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False alarms

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service (DFRS) have launched a new Unwanted Fire Alarm Signal procedure. This will change how DFRS respond to some calls from Automatic Fire Alarms.

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service (DFRS) launched a new Unwanted Fire Alarm Signal procedure on 5 March 2019. This changes how DFRS respond to some calls from Automatic Fire Alarms.

New fire alarm signal procedure

The new procedure has been developed in conjunction with our Tri-Service partners, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Services, who have already adopted this approach.

In 2017/18 DFRS attended over 1300 calls to Automatic Fire Alarms which turned out to be false alarms. Each false alarm is a cost to the Service but it also diverts emergency vehicles away from real emergencies. False alarms also impact on the prevention and protection work that we undertake, vital training and increase the risk to road users from unnecessary blue-light journeys.

Since 2010, DFRS have call challenged some premises. This will remain unchanged. Read more about call challenging in the FAQs.

We will always mobilise immediately when there is a risk to life, significant hazard or risk to the wider community. The following premises will receive an immediate response without delay:

  • Domestic premises including Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO), Residential flats, & Sheltered housing
  • Residential care and nursing homes
  • Local Primary Care Trust Hospitals and private Hospitals which have sleeping on site 
  • Hotels during night-time hours only 21:00 - 08:00. During the day, hotels will be call challenged
  • High Rise Premises with sleeping risk
  • Any other sleeping risks
  • Sites that are subject to Site Specific Risk Information (SSRI) National PORIS Level 4 and 5 or sites classed as a COMAH site.
  • Heritage sites listed as Grade 1 or Grade II* by Historic England
  • A premises not conforming to the above criteria but is locally determined to be unsuitable for call challenging

Other premises types will be call challenged to determine if a response is required.

The main change for Derbyshire is that if an automatic call is received from an Alarm Receiving Company (ARC) and the premises is showing to be unoccupied, then a response will not be automatically made.  Instead an attendance will only be made if a key holder can confirm that there is an actual fire.

DFRS are keen to help businesses and organisations adapt to this new procedure and to help premises in reducing false alarms. If you would like to discuss these changes then please contact us.

Useful downloads:

Reducing false alarms and unwanted fire signals

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

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.

Management of false alarms

Users of automatic fire alarm systems are required by law to demonstrate satisfactory management of false alarms. To satisfactorily demonstrate the management of false alarms, users must log all false alarms and categorise them into one of the following five categories:

  1. Unwanted alarms - Alarms caused by fumes from cooking, steam, tobacco smoke, dust insects etc.
  2. Equipment false alarms - Alarms caused by faults with the equipment.
  3. Malicious false alarms - Alarms arising from the unauthorized or malicious use of the equipment.
  4. False alarms of good intent - These occur when an individual suspects there is a fire and raises the alarm.
  5. Unknown - Should only be used for false alarms that do not fall into any of the above categories.

Recording this information enables your system installer/service provider to investigate any system faults or problems that you may have with your equipment.

Failure to demonstrate satisfactory management of false alarms may lead to:

  • Invalidated insurance policies
  • Charges being made for an attendance by the Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Reduced attendance or non-attendance by the Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Formal action taken under articles 13 and/or 17 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Whilst attending an unwanted fire signal our crews will check the fire safety measures of the premises. This audit will be a simple check of the means of escape, signage, fire detection and warning, staff training, emergency lighting and any general concerns the crew may have.

Any problems highlighted may lead to a full fire safety audit being carried out by a specialist fire safety officer and enforcement action being taken if appropriate.

Are your fire alarm system and staff processes working?

By using the check list below you can ensure that your fire alarm system and responsible staff members are performing within acceptable limits.

If any of the points are in doubt an alarm system review should take place.

  • Is there a designated person who has responsibility for the fire alarm system?
  • Is the fire alarm serviced and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions and the British Standard (or equivalent) by a competent person?
  • Are any faults dealt with quickly and efficiently?
  • Is the system effectively managed to prevent false alarms and unwanted fire signals. e.g. when testing, contractors on site etc?
  • Are records kept of all testing, servicing and causes of false alarms? (keeping such records will aid in providing compliance with the law)
  • Are all false alarms investigated to identify the cause of the actuation before the fire service is called?
  • Is remedial action taken to prevent any re-occurrence of the false alarm?

Main causes of unwanted fire signals

The main causes of false alarms and unwanted fire signals are:

  • 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.

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.

Points to remember when employing contractors

When there are going to be contractors on the premises it is important to take note of the following points to minimise the risk of accidental false alarms.

  • Do contractors have appropriate permits to work system
  • Can the area be isolated or can the system be taken 'off line'
  • Schedule of work should contain details of how contractor will prevent false alarms
  • Cover detectors (and uncover when completed for day)
  • If the work will generate heat the risk assessment should include false alarms
  • Management controls to review performance penalty clauses for infringements
  • If steam will be produced, venting and extraction should be adequate
  • Can detector placement be changed or the type of detector changed to avoid false alarms?
  • Be aware of illicit smoking and design smoking areas to avoid working areas
  • If work will be carried out near a manual call point, can it be moved temporarily or permanently?
  • Use of lift covers / flaps to be considered, audible warning boxes could be fitted

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.