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Reducing False Alarms


The latest figures published by the government estimate that the cost of false alarms in the UK is around £1 billion a year. Much of this cost is borne by commerce from lost production and interruptions to business.

  • Major disruption to business effectiveness, efficiency, profitability & services
  • Frequent false alarms in a building can cause staff to become complacent and less willing to react when a fire alarm actuates

Impact on Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service

Unwanted fire signals affect the Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service by:

  • Diverting essential services from emergencies (putting life and property at risk)
  • Unnecessary risk to crew & public whilst responding to Unwanted Fire Signals(accidents)
  • Disruption to arson reduction, community safety & fire safety activities (education, smoke alarms etc.)
  • Disruption to training of operational personnel
  • Impact on the environment over 4,000 unnecessary appliance movements (noise and CO2 emissions)
  • Drain on public finances
  • Danger to other road users

Any fire call received by Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service is attended by fire appliances responding under "emergency conditions". Whilst attending a premises where the only indication is a fire alarm sounding, our crews receive no additional information in regards to the nature of the incident. Although our drivers are trained to the highest standard, they and other road users are unnecessarily exposed to increased danger at these times.

Common Causes

There are many causes of false alarms (unwanted fire signals) in the workplace. Here are the more common causes of false fire alarms:

  • Cooking Fumes - being detected by a detector in an adjacent area. e.g. a smoke detector located in a corridor outside a kitchen.
  • Steam and aerosol sprays - activating smoke detectors.
  • Incorrect type of detector - used to protect an area. A typical example is where a room protected with a smoke detector has its use changed and a toaster or kettle is introduced.
  • Contractors working on site - causing dust or electrical disturbances which affect the fire alarm system.
  • Failure to notify the alarm monitoring centre - when the system is being tested or maintained.
  • Unsatisfactory maintenance / testing programme - where detectors are rarely cleaned and serviced.
  • Incorrect siting of a detector - in an area where there is excessive air movement due to mechanical heating, ventilation or open windows.
  • 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 service are called.
  • Human activity - the biggest cause of false alarms, people need to be made aware of their actions and responsibilities with regards to fire alarm and detection systems.

These are the more common causes, but there are many more causes too.

Many unwanted fire signals are the result of ignorance on the part of employees or contractors who may not be aware that an automatic fire system is in operation. A few simple rules linked with good house-keeping practices can help to keep these unwanted nuisance signals to a minimum.

What Can You Do

Minimising the number of false alarms

There are a number of ways that you can help to minimise the number of false fire alarms and unwanted fire signals. Use the list below to promote best practice.

  • Correct Design - Installation, commissioning, acceptance, maintenance and management of the system should minimise false alarms.
  • Cooking - Only done in designated areas, use conveyor type toasters to prevent likely hood of burning.
  • Appropriate Detectors - Such as heat sensors in kitchens.
  • Adequate Extraction / Ventilation - Consider the use of a Cookmiser system.
  • Appropriate Sensor Placement - Adjacent detectors should NOT be ionisation, use optical/multi sensor.
  • Doors not wedged open - Consider use of an open door alarm.
  • Smoke Detectors - Provision of local, mains powered, self contained smoke detectors to warn occupants of smoke prior to main system actuating.

What are we doing

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service is trying to reduce the number of false fire alarms (unwanted fire signals) that we attend. We are committed to providing the best possible service to the people who are most at need, whether that is attending emergency incidents or providing community safety advice to our most vulnerable communities.

By limiting the amount of time spent dealing with unnecessary calls to false alarms, we can only improve our performance in these very important areas.

Monitoring levels of false alarms

Our Protection team closely monitor the level of false fire alarms (unwanted fire signals) from all businesses premises.

Contacting premises who have repeat false fire alarms

We contact or visit those premises which create repeated or a large number of unwanted fire signals.

Call Challenge

Calls received from low to medium risk category premises (the majority of industrial, commercial and education premises) will be subject to their alarm activations being "call challenged". In essence this will mean questions will be asked of the responsible/competent person as to the reason for the alarm activation. Competent persons should be appointed to assist in the investigation of the alarms activation. They should have an understanding of the alarm system and be confident in their ability to carry out the investigation.

Our Response

  • If there is a confirmed fire, the service will respond as it normally would.
  • To an Automatic Fire Alarm which the occupier is unable to investigate further - 1 fire engine will be sent and it will use its blue lights.
  • To an Automatic Fire Alarm where we are awaiting further information - 1 appliance will be sent at normal road speed.
  • Confirmed false alarm - no fire engines will be sent.

Chief Fire Officers Association - National Policy

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service Unwanted Fire Alarm and Unwanted Fire Signal Policy is based on the principles of the Chief Fire Officers Association's (CFOA) Policy for Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Systems but adapted to fit local requirements, working practise and ethics.

Enforcement activities

Where a business shows little interest or improvement in reducing unwanted fire signals, it may be appropriate to instigate enforcement activities against the premises, under the current legislation.

Firefighters may also give advice to premises owners if they are called to an automatic fire alarm and it is a false alarm.

Where to Get Help

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service are actively working with businesses and organisations across the county to reduce unwanted fire signals from automatic fire detection systems.

If you have a problem with repeat false fire alarm activations or you would like to discuss the issue of false alarms (unwanted fire signals) in general, please contact Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service using our online form.

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