had cost taxpayers, although one previous study referred to an annual figure of $46.2 million. The $1000 fine which came with a third strike provided a "small contribution" to the total costs of attending false alarms, said Mr Baxter.
When added, the total number of fines paid in the financial year to date topped $3.3 million, compared with the previous year's total of $3.7 million. Of the 4111 invoices issued this year, 3355 had been paid.
Mr Baxter said firefighters annually responded to around 27,000 false alarm calls, mostly triggered by automatic alarm systems. That number had remained consistent over the past five years, although it had dropped by 40 per cent a decade ago.
The costs were not limited to the direct cost of attending the false alarm and could extend to those who had to be called back on duty to cover the crew attending, the relocation of appliances between stations and overtime payments for paid firefighters.
"For volunteers and their employers, it means valuable time taken away from their homes or jobs," Mr Baxter said.
The Fire Service can charge all building owners other than private residences for false alarms, which he said encouraged them to improve their alarm systems.
"We are in contact with the owners of these buildings and work with them to resolve any issues that could be contributing to the calls."
Fines were waived in some cases, such as when building owners assured the Fire Service they were actively trying to manage the issue.