Reducing automatic fire alarms
Premises in scope:
- Industrial premises
- Commercial premises
- Licensed premises - with no sleeping risk
- Place of worship
- Public building
Our fire crews do not automatically respond to calls generated by automatic fire alarm (AFA) systems in these types of premises during the day ( 0700 – 1900) within the working week unless there is a confirmed report of fire at the premises. However premises where people sleep, or may be more vulnerable will be responded to unless a problem is highlighted with the fire alarm.
Premises falling within this category will be required to make a confirmation call via 999 once a fire has been confirmed or is perceived to be at the premises following activation of the AFA system. This arrangement will apply at any time of day or day of the week.
We have worked with businesses to address the issue of false alarms over the last few years, seeing some reductions. The changes have ensured that emergency resources have been used efficiently to deliver an effective response to real emergencies; being based on the very high likelihood that these alarms are either false or caused by system or design problems.
The changes have reduced unnecessary risks to the public in two key areas:
- Appliances, equipment and crews have been available for real emergencies rather than attending false fire alarm calls.
- A significant reduction of unnecessary 'blue light' movements.
Premises with high levels of false fire alarms
Premises with high levels of false alarms from AFA systems are reviewed. This could result in the fire service suspending an automatic emergency response to an AFA signal, requiring a confirmation 999 call from the premises that fire, or perception of fire is at the premises before we will respond to your premises.
If we implement this arrangement at your premises, this could apply for any time of day, or day of the week; and would remain in place until we are satisfied that your fire alarm problems have been rectified.
We advise that if your premises has either 1) three or more confirmed false fire alarms in a five day rolling period; or 2) five or more confirmed false fire alarms in a 13 week rolling period; our response to automatic fire alarm activations at your premises will be reviewed.
The suspension criteria will not apply to hospitals, domestic dwellings, sheltered housing, schools or flats, however the service will still seek engagement with you to rectify the problem.
We want to make it absolutely clear that all reports of fire or perception of fire at any premises will always receive an immediate emergency response.
Premises with links to fire alarm monitoring organisations
All fire alarm monitoring organisations linked to Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service have been informed of the changes. Buildings, and in particular business premises in contract with Fire Alarm Monitoring Organisations (FAMOs) or Fire Alarm receiving Centres (ARCs) should check that their key holder arrangements and details are kept up to date.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service reiterate the importance of keeping premises key holder details up to date with your FAMO / ARC as we will not do this for you.
By regularly reviewing your key holder details with your FAMO / ARC in conjunction with any out of hours response arrangements will support your business continuity arrangements.
We would reiterate the importance of having up to date key holder information with your FAMO or ARC to enable your designated key holder to be informed of any fire alarm activation during periods when the premises is likely to be unoccupied.
More information and frequently asked questions
An Unwanted Fire Signal (UwFS) is defined as:
- A signal transmitted by Automatic Fire Detection (AFD) equipment
- Reporting a fire
- When the fire and rescue service arrives they find no fire has occurred
Unwanted Fire Signals can be completely avoided through good system design, management practice and procedure, maintenance and the appropriate use of space within buildings.
The number of AFD systems installed in Norfolk is not known and, as we have no direct control of these systems, we need your help to change how you manage your systems and in turn help reduce unnecessary call outs.
In Norfolk such calls have the following effects on our service:
- Diverting fire engines and staff from away from real incidents
- Disrupting our other work, including fire prevention activities such as home fire safety checks and operational training
- High financial costs
- Increasing the risk of accidents and collisions as a result of our crews responding under emergency conditions
The effects of Unwanted Fire Signals on you and your business include:
- Disruption to business – building evacuation leading to downtime and time wasted
- Loss of revenue
- Loss of faith in the alarm system which may result in slow response in the event of a real fire – or even no response at all
- Cost to businesses who employ retained firefighters when they are released to go to an emergency
- Impact on the environment caused by unnecessary turnouts
- High costs
Flowchart for when an alarm sounds
Fire Alarm Faults
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister - guide to reducing false alarms
Fire Industry Association - guidance for responsible persons
Below are some ways that you can help reduce false alarms, at the same time making your workplace or property an even safer place for your customers, staff and/or residents.
