Hospital fire checks urged before dialling 999
Hospital staff in Greater Manchester have been told by fire officers that they must check for signs of a blaze if an alarm goes off before dialling 999.
The fire service's cost-cutting policy has also reduced the number of firefighters attending an initial alarm call from nine to four.
A service spokesman said that 95% of alarm calls in 2009 turned out to be false.
The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) said the policy could put lives at risk.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service chief fire officer Steve McGuirk said: "In 2009, over 95% of the calls to fire alarms were not fires, and of those less than 0.5% required the use of any equipment to put a fire out.
"Since 2007 we have reduced the number of fire engines that respond to automatic fire alarms, although we continue to attend high life risk premises such as hospitals.
"A fire alarm system is provided to alert a building's occupants to a potential problem so that, if necessary, the evacuation strategy can be implemented and - only if required the Fire and Rescue Service - can be called to attend," he said.
Greater Manchester Fire Brigade Union spokesman Paul Fogerty said: "We've got great reservations about the policy not only around our members' safety, but also for the safety of the public we serve."
Mr Fogerty said that the size of hospital buildings would make it difficult and potentially dangerous for a member of staff to establish whether there was a fire.
He added that sending a crew of four would be less effective if on arrival they discovered a fire and that patients' and crews' lives would be put at risk.
"We've made great strides in increasing numbers of fire alarms in domestic dwellings and this policy seems to be a contradiction of that strategy."