Journalist, Cherry Park

Author Bio ▼

Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
August 6, 2014

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False Alarms: CFOA Issues Fresh Guidance

fire engine 3

Photo: John Bradley (under licence

The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) has issued further guidance on tackling the thorny, perennial problem of false alarms.

Charging businesses for callouts is one way of addressing the problem, as the London Fire Brigade has been doing since January this year if they attend more than 10 false alarms at a single premises over a 12-month period.

But according to the new CFOA guidance, a partnership approach between stakeholders is the best means of tackling the issue. Stakeholders include the responsible person in a premises, alarm receiving and monitoring centres, the industry sector responsible for the design, installation, servicing and maintenance of systems, and fire and rescue services (FRS).


The CFOA guidance offers fire services a toolkit from which to formulate their own local strategies and policies, providing a step-by-step process with a “holistic approach” from design to installation, including commissioning, management, filtering and FRS response, performance monitoring and follow-up visits.

The toolkit comprises:

  • Highlighting the problem of unwanted calls and false alarms from AFA systems
  • Prevention of false alarms
  • Confirmation of the cause of an alarm before calling the FRS
  • Call handling by the FRS
  • Investigation and follow up of false alarm calls
  • Stakeholder engagement

Poor performance

A second set of guidelines gives fire services options for reducing unwanted calls. These options include:

  • Supporting the responsible person
  • FRS interventions
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Call filtering by FRS controllers
  • Reducing attendance

Fire alarm monitoring organisations

A key area where false alarms can be reduced, says the CFOA, is through agreed best practice between fire services and representatives from fire alarm monitoring organisations.

A Code of Practice outlines best practice in improving emergency response arrangements for remotely monitored fire alarm and detection systems. It also advises on reducing the number of unwanted fire signals passed to FRSs.

The CFOA and the fire alarm monitoring industry have agreed to work together to implement:

  • Fire alarm monitoring protocols
  • False alarm filtering protocols
  • Connection protocols between FRSs and fire alarm monitoring centres
  • A reduction of unwanted fire signals

Third-party accreditation

In their report (p23), the CFOA encourages users of fire safety and protection products, systems and services toutilise only UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) third-party certificated manufacturers, suppliers, installers and maintenance providers, who offer users more confidence and reliability in terms of quality and safety.

Third Party Certification is evidence that a service or product adheres to certain technical, environmental or ethical standards, since it has been assessed by an independent expert.

False alarms that automatically alert local fire service cost the UK economy over £1bn a year.

Often blamed on poor management or maintenance of fire alarm systems they can be triggered by dust or steam.

Although false alarms have fallen 42% in the last 10 years, they’re still a massive waste of fire-service resources and time.

The rate of reduction in false alarms appears to be slowing down. While the number in the UK over 2012-13 fell 6% to 294,800 from 313,300 in 2011-12, they subsequently fell by 4% to 223,400 between 2012-13 and 2013-14.

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