False Alarm/Unwanted Fire Signals Reduction Guidance Compiled By: South Wales Fire and Rescue Service Contents • Introduction • Why reduce false alarms • Typical Causes • Actions that can be taken Introduction The purpose of this guidance note is to highlight better practice, to offer both technical and procedural advice to those affected by unwanted signals from automatic fire alarm systems and to provide basic support to Responsible and Competent persons. Basic Statistics South Wales Fire & Rescue Service - 2010/2011 False Alarms in South Wales accounted for 21.31% of all calls to the Fire Service. Total calls to Automatic Fire Alarm Systems totalled 6117 incidents and 73 activations were recorded as malicious. Of the false alarms, after call questioning, 11.46 % were identified as false alarms and no attendance by the Fire Service was made Calls from Automatic Fire Alarm Systems that turned out to be fire accounted for 2.86% 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. Why reduce false alarms Impact of false alarms. Impact on South Wales Fire & Rescue Service (SWFRS) • Diverting essential services from real fires and rescues. (Putting lives at risk). • Unnecessary risk to crew and public whilst responding (Accidents). • Disruption to training, arson reduction and community safety/ fire safety activities – (Education saves lives). • Demoralising to personnel (not another false alarm!). • Cost of attendance to tax payers and fire service. • Wear and tear on vehicles. Impact on the Community • Diverting essential services from real fire and rescues. (Putting lives at risk). • Disruption of Business (Downtime costs and time wasted, loss of business, theft). • Unnecessary risk to public whilst responding (Accidents). • Complacency “oh its just another false alarm” – reduces effectiveness of management plans and procedures. • Cost to business of retained fire fighters being released for duty. • Disruption to arson reduction, community safety & fire safety activities – (Education, smoke detectors, etc). • Impact on the environment of unnecessary appliance movements. • Cost of attendance to Tax payers – Council Tax. Typical Causes The following typical causes of false alarms can usually be avoided by improved awareness and by taking simple actions: General – Including Human Error. • Cooking fumes • Steam • Aerosol sprays • Dust, thrips, insects, etc. in detectors • Smoking near detectors • Controlled processes that produce smoke or flame • Water ingress • Contractors involved with “hot work” • Electromagnetic interference • Mechanical Damage/Disruption Environmental • • • • • • Electrical storms High humidity Substantial fluctuation in temperature Pressure surges on water mains serving automatic sprinkler systems External smoke or fumes High air velocities Technical • • Detector or alarm system equipment faults Testing or maintenance of fire alarm system without warning Alarm Receiving Centre Actions that can be taken Cooking fumes Cooking fumes are one of the major causes of false alarms, especially in Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) and Sheltered Housing Schemes. Doors should not be held open. This can allow cooking fumes from kitchen areas to activate smoke detectors in adjacent areas. Actions – • Close doors or fit automatic or spring loaded door closers. • Fit an Extractor fan and ensure it is being maintained. • Review Detector type and positioning – Smoke, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Heat or Multi-Sensor. • Fit Cooker/Electricity Switch. These can be fitted in premises that consistently suffer from false alarms due to cooking fumes. They can switch the electricity/gas off after a period of time if a safeguard button is not pressed. Others use motion sensors that switch the electricity/gas off if the Kitchen has been empty for a period of time. • Food Trolleys in Hospitals – A method of reducing false alarms from food trolleys is to mark our safe areas to leave the trolleys, away from detectors, • Toasters - To remove toasters that do not have timers or the pop up facility. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. Steam Smoke detectors can be activated by steam. Ensure that steam from ovens, showers and bathrooms etc. cannot reach smoke detectors in adjacent areas. Actions – • Close doors or fit automatic or spring loaded door closers. • Fit an Extractor Fan and ensure it is being maintained. • Review Detector type and positioning – Smoke, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Heat or Multi-Sensor. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. Aerosol sprays Cleaning staff in particular should be made aware that aerosol sprays used near smoke detectors can cause false alarms. Use aerosols with care, away from smoke detectors. Actions – • Education of occupants. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. The above three are the main causes of false alarms. In many cases someone would be aware of the cause of the actuation and whether it is false. These are easily resolvable with common sense management procedures. Dust and insects in detectors Dust that collects in a smoke detector head could be removed by a quarterly vacuum cleaning, however, a maintenance contractor should still thoroughly service all detectors at relevant intervals. Actions – • Insect repellent could be sprayed (but not into or near smoke detectors. • Insect Repellent strips could be fitted onto the Detector. • A regular maintenance and cleaning regime to remove dust and insects in the vicinity of detectors. