Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service
Lime Grove Avenue
The growth of Automatic Fire Detection (AFD) systems has placed increasing resource demands on the Fire and Rescue Service, which can compromise its ability to respond to genuine emergencies. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, however, provides an appropriate legal framework to reduce Unwanted Fire Signals (UFS’s) while continuing to improve safety.
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service is committed to minimising false/unwanted alarms and thus reducing the number of unnecessary mobilisations and their consequential impact on commerce, business and ourselves. A reduction in false alarms will allow our fire appliances to be available for genuine emergencies and will also release essential resources to allow more training, preventative and protection activities to take place.
Automatic False Alarms (AFA’s) & Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals (UFS’s) usually arise as a result of faulty or incorrectly maintained automatic detection systems. They occur mainly in commercial premises.
Difference between AFA & UFS
An AFA is a fire alarm system usually found in commercial premises which detects a fire condition and may automatically dial a monitoring center who may then relay the call to the Fire and Rescue Service.
An UFS is an AFA activation which has mobilised the use of a fire engine before it is established that the fire alarm activation is not a genuine fire.
What can be done?
There are a number of ways that can help minimise the number of false fire alarms and unwanted fire signals e.g.
Cooking - Should only done in designated areas. The use of conveyor type toasters can help prevent the likelihood of burning. Consider the use of a kitchen canopy system to provide fume extraction and ventilation.
Installation and placement of appropriate detectors - Correct design, installation, commissioning, acceptance, maintenance and management of an up to date fire detection system should minimise false alarms. To ensure the highest quality of workmanship it is recommended that you use a fire alarm company that has been awarded an accreditation certificate from a UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) Accredited Third Party Certification Body.
Response to fire alarm actuations
Our Fire Control receives fire alarm calls via two main sources:-
Alarm Receiving Centers (ARC’s) - Monitored Premises and;
The 999 System - Calls made manually direct from the premises.
Alarm Receiving Centers (ARC’s) - Monitored Premises
The ARC provides the important function of property protection from fire in buildings outside normal working hours or when unoccupied. They receive the alarm signal automatically without any verbal contact with the premises occupier. They are remote from the premises where the alarms signal.
The need to connect to an ARC is usually derived from an insurance or specific business need to ensure any fire that occurs when a premises is not staffed is reported promptly.
Some ARC's already utilise a ‘call back’ process whereby on receipt of signal from a monitored premises they will call the premises back to ascertain if there is a fire or signs of fire. If there is no obvious fire or signs of fire the person is asked to instigate site investigation procedures and instructed to ring 999 if they subsequently discover signs of fire. Therefore, when premises are staffed, generally the ARC does not pass the call through to Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service Fire Control until a fire or signs of fire have been confirmed by staff at the premises. In these circumstances it is important that the person designated as the contact person by the premises managers is a person who is able to check or confirm whether or not there are signs of fire– and manage the fire alarm system subsequently.
If a call back is not answered after a prescribed period the ARC will pass the call to Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service Control who will mobilise, in most circumstances, one fire engine.
False alarms from fire-detection and fire alarms systems can arise from many different causes, most of which can be dealt with by careful planning. Typical causes of false alarms are:
- Cooking Fumes - being detected by a detector in an adjacent area e.g. a smoke detector located in a corridor outside a kitchen.
- Steam and aerosol sprays - activating smoke detectors.
- Incorrect type of detector - used to protect an area. A typical example is where a room protected with a smoke detector has its use changed and a toaster or kettle is introduced.
- Contractors working on site - causing dust or electrical disturbances which affect the fire alarm system.
- Failure to notify the alarm monitoring center - when the system is being tested or maintained.
- Unsatisfactory maintenance/testing programme - where detectors are rarely cleaned and serviced.
- Incorrectly siting of a detector - in an area where there is excessive air movement due to mechanical heating, ventilation or open windows.
- Lack of effective management - in taking responsibility for the fire alarm system, being pro-active and reactive to causes of false alarms and managing an initial investigation into the cause of an alarm before the fire service are called.
