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Businesses and public buildings across Havering could face thousands of pounds in fines from the fire brigade for false alarms under new charges to stop “unnecessary” call-outs.

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The London Fire Brigade is the first in the country to recover costs from public buildings, including schools, student accommodation and airports.

Private homes and care homes will be exempt from charges of £290 per call for places where there have been 10 or more false alarms in a year.

In 2011/12, firefighters were called needlessly to Queen’s Hospital, Rom Valley Way, Romford, 131 times.

Under the new scheme, the debt-ridden hospital trust would have had to pay a staggering £35,090.

But changes to alarm systems to allow an investigation period before fire crews are called made the figure drop to just 18 for both Queen’s and King George Hospital in 2013.

Roy Gray, fire safety advisor for Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “It is extremely important that our hospitals have a state-of-the-art fire alarm system, and patient safety is always our main priority.

“However, this does mean that the sensors are extremely sensitive, and can sometimes be activated by nebulisers, or patients using aerosol sprays.

“We know how important it is that fire crews are available to attend emergencies, and will continue to work to reduce any unnecessary call-outs even further.”

Hospitals across London cause the highest number of calls – 1,722 in 2012/13 – followed by airports, student halls, colleges and nurses’ and doctors’ accommodation. If the charges had been in force in the last financial year, the brigade would have made £800,000.

Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, James Cleverly, said “poor management or maintenance” is often at fault.

He added: “This is not a money-making exercise but we are leading the way in recovering our spending on unwanted call outs and educating building managers to properly maintain their fire alarm systems.”

Firefighters were called out to 403 places more than 10 times last financial year and false alarms from automatic systems account for around 40,000 calls every year - a third of all incidents for fire crews in London.

The number has fallen by 15 per cent over the last two years but a spokesman said the reduction is not enough.

He added: “The brigade is also concerned that false fire alarms can cause complacency – when they go off all the time, there can be a tendency for people to ignore them, in the case of a real fire, this could be disastrous.”

The Localism Act 2011 gave fire authorities the right to charge for attending repeat unwanted calls to automatic fire alarm systems.

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