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Home Your Safety Safety at Work Automatic Fire Alarms and False Alarms

Automatic Fire Alarms and False Alarms

As a Fire and Rescue Service it is our duty to respond to fires, not to automatic fire alarms, which we know on 99% of occasions were false alarms.  

We want to reduce the number of false alarm calls to ensure firefighters are free to respond to genuine emergencies. Additionally, attending false alarm calls creates significant disruption to other more risk critical activities. 

What is an Automatic Fire Alarm? 

An Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) is a system that warns people of a possible fire. When activated, those responsible for the building should manage the response by evacuating and investigating the cause of the alarm. The AFA system may also notify a remote Alarm Receiving Centre, who will contact the building to find out the cause and then contact the Fire and Rescue Service.  

What is a false alarm? 

Any Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) that we attend that is not actually a fire is considered to be a false alarm. 

What causes false alarms? 

Here are the more common causes of false fire alarms:  

  • Lack of effective management – in taking responsibility for the fire alarm system, being proactive and reactive to causes of false alarms and managing an initial investigation into the cause of an alarm before the fire and rescue service are called is essential. Ineffective management is a key cause of a fire engine responding to automatic fire alarm calls that are false alarms.  
  • Cooking fumes – being recognised by a detector in a nearby area. e.g. a smoke detector located in a corridor outside a kitchen.  
  • Steam and aerosol sprays – activating smoke detectors.  
  • Incorrect type of detector – a typical example is where a room that is protected with a smoke detector has its use changed and a toaster or kettle is introduced.  
  • Work completed onsite – causing dust or electrical disturbances.  
  • Failure to notify the alarm receiving centre – when the system is being tested.  
  • Unsatisfactory maintenance – where detectors are rarely cleaned and serviced.  
  • Incorrect placement of a detector – in an area where there is excessive air movement due to mechanical heating, ventilation or open windows. 

Building Occupiers’ Responsibilities 

Building occupiers and managers have legal responsibilities regarding fire safety.  

Building occupiers should consider how to reduce the number of automatic fire alarms and respond in a prompt manner when an automatic fire alarm goes off. This would be supported by an up-to-date fire risk assessment and evacuation plan, as well as training for staff designated as fire wardens.