‘999 siren calls are making our lives hell’

Acworth Court residents have been disrupted day and night by the fault
Acworth Court residents have been disrupted day and night by the fault

Elderly residents of a Luton high-rise say their lives have been made ‘hell’ after faults with smoke alarms has seen fire engines sent out 63 times in three weeks.

Retirement and social housing complex Acworth Court, off Acworth Crescent, Hockwell Ring, has been plagued by false alarms, which automatically alerts crews from Beds Fire and Rescue.

Residents of the council-owned 15-floor block have seen fire engines arrive outside the building upwards of four times a day.

The problem has caused call-outs at random times in the day and night for three weeks.

Ralph Pollard, 73, said: “It has been very annoying with it happening so often, especially when most of the residents here are in their 70s and 80s.

“It’s three or four times a day the sirens are going off and it is a worry that if there was a real incident here it might have been considered differently.

“It has also kept fire engines away from real problems elsewhere in the county, they have better things to do than come out here several times a day.”

Luton Borough Council said a combination of the age of smoke detectors and a dust build-up from recent works may have caused the recurring problem.

Contractors have been instructed to replace every smoke detector in the highrise over four days, with the work expected to be completed by Thursday.

A council spokesperson said: “Initially, engineers from the warden call maintenance company attended and rectified any faulty detectors and checked the call system, however, despite our best efforts to resolve the problem, false alarms continued to activate. Acworth Court has undergone

major refurbishment works over the last 12 months including boiler replacements in all flats, lift modernisation and ground floor refurbishment works to the common rooms (causing the dust build up).”

Over a space of three weeks fire crews had been sent out to false alarms at Acworth Court 63 times.

These callouts continued until contractors began to replace the detectors.

Beds Fire and Rescue does not calculate the cost of each call it responds to, though the Department for Communities and Local Government puts the average cost of responding to an incident at £1,970- potentially leaving the fire service with a six-figure bill for the error.

Assistant chief fire officer Simon Barker revealed that the service scaled down its level of response after false alarms continued to persist.

He said: “In view of the large number of calls we have been getting to Acworth Court, we decided to downscale our initial response to automatic fire alarms for this premises, with scope to send more resources should anything turn out to be a genuine fire call.

“We have been constantly reviewing our arrangements, and our fire cover for the rest of the county has not been affected by these calls.”

He added: “Although we are aware that other Fire and Rescue Services have made changes to their policies for responding to automatic fire alarms, we are satisfied with our approach at the present time.

“However, our policy is under constant review and open to change, if we were satisfied that in our professional judgement it was the right thing to do.”