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A fire or not a fire? 
09/05/2013 
 
False fire alarm activations, it is estimated cost UK businesses well over £1 billion a year. Disrupting businesses' productivity during evacuations, stopping production lines, breaking up meetings and in retail shops for example can also be an opportunity for thieves. 
 
The most important factor is that, false alarms put lives at risk. If employees are not confident in their premises fire alarm system due to repeated false activations, inevitability could result in complacency in the event of a real fire; subsequently delaying an evacuation to finish a phone call, put a screw in a widget or finishing a quotation could mean that people are unable to get out of a building in a fire situation. 
 
This is easily avoidable by having sensible management of a buildings fire alarm system. False alarms are generally caused by poor building management, an inadequate fire alarm system design or poor maintenance. Incidents of false alarms are put into categories which should be recorded in a logbook to help organise the information. 
Listed below are common causes of activation of fire alarms by a non-fire activation, 
 
Unwanted alarms:- 
 
Steam that a fire detector mistakes for a real fire. 
Equipment false alarms, an alarm generated by a piece of faulty equipment. 
 
Malicious false alarms:- 
 
Deliberately breaking the glass of a manual call point. 
 
False alarms with good intent:- 
 
Somebody smelling smoke or sensing a possible fire. 
 
Smoke detectors :- 
 
False alarms triggered by smoke detectors could be caused by cooking, insects, welding, steam, dust and aerosols or lack of correct maintenance. 
 
Heat detectors :- 
 
Normally less prone to false alarm signals and are generally used in areas where smoke alarms are too sensitive such as kitchens. They are set to allow for expected temperature levels and will trigger an alarm if the temperature goes above that level. 
 
 
Any of these causes are serious for the Fire Services, due to diverting essential services from real fires and rescues. (Putting life a risk). 
 
For advice on how to put systems in place, speak to Firewatch for guidance on what procedures / systems to carry out or install, and not put your employees or visitors at risk! 
 
From March 2012, The Unwanted Fire Signals (UFS) policy was amended to reflect changes from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Localism Act 2011 that gives Fire and Rescue Services the power under that act to charge for attending UFS incidents to persistent poor performing premises. 
 
Some basic statistics, compiled by Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service: 
 
Devon - 2006/2007 
 
• False Alarms/Unwanted Fire Signals in Devon accounted for 21% of all calls to the Fire Service. This was down from 24% in 2005/2006. 
 
• Total calls from Automatic Fire Alarm Systems totalled 5189 incidents. 94% 
 
(4278) of these were false alarms. 137 activations were recorded as malicious. 
 
• Of the false alarms after call questioning, 10% were identified as false alarms and no attendance was made. 
 
• Calls from Automatic Fire Alarm Systems that turned out to be firesaccounted for 6% of all AFA calls 
 
• Of these fires, a large majority were small fires with 53% being out on arrival. 
 
• Of all the calls from AFA’s only 2.9% required fire service intervention. 
 
Somerset - 2006/2007 
 
• False Alarms/Unwanted Fire Signals in Somerset accounted for 19% of all calls to the Fire Service. 
 
• Total calls from AFA systems totalled 1958 incidents. 96% of these were false alarms. 
 
• Of the false alarms after call questioning, 43% were identified as false alarms and no attendance was made. 
 
• Calls from AFA’s that turned out to be fires accounted for 4% of all AFA calls. 
 
A large majority of false alarms were accountable to human error or action and hence there is an awareness of the cause of the actuation. By using common sense and basic checking these could have been identified prior to the fire service being called. In some premises up to 70% of false alarms could be considered due to human error. This ratio could be transferable over most premises therefore correct management procedures based on the premises risk assessment are as important as correct maintenance. The better practice actions within this sections are gathered from external sources and communication with related parties and Industry. 
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Group Head Office, 1 Brunel Road, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ12 4PB 
tel: 0800 783 4171 fax: 01626 363172 
email: info@firewatchsouthwest.co.uk 
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