False Alarm/Unwanted Fire Signals Reduction Guidance

False Alarm/Unwanted Fire Signals Reduction Guidance
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
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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
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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
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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).
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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.
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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
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Confirmed fires should be backed up where appropriate with a 999
emergency call to the SWFRS.
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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 –
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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 –
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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 –
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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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