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Reducing False Alarms

Keeping you safe from fire 

Fire alarms are there to save lives and keep buildings safe from fire. 

False alarms are a burden for building occupants, disrupt the working day for businesses and risk preventing an emergency vehicle from being available for important work in the community, including life-threatening emergencies.

If your fire alarm goes off repeatedly when there isn’t a fire it can lead to complacency from people in the building. The Woolworths fire in Manchester in 1979 is one example where people in the store and restaurant carried on with what they were doing despite an alarm sounding. By the time they reacted to the fire and smoke, it was too late and sadly some lost their lives.

Automatic fire detection and alarm systems react to the presence of smoke or an increase in heat. They are sometimes susceptible to steam, cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays, light smoke from cooking, soldering or other ‘hot works’. There are also instances of alarm systems not being taken ‘off-line’ during testing and leading to a false alarm being passed to the fire and rescue service.

Our Policy

It is our policy to:

  • Attend all reports of automatic fire detection in unoccupied buildings (including buildings that are presumed to be unoccupied);
  • Attend all reports of automatic fire detection in dwellings;
  • Attend all reports of automatic fire detection in high risk occupied buildings (including buildings that are presumed to be occupied);
  • To call challenge all reports of automatic fire detection on lower-risk buildings that are, or are reasonably assumed to be, occupied and only attend if contact has not been made after twenty minutes.

What We Do

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service will work with you to help you to check that your fire prevention measures are appropriate.  We will adopt a staged approach to help you to address unwanted false alarms from automatic fire detection systems.

  • Wherever possible when there has been a false alarm related to automatic fire detection, the crew from the fire engine will help you establish why this happened.  They will not tell you what to do but will assist you within the available time that they have;
  • After a second false alarm in a twelve-month period in Berkshire, the responsible person at the premises will receive a letter from the Fire and Rescue Service with more information and a formal request to manage their alarm system appropriately;
  • Should there be a third false alarm in a twelve-month period your local fire safety office will consider further engagement with you to help you address the issue.  This may include a visit from a fire safety inspecting officer;
  • Should there be ‘persistent’ false alarms being attended by the fire and rescue service, the service reserves the right to take further action and will write to you about this;
  • In applying this policy Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service will always take into account the occupancy type of the premises, the risk factors and other issues such as the guidance on acceptable rates of false alarms.

Your Responsibilities

  • As the Responsible Person, you must carry out a fire risk assessment of the premises and review it regularly (Fire Safety in the Workplace);
  • If your risk assessment identifies that manual detection of a fire would not provide sufficient time for occupants to evacuate then the solution might be automatic fire detection and alarm. This should be appropriately designed for the premises and be well maintained – to detect fires and also to minimise false alarms;
  • It is your responsibility to have appropriate on-site filtering measures that will prevent calls being unnecessarily passed to the Fire and Rescue Service. This also helps keep our firefighters available for their important work in the community;
  • If you experience a false alarm, part of the management regime should be to identify the reason for it. Action should then be taken to minimise the chance of it happening again. This could include calling in the people who maintain the system for you;
Other things you could do to reduce the number of false alarms are:
  • Think about fumes and vapours from cooking, soldering, hot works, other processes that may be interfering with a smoke detector. Could that particular detector be replaced with a different type? Do you need to provide education and guidance to the people using the building?
  • Could you consider schemes of work for contractors that take account of the fire detection system and risk of a false alarm?

Reducing False Alarms – some questions to ask yourself

If we were to audit your premises for compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 some of the things we would be looking for in relation to automatic fire alarms are:

  • Was your fire alarm system installed by a competent installer to British Standard BS 5839 or similar standard?
  • Is your fire alarm system routinely serviced by a competent person or company?
  • Do you maintain records of the commissioning and servicing of the alarm system?
  • Do you investigate the reason for each false alarm and record it?  Do you know why you are having false alarms?  Are there trends?
  • Are you discussing your false alarms with your fire risk assessor or your alarm engineer?
  • Are the reasons for your false alarms more about how people act than a fault in the alarm system itself?

More information can be found on the Safety at Work, Fire Safety Guidance page.

Other General Advice

  • If your automatic fire detection activates, it is important that the system is not reset until the cause of the alarm is verified;
  • Under some circumstances (e.g. at night) it may be appropriate to silence the alarm system prior to the arrival of the fire service however this should only be done if the evacuation protocol has been carried out;
  • Fire Service personnel will not reset the alarm system as that is the responsibility of the person in control of the building or premises. There should be someone at the premises or en-route to the premises who knows how to operate the alarm system;
  • If people at the premises are unable to reset the system effectively and the system remains at fault, then the fire and rescue service commander will advise the key holder to call an alarm engineer to attend as soon as possible and in the interim may introduce additional control measures (routine patrols etc.).

You are strongly advised to provide the Police with details of a competent person/key holder who has access to your building on a 24/7 basis.  This will aid in effective communication in case of any emergency.