- Vandalism or malicious acts - the biggest cause of false alarms, people need to be made aware of their actions and responsibilities with regard to fire alarm and detection systems.
False alarms come from three main devices:
These respond to smoke and similar pollutants in the air. False alarms triggered by smoke detectors are often caused by:
- candles, and
- open fires.
These are generally used in kitchens, boiler rooms and similar areas where smoke detectors may be too sensitive and cause false alarms. They are set to allow for expected temperature levels in the protected area and will trigger an alarm if the temperature goes above the expected level. False alarms may be caused by high temperature in the protected area or sudden increases in temperature.
Break Glass Boxes
These do not usually cause false alarms as a result of faulty equipment. However, the glass can be broken deliberately or by accident. They can be fitted with a transparent flap or cover if there is a high risk of vandalism.
Impact to Commerce
The latest figures published by the government estimate that the cost of false alarms in the UK is around £1 Billion a year. Much of this cost is borne by commerce from lost production and interruption to business. (Source - Fire Industry Association).
Frequent false alarms in a building can cause staff to become complacent and less willing to react when a fire alarm actuates. It erodes user’s confidence in the value and reliability of the fire alarm system and discourages people from taking these systems seriously.
Impact to Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service
Unwanted fire signals have a detrimental effect on the Fire and Rescue Service e.g.
- They divert essential Service resources from emergencies (putting life and property at risk).
- They create unnecessary risk to fire crews and members of the public whilst responding (potential accidents).
- Disrupts essential work routines, training, arson reduction and community fire safety activities.
- They have a demoralising effect on personnel attending a high number of false alarms.
- They impose an additional avoidable financial burden on the Service, particularly salary and vehicle fleet costs.
- The cost to business of retained fire fighters being released for operational duties.
- Impact on the environment of unnecessary appliance movements (noise and air pollution).
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service aims to reduce the number of false alarms emanating from commercial premises by working with owners, occupiers and managers to identify and address problems and as a last resort by taking enforcement action.
Our corporate aims focus on the protection of people, property, the environment and our heritage by preventing fires and other emergencies; responding to environmental emergencies, terrorist attacks and major flooding incidents, and of course, responding to fires in the most appropriate way.
All Fire and Rescue Services now have a responsibility to identify the risks in their local communities and make sure they allocate resources to lowering those risks. Responding to false alarms diverts the fire and rescue service from their fire-prevention duties, or from dealing with real emergencies.
- To provide a uniform process in managing the reduction of false alarms and UFS.
- To reduce the number of false alarms generated by fire detection and fire alarm systems.
- To reduce the number of UFS sent to the Fire and Rescue Service.
- To provide the most appropriate response by the Fire and Rescue Service to calls arising from AFA's activations.
- To improve the fire safety management of the protected premises.
- To consider the use of statutory powers where efforts to reduce UFS fail to realise improvements.
However, any call to the Fire and Rescue Service, that confirms a fire will automatically receive a full scheduled response.
Preventing Unwanted Fire Signals (UFS)
Whilst attending an UFS our fire crews may check the fire safety measure of the premises. This will be a simple check of means of escape, signage, fire detection and warning, staff training, emergency lighting and any general concerns the crew may have.
Any problems highlighted by the fire crew may lead to a full fire safety audit being carried out by a specialist fire safety officer and enforcement action being taken if appropriate.
The check list below can help ensure that fire alarm systems and responsible staff members are performing within acceptable levels.
- Is there a designated person who has responsibility for the fire alarm system?
- Is the fire alarm serviced and the to British Standard (or equivalent European Standard) by a competent person?
- Are any faults dealt with quickly and efficiently?
- Is the system effectively managed to prevent false alarms and unwanted fire signals e.g. when testing, contractors on site etc.?
- Are records kept of all testing, servicing and causes of false alarms? Keeping such records will aid in providing compliance with the law.
- Are all false alarms investigated to identify the cause of the activation before the fire service is called?
- Is remedial action taken to prevent any re-occurrence of the false alarm?