Students burning toast in halls of residences and fire alarms triggered in science laboratories have contributed to St Andrews University being responsible for the highest rate of false alarm call-outs by the fire service in Fife, according to a senior fire officer.
More than half of fire brigade false alarm call-outs in north-east Fife since 2009-10 have been to premises in St Andrews with a significant number of those to university halls and other departments, councillors have been told.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service group manager Steven Michie has stressed the figures for St Andrews must be taken in context and are “not disproportionate” to the dense number of fire alarms present in the town.
St Andrews University says the statistics are on a par with similarly-sized towns in Scotland and mark an annual fall in the number of false fire alarms generated by the university over the past three years.
Figures presented by Mr Michie to Fife Council’s north-east area committee showed there have been an average of 608 unwanted fire alarm signals (UFAS) in north-east Fife per year since 2009-10.
UFAS are those occasions when an automated fire alarm system activates and results in mobilisation of fire and rescue service resources, when the reason for that alarm turns out to be something other than a fire emergency.
Of those 608 false alarm call-outs, an average of 309 were to St Andrews. This compared to 119 in Cupar, Ceres and Springfield, 70 in the East Neuk, 55 in the Howe of Fife and Taycoast and 53 in the Tay Bridgehead.
Mr Michie said the overall trend in all north-east Fife wards was downward but the rate remained particularly high in St Andrews predominantly because of the university and was also relatively high in Cupar, which has ElmwoodCollege.
He said the fire service was working hard to address the issue. In particular it was working with the business sector to provide advice and guidance.
Speaking after the council committee, Mr Michie said: “The figures are not disproportionate but we still want to reduce them further. A lot of these call-outs can be avoided but they shouldn’t be taken out of context. The numbers are reducing steadily.
“We do have fantastic working relationships with the university. We do student accommodation visits and we need to reduce by education.”
Mr Michie said UFASs accounted for about 50% of all call-outs across Scotland and overall rates in Fife were no different.
He said St Andrews had the highest false alarm rate in Fife accounting for 12% of all activities. Of 2,167 false alarms in Fife last year, 267 were in St Andrews. Kirkcaldy’s Victoria Hospital was next highest with 230 false alarms last year. He added: “We would expect that. It’s certainly nothing to be concerned about and is not unique to St Andrews.”
Responding to concerns from Cupar councillor Bryan Poole about the potential costs of false alarm call-outs, lead fire officer Iain Vincent told councillors there was a “not insignificant cost” as St Andrews and Cupar both relied on retained firefighters who were paid per call-out.
The basic salary for a retained firefighter is £2,137-£2,848.