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. Water ingress Smoke detectors should be protected against water entering the base from the ceiling. Actions – • Weaknesses found as a result of heavy rainstorms or leaks should be corrected. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. External fumes External fumes, e.g. from grass, heath, rubbish fire etc., can cause false alarms if fumes enter the building via open windows or the air conditioning unit, especially during the summer months. Actions – • Communicate with neighbours to identify incidents that could cause false alarms. This would increase awareness of potential false alarms. • Closing of windows in these cases would avoid the false activation of smoke detectors in the building. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. Test without Prior Warning The Fire and Rescue Service are called by a Call Centre, as the Management have not pre warned them of the test. Actions – • Improve communication procedures. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. Engineers/Contractors on site When Engineers/Contractors are on site there is an increased risk that the fire alarm may be actuated accidentally. This may be due to the creation of dust, affecting smoke detectors, or working close to the alarm system, where “hot work” involving cutting, welding or if electrical interference is created. Also engineers on working on the system should ensure that the system will not create false alarms. Actions – • Ensure the Contractors have and operate a Hot Working Permit system. • Educate the Contractors on false alarm reduction and actions they should take. Engineers should be reminded to ensure all actions are taken to reduce false alarms. • Consider a fining system during the contract stage. If a contractor sets off a fire alarm due to negligence they could be penalised. • Cover the detectors or isolate the zone and warn staff of the temporary change in the fire alarm situation. • Clean covers before removal from detectors. • Ensure at the end of the work that the covers are removed and the system returns to its normal state. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. Environmental Environmental conditions, e.g. adverse weather conditions particularly electrical storms, can cause a fire alarm system to malfunction and produce false alarms. Actions – • Consider taking remotely monitored automatic fire alarm systems off-line during this period if a responsible person is present, a 999 call could be made direct to the fire service if an emergency. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. Technical faults Ensure that following an occurrence of a false alarm, the cause is investigated and recorded. Prevent re-occurrence and improve reliability by taking necessary remedial action, involving the alarm maintainer as necessary. Actions – • The Chief Fire Officers Association and relevant Trade Associations encourage the use of a third party accredited Maintenance Company. Use of these maintenance companies could be considered. • Ensure Maintenance is in compliance with the relevant British Standard. • Ensure an engineer is mobilised to resolve any problems and interim actions are in place to prevent a repeat activations due to a system faults. • Ensure the problems are resolved as soon as possible to prevent the Fire and Rescue Service mobilising to the same problem. Procedures to cover this time period. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. Incorrect positioning or type of Detector It is well known incorrect positioning or type of detector can cause false alarms. In certain situations the positioning of smoke detectors can cause false alarms. Also consideration for use of a different type of detector might reduce the likelihood of false alarms Actions – • Review positioning of detectors. • Consider the use of an alternative fire detector • A heat detector would reduce the majority of false alarms, however they do not react as quickly as a smoke detector hence does not offer as much protection. The use of heat detection requires special consideration to ensure that the premises risk assessment accounts for this reduction in protection. In a property with a sleeping risk it is generally accepted that the person in the room of origin would be at risk as Heat detectors actuate later than other detector types. It would however still set the automatic fire alarm system off and alert the rest of the premises. An option other than use different type of detection is to consider a stand alone hard wired smoke detector as an addition to the heat detector that is attached to the automatic fire alarm system, thus still allowing for the protection of the person in the room, and allowing for false alarm identification without the full alarm system being actuated. If the heat actuates then the full system would be activated. A system of maintenance (for the automatic and