False Alarms - what are they and how can I prevent them?

A false alarm (Unwanted Fire Signal) is any fire alarm signal other than a genuine fire or signal test

The National Fire Chief's Council have produced this handy video to explain exactly what a false alarm is, why we need to reduce them, and how you can do this within your business premises.                                                                                                                        

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.

My business has had a false alarm, what should I do? 

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  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.

What can I do to prevent false alarms - Practical Guidance for Businesses

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. We are committed to helping businesses address issues that relate to UwFS and our Business Education Seminars cover this issue. The following summary of the 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 Possible solutions

Contamination of detector by ingress of dust, pollen etc. 

You could also consider the type and sensitivity of the detectors in those areas that may be prone to unwanted activations due to dust.  Any review must be conducted under your fire risk assessment to ensure Relevant Persons are not placed at risk. 
Contamination of detector by ingress of insects Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service have achieved a high degree of success in preventing these types of activations in many other premises, by the simple fitting of pet flea collars around the base plates of vulnerable detectors.  The chemical found in the collars is very similar to those used to spray detectors vulnerable to insect infestation, and has proved to be longer lasting.  
Steam from showers or aerosols sprays Automatic smoke detectors will respond to any airborne particles that may be interpreted as smoke.  Usually, the cause can be attributed to a lack of awareness by people of the effect of steam from showers on nearby smoke detectors, and you should now investigate the cause of this particular activation, and carry out any necessary additional staff training. To act as a reminder for all a suitable notice should be located in the room to warn residents of the sensitivity of the fire alarm system and susceptibility to false actuation from steam. 
An unsatisfactory maintenance and testing program in place.

Periodic inspection and maintenance of your fire alarm system should be carried out in accordance with British Standard 5839: Part 1:2002.  

Competence of a fire alarm servicing organisation can be assured by using an organisation that is third party certified by a UKAS - certified certification body, to carry out inspection and servicing of fire alarm systems. 

To obtain advice about schemes that can help you assess the competence of fire alarm contractors you can contact www.bfpsa.org.uk on their website or telephone 0208549 5855. 

Failure to notify the Alarm Receiving Centre with information that a fire alarm system is being tested or maintained. This cause of unwanted fire signals can be minimised or even eliminated altogether by suitable management arrangements to ensure the fire alarm system is isolated whenever any test or maintenance is to be carried out. To act as a reminder for a suitable notice that could be displayed next to the fire alarm panel. An example of this below.  
Contractors working on site

Ensure that all contractors are fully briefed on your fire safety arrangements, location of fire detection systems, and the emergency plan applicable to their working location. Ensure that proper procedures are in place to control the nature of any work e.g. hot work permits, and to ensure that you and your contractors clearly identify the areas in which the work can take place. Detectors in the area could be temporarily covered, or the zone isolated from the fire alarm system during the work period and control measures introduced.

Accidental Breakage of Fire Alarm Call Points 

You should now carry out a full survey to identify all fire alarm call points that may be vulnerable to accidental breakage, and consider one of the following options to prevent any future re-occurrence. 

Re-site call points to a less vulnerable location.  This will need to be carried out in conjunction with your fire risk assessment and competent fire alarm engineer. 

Install a suitable protective cover. There is a clear polycarbonate protective cover called a ‘Stopper’ which can be installed to prevent accidental operation of the call point(s).  Details of these devices can be found on the internet, or via your fire alarm maintenance company. 

Cooking fumes

Activations of fire detection systems due to cooking fumes usually fall into two categories: 

  • Poor management of the cooking process including its location, or  
  • Inappropriate detection within the environment.

You should review your policies and procedures in respect of the use of cooking equipment, and together with your competent fire alarm engineer, consider the need to alter the type and location of your detector heads.  Any proposed changes should be the subject of a review of your fire risk assessment, to ensure that the risk to relevant persons is not increased. 



































Other possible 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 contractors 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.

Why do we want to reduce False Alarms? 

Every year, we attend around 1100 unwanted fire signals generated from these systems. 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 real 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

What are Shropshire fire and rescue service doing to reduce Unwanted Fire signals (UwFS)?

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

We are committed to helping businesses address issues that relate to UwFS and our Business Education Seminar covers this area. Check out this our Business education seminars page on our website for upcoming dates and booking information. 

The Process - simplified

Here is a diagram of the process from start to finish, to give you a better understanding of what happens when:

National Fire Chiefs Council Guidance for Unwanted Fire Signals


File example-letter.docx24.87 KB
Microsoft Office document icon Avoid false alarms poster.doc30.5 KB

Further Information

Business Fire Safety

Telephone: 01743 260 200
Email: businessfiresafety@shropshirefire.gov.uk