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Business Fire Safety

Unwanted Callouts

Fire Alarm

The safety of your business premises and its occupants can be greatly enhanced by the installation of an Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm System (AFA).

Properly used and maintained, the automatic system, with its fast response in detecting a fire, can be a significant factor in reducing the risk to life and limiting damage to your property.

Unfortunately, the very features that provide this fast response can also produce unwanted signals arising from activities other than a real fire.

What is a False Alarm / Unwanted Fire Signal?

An unwanted fire signal is a fire signal resulting from a cause other than a fire.

In other words, any call from an AFA that the Fire and Rescue Service attends that is not actually a fire is considered to be an Unwanted Fire Signal.

Reducing False Alarms - A problem for the Fire and Rescue Service

Unwanted fire signals (also known as false alarms) place a large burden on Fire and Rescue Service resources. Fire engines and firefighters attending a false alarm may be needed at a real emergency such as a fire or road traffic accident.

False alarms may impact on critical firefighter training, in addition to distracting from important community safety work.  They might also cause retained firefighters to be needlessly called away from their normal place of work.

Reducing False Alarms - A problem for Businesses

False alarm signals can cause loss of production and general disruption of normal business activities. Ever time the fire alarm sounds, your staff must stop what they are doing and evacuate the building. Lack of Confidence Continual false alarms may lead to complacency and a lack of confidence in the alarm system by your personnel, affecting their willingness to take action and evacuate when the alarm activates.  About 90% of automatic fire detection and fire alarm systems do not regularly cause false alarms.  However, the remaining 10% are involved in most false alarms. Disruption Every false alarm causes disruption.  This may affect your customer service, your productivity or the general routine of your organisation.  The cost of false alarms in the UK is estimated to be about 1 billion a year! 

Reducing False Alarms - Common Causes

There are many causes of false alarms (unwanted fire signals) in the workplace.  False alarms can arise from many different causes, most of which can be dealt with by careful planning.  Typical causes of false alarms are:

Pollutants in the air setting off smoke detectors; extremely high temperatures setting off heat detectors; vandalism or malicious acts; mistakes in using the system; the equipment being faulty or not being maintained properly; fire detectors or red 'break glass' boxes being in the wrong place; the fire detection system not being appropriate for the building or how it is used.

False alarms come from three main devices: smoke detectors, heat detectors and 'break glass' boxes.

Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors respond to smoke and any similar pollutants in the air.  If you have smoke detectors located in your building, you must ensure that the people in the building know about them, including any occasional visitors to your premises.  False alarms triggered by smoke detectors are often caused by: cooking making toast insects, particularly in the summer months welding, soldering or similar activities candles and open fires steam dust aerosols a lack of effective maintenance and cleaning

Heat Detectors

Heat detectors are generally used in kitchens, boiler rooms and similar areas where smoke detectors may be too sensitive and cause false alarms.  They are set to allow for expected temperature levels in the protected area and will trigger an alarm if the temperature goes above the expected level.  False alarms may be caused by high temperatures in the protected area or sudden increases in temperature.

Break Glass Boxes

'Break glass' boxes do not usually cause false alarms as a result of faulty equipment; however, the glass can be broken deliberately or by accident.  If you think there is a high risk of this because of vandalism or where the box is, they can be fitted with a transparent flap or cover that has to be lifted before the glass can be broken.

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 the employees or contractors who may not be aware that an automatic fire system is in operation.

A few simple rules linked with good housekeeping practices can help to keep these unwanted nuisance signals to a minimum.

Reducing False Alarms - What Can You Do?

There are some things that you can do to help to reduce the number of false fire alarms (unwanted fire signals) at your workplace/business premises.

Good Practice

It will obviously depend on your specific problem, but some general good practices should include: appoint a responsible person, as per the requirements of the Fire Safety Order 2005, to ensure all matters relating to fire safety within the premises (including the fire alarm system) are adhered to maintain the fire alarm system in good working order ensure the alarm is appropriate to the risk consider upgrading older systems.  Money spent now could save money on lost business due to constant unwanted fire signals ensure all relevant persons are made aware of the impact of unwanted fire signals - both on the business and on the Fire and Rescue Service consider implementing a delay, 'call filtering', in the system to allow for investigation.  This should only be introduced where it has been risk assessed inline with the Fire Safety Order and it is important you seek advice from the Technical Fire Safety and Enforcement Team before you implement this. during the summer months consider fixing flea collars to specific detector heads that are known to be vulnerable to insect infiltration.

Reducing Fire Alarms - What Are We Doing?

The Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service is trying to reduce the number of false fire alarms (unwanted fire signals) that we attend.

By limiting the amount of time spent dealing with unnecessary calls to false alarms, we can only improve our ability to attend emergency incidents and deliver community safety initiatives and advice to island communities.

Monitor Levels of False Alarms

Our Technical Fire Safety and Enforcement Team closely monitor the level of false alarms (unwanted fire signals) from all business premises.

Contact premises who have repeat false fire alarms

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

Working with Businesses and Fire Alarm Monitoring Organisations (FAMO's)

We will work in partnership with the premises to create action plans to reduce the level of unwanted fire signals.  We will also work with FAMO's to encourage the adoption of the CFOA Protocol and Code of Practice for the Reduction of False Alarms and Unwanted Fire Signals.

CFOA Code of Practice 
FAMO Declaration 
CFOA Protocol for False Alarms and Unwanted Signals

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.  Fire crews may also give advice to premises owners and collect further information if they are called to an automatic fire alarm and it is a false alarm.