The vast majority of automated alarms attended by firefighters at offices and shops are false alarms, it has been revealed.

Over the past three years, fire crews in Hertfordshire had attended 861 automated fire alarms at retail (513) or office premises (348).

But just seven of those incidents, less than one per cent, were actual fires - Hertfordshire County Council’s community safety and waste management cabinet panel were told on Wednesday.

The panel backed Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service's proposal for a 12-month trial of a new approach to reduce wasted time.

It means fire crews may only turn out to automated alarms at offices and shops at night if they receive a report from someone. The service already requires confirmation from the premises or passers-by before it attends calls between 7am and 7pm.

The fire service says extending this to 24 hours a day will avoid delays to genuine calls or disruption to training or safety activities.

On Monday, a meeting of the cabinet will determine whether it should go ahead.

Councillors were told that attending so many false alarms had a “major impact” on resources – making crews unavailable to attend genuine calls, as well as disrupting community fire safety activities and training.

And responding under emergency conditions created unnecessary risk to fire crews and members of the public.

Deputy chief fire officer Chris Bigland said similar approaches were already adopted by a number of Services in other parts of the country. And he said that – if agreed – the 12-month trial would start in 2021.

Labour Cllr Joshua Bennett-Lovell raised concerns that the delay in attendance would mean any fire would be more developed and the risk to fire fighters would be greater.

And he said that ultimately the problem was that there were not enough firefighters or resources for them.

And Conservative Cllr Simon Bloxham – a former firefighter – also raised concerns about retail units with automated alarms that had flats above – and he called for a more ‘risk-based’ approach.

In response Mr Bigland stressed that the proposals would not change the response to automated alarms calls from residential and high-risk premises, including hospitals care homes, HMOs, hostels and schools.

And he said that where there was a residential space attached to retail or office premises fire crews would still automatically attend.

Backing the proposed trial, executive member for community safety and waste management Cllr Terry Hone, said: “We looked at this in great detail. It is a trial . We want to see if it works.

“Officers assessed the risk to be absolutely minimal and also have put a lot in place to mitigate any risk whatsoever – particularly to residential properties.”

A meeting of the county council’s cabinet will decide whether – or not – the trial should go ahead at their meeting on Monday at 2pm.