Reduction of Unwanted Fire Signals

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Introduction

What is a False Alarm:

Any fire alarm signal other than a genuine fire or signal test.

What is an Unwanted Fire Signal (UwFS):

Any false alarm that is subsequently passed to the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) as a request for assistance.
Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) actively encourages the installation of automatic fire detection and warning systems for life and property protection. Every year, we attend around 1100 unwanted fire signals generated from these systems.
Clearly the need for systems to provide early detection and warnings of a fire situation are imperative, but we also need to encourage a reduction of the incidence of unwanted fire signals.
The impacts of UwFS on businesses, the Fire and Rescue Service and the public are enormous.

Impacts on businesses

  • Lost production time and associated costs
  • Disruption of services provided by the affected business
  • Associated costs to businesses of retained firefighters in their employment being released to respond
  • Negative impact on the goodwill of employers who permit retained personnel to respond to automatic fire alarm activations which turn out to be false alarms
  • A loss of confidence in the reliability of the premises fire alarm system, causing complacency amongst occupiers upon activation of the alarm which could potentially prejudice their safety

Impacts on the Fire and Rescue Service and the public

  • The diversion of operational crews from emergencies, potentially putting life and property at risk
  • The potential for the safety of both firefighters and the general public to be compromised whilst driving to an UwFS under emergency conditions
  • Disruption to safety critical training being undertaken by FRS personnel
  • Disruption to other FRS activities such as arson reduction, community fire safety, risk visits and fire safety audits
  • The environmental impact of unnecessary appliance movements
  • Drain on the public finances

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service’s response to UwFS - what you need to know

We will take the following actions on receipt of any UwFS, that you need to be aware of:

Level 1 Response
Number of UwFS Action
After 1 UwFS A letter. Click here for an example of the letter you will receive.
After 2 UwFS A phone call - further reviewing options taken and necessary action plan going forward.
After 3 UwFS A visit by Fire Safety Officer- a detailed assessment of your procedures, action plan and notification of next level.

After a visit, the premises is monitored for a prescribed period. Further unwanted fire signals results in:

Level 2 Response

A full Fire Safety Audit possibly leading to:-

  1. A Notification of Deficiencies
  2. An Enforcement Notice
Level 3 Response

Non attendance to Automatic Fire Alarms, unless it is a confirmed fire
N.B The number of smoke detectors present and the local circumstances of detector operation, are taken into account when applying the above.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has a policy on UwFS including our roles and responsibilities.

Management of False Alarms-Practical Guidance for Businesses

We are committed to helping businesses address issues that relate to UwFS and our Business Education Seminar covers this area.

The following summary guidance aims to help you reduce the impact of UwFS on your business and on Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service by highlighting common causes and possible solutions.

Common causes of Unwanted Fire Signals from automatic fire detection systems

Contamination of detector by ingress of insects, dust, pollen etc. This can cause a change in the sensitivity of the detector and in the case of optical smoke detectors, cause false activation. New detectors are designed to compensate for a build-up of dust.

Steam and aerosol sprays activating optical smoke detectors, due to poor procedures and management.
An unsatisfactory maintenance and testing program in place, where detectors are rarely, if ever, cleaned and serviced resulting in frequent system faults.
Cooking Fumes being detected by a detector in an adjacent area eg. Optical smoke detector located outside of a kitchen, which is correctly protected by a heat detector. The propping open of the kitchen door causing activation, is a common problem.
Incorrect type of detector used to protect an area or zone. Some typical examples would be using a smoke detector, instead of a heat detector, in a kitchen, or a change in use of room resulting in a kettle or toaster being introduced.
Undesirable siting of a detector within the area being protected, especially where excessive air movement due to mechanical ventilation or open windows prevails.
Contractors working on site either causing dust to enter optical smoke detectors, or close proximity electrical disturbances affecting the alarm system. Detectors in the area should be temporarily covered, or the zone isolated from the fire alarm system during the work period and control measures introduced.
Failure to notify the Alarm Receiving Centre with information that a fire alarm system is being tested or maintained.
Lack of premises’ occupier involvement in “owning” their fire alarm system e.g. where initial investigation of the cause of an alarm should take place before the fire service is summoned.

Solutions

Use of a “call delay” system of up to 6 minutes, allowing the occupier a period of time in which to investigate the cause of the alarm, before the signal is automatically sent to the fire service via the Alarm Receiving Centre. This system is for well managed premises, during occupied hours only and is subject to risk assessment.
Consider taking the Automatic Fire Detection system off line during the fully occupied and active hours of between, for example, 7am to 9pm, when most false alarms occur. Particularly recommended when workmen are on site. Alternatively, permit calls from manual call points only, to activate the call via the Alarm Receiving Centre to the fire service. A risk assessment is advisable in each case.
Consider re-configuration of the Automatic Fire detection system so that, in specific areas, the activation of a detector would need to be backed up by another activation of an adjacent detector, before the alarm system went into full alarm mode. It offers a more reliable arrangement in circumstances where environmental effects can readily cause false alarms, without significantly reducing the protection of the area.
Consider the use of alternative fire detectors where a particular environmental problem exists and the original specified detector is prone to false alarms. Alternatively, consider decreasing the sensitivity of detectors. Again, subject to risk assessment.
Control the source of environmental effects known to activate smoke detectors, by applying control measures or implementing new or revised management procedures e.g. installing a self- closer on a kitchen door to prevent activation of an adjacent smoke detector from cooking fumes passing through an open door.
Every premises should have an emergency fire action plan describing arrangements for carrying out a methodical check of the premises on fire alarm actuation, before contacting the fire service. This plan is covered under the RRO and forms part of the premises’ Fire risk Assessment. The safety of persons detailed to carry out these checks must be considered in the plan as must any measures introduced to try to eliminate UwFS e.g. call delay.

The role of the Responsible Person

  • The Responsible Person has duties imposed upon them under the RRO to ensure that where applicable fire alarm systems are tested and maintained in accordance with the appropriate British Standard in order to safeguard relevant persons.
  • The Responsible Person must ensure that a suitable emergency action plan is documented within the FRA for the premises which will facilitate the investigation of an alarm actuation before calling the FRS if required.
  • The Responsible Person should arrange for suitable investigation and, if appropriate, action to be taken on every occasion that a false alarm occurs. This may, for example, comprise managerial changes within the building, modifications to the fire alarm system or an investigation by the organisation that maintains the system.

The user should record appropriate details regarding every false alarm that occurs. Information recorded should include the following:

  • date and time;
  • identity and location of device (if known);
  • category of false alarm (if known);
  • reason for false alarm (if known);
  • activity in the area (if the reason for the false alarm is unknown);
  • details of any remedial action taken.

N.B The number of smoke detectors present and the local circumstances of detector operation, are taken into account when applying the above.

Documents: 

Further information

Business Fire Safety

Telephone: 01743 260 200
Email: businessfiresafety [at] shropshirefire [dot] gov [dot] uk