stand alone fire alarm system) must also be provided. • Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors - CO could be used in conjunction with the approved fire alarm system where there are of persistent false alarms caused by cooking fumes. CO detectors should be supplementary to the approved detection system and positioned in higher risk areas. • Ionisation chamber smoke detector where shower steam has caused persistent false alarms • New technology, such as multi sensor detectors offer greater flexibility in terms of sensitivity and identification. The use of newer technologies, such as hybrid detectors should be considered to offer suitable protection while reducing the occurrence of false alarms. Poor Management There is a general misunderstanding that the fire safety arrangements in a premises are only of concern just prior to the Fire and Rescue Service doing an audit. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005 now puts the emphasis on the management/owners to manage this everyday. Action – • Encourage better ownership and management. It is no longer acceptable to call the Fire Service just because and as soon as an alarm actuates. A review of the premises Risk Assessment and Procedures to (where possible) identify obvious false alarms prior to calling the fire & rescue service could be considered. Actions are subject to the premises Risk Assessment. • Review Management procedures – what should happen when alarm activates. Safe Identification/investigation prior to calling SWFRS. Management Procedures A large proportion of the causes listed above could easily be identified as false alarms by persons on the premises and hence not require a call to the fire & rescue service. This approach has proven successful where it has been implemented. Therefore, dependant upon the risk assessment of the premises, false alarm identification prior to calling the fire service should be considered. This approach would need to be incorporated into the training program for the premises. If the premises are connected to an Alarm Receiving Centre, the possibility of a call back to confirm the cause of the activation prior to a call to SWFRS could be considered. Other Better Practice examples – Also see previous Actions • All premises that have a false alarm should seek professional advice from Competent Persons. If a premises is considering implementation of a time delay or “investigation phase” prior to calling the FRS the following points will assist when considering this: If the alarm actuates, the staff check to confirm an obvious false alarm (this is not to be a thorough investigation but too identify obvious false alarms such as the causes mentioned previously). If a false alarm is identified & they do not call the fire service. The incident should then be recorded in the premises Fire Log book. If the staff cannot readily identify the reason for the actuation, the fire service should be called immediately. SWFRS will mobilise an Automatic Fire Alarm attendance Confirmed fires should be backed up where appropriate with a 999 emergency call to the SWFRS. If the premises uses an ARC, the signal would hold at the panel for the pre determined time period, if not reset (false alarm) after by the end of the predetermined buffer time. The signal would then direct through to the SWFRS via the ARC and an AFA attendance would be mobilised. This procedure allows for a buffer to identify false alarms but providing back up, so if a premises could not investigate in time or has an accident, the fire service will be mobilised after the buffer time period anyway. This option could be used at appropriate times (working hours) allow a direct link through to the fire service when the premises is unoccupied or unsafe. • Alarm Receiving Centre Call Back – A few Alarm Receiving Centres offer a call back procedure. If the alarm actuates they will call the premises to ascertain if a false alarm prior to calling SWFRS. The premises investigation should have identified the causation of the alarm. If there are doubts as to the actuation or signs of fire a 999 call should be made to ensure early mobilisation of the Fire and Rescue Service. At a Sheltered Housing Scheme it is essential that the call back system is positioned in a place that can still be heard if the alarm actuates and the system accounts for any residents’ disabilities. • Management of premises – Management of the premises (including staff), to compensate for human errors and actions is essential to reduce the occurrence of false alarms, • Taking the Automatic Fire Alarm System offline – Consider taking the AFA System off-line during fully occupied and active hours. Eg, if staff are on duty or when a particular working practice is occurring, (if contractors or engineers are working on the system). This allows checking and identification of false alarms by staff. If an organisation is removing staff and then has an increase in false alarms and hence calls to SWFRS then the premises would be expected to review their management procedures. It is essential that the management procedures account for the system being off line and that it is switched online when required.
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