- Has your fire alarm system, been installed in the right place?
- Has it got a commissioning certificate?
- Good maintenance and management of the system should minimise false alarms
- This should only be done in designated areas
- Appropriate detectors in kitchen (normally heat detectors)
- Adequate extraction/ventilation
- Detectors adjacent to the kitchen should not be ionisation (ionisation detectors are more likely to pick up cooking fumes) – use optical/multi sensor
- Doors should not be not wedged open with blocks etc – there are systems available to overcome this issue which 'wedge' the door but close when the fire alarm sounds
- A smoke alarm in a self-contained unit does not always need to be connected to the main premises fire alarm system
- Toasters - only used in designated areas ensure they have a standard plug or are wired into mains. Conveyor belt types of toaster are less likely to burn.
- Contractors should have an appropriate permit to work
- Isolation of area or take fire alarm system 'offline'
- Schedule of work to contain details of how contractor will prevent false alarms
- Cover detectors (uncover when completed for day)
- Hot work – such as welding, plumbing and soldering should be risk assessed to include false alarms
- Have management controls in place to review the performance of contractors
- Consider penalty clauses for outside contractors – generating a false alarm
- Vents and extraction to be suitable
- Is the site of the detector near a steam outlet? Can this be moved?
- Type of detectors – optical/multi sensor/heat
- Be aware of smoking outside of designated areas and enforce non-smoking policies as strictly as possible
- Plan the location of your smoking areas well. These should not be located near loading bays or entrance doors for example.
Manual call point (break glass box)
- Is it in a location where it is accidentally or maliciously set off? Can it be moved?
- Use of covers or flaps to protect the break glass point to be considered
- Manual call points with covers or flaps can be fitted with an audible warning system to deter malicious/accidental operation
In some properties consideration could be given to the use of the 'double knock' system – this is a robust system where two or more smoke detector heads have to go off, before the alarm sounds. This will assist in properties where environmental effects such as steam or condensation easily set off alarms, without an increase in risk.
When considering these points, a thorough risk assessment must be carried out before making any changes to your alarm system or management procedures.
If you have any questions you wish to discuss with a Fire Officer do not hesitate to contact us.
An AFA (Automatic Fire Alarm) is a fire alarm system. They are common place in many different types of premises ranging from care homes, hospitals, offices and commercial buildings.
They are intended to warn occupants of a property of a potential fire situation. They are not installed to alert the fire service. Frequent false alarms can undermine the effectiveness of these systems.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service received well over 2,000 false alarm calls from AFA systems in 2012/13. In 2013/14 we managed to reduce this down to 1,650 false alarm calls from AFA systems by introducing our Call Challenge policy, however we are still using our resources inefficiently and need to improve further.
Unwanted fire alarm signals take appliances away from real emergencies, cause additional risk to road users through unnecessary 'blue light' road movements and cost the tax payer money.
When Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service receives an AFA call from a commercial premises, or any other premises categorised as ‘in scope’, the Service will not make an automatic emergency attendance unless there is a confirmed fire or a perceived presence of fire reported from the premises, such as a smell of smoke or burning, etc. This will apply any time of day or day of the week.
The Service will still respond to AFA calls at any time of day where there is a sleeping risk, or the premises is a school or domestic property.
Premises we will not attend in the event of an AFA with no confirmation or report of a potential risk of fire include:
- Offices, shops, industrial, commercial
- Public buildings such as libraries, museums, places of worship
- Colleges and universities without sleeping accommodation.
The Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service Board may direct specific sites to be excluded from these changes.
In the case of Grade 1 listed buildings that fall within the categories listed above we will provide an automatic response between the hours of 7pm and 7am only. At all other times we will require a confirmation call via 999 from the premises that fire or a perception of fire is present.
From the data analysis of our attendance at AFAs, we are able to identify that the risk of there being a fire that requires some form of intervention at an AFA is very low. In fact for the majority of AFAs no intervention is required by the service at all and very rarely are fire fighting operations undertaken. Should someone confirm that a fire has occurred, then the attendance will be instantly mobilised in the normal way.