Graham Ellicott

CEO, Fire Industry Association (FIA)

Author Bio ▼

Graham Ellicott is CEO at the Fire Industry Association, before which he was director at Dakat Ltd and MD at Mandoval Ltd.
April 8, 2015

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How do we Solve the False Fire Alarms Problem?

The triggering of false alarms in automatic fire detection systems is a problem that plagues fire and rescue services (FRS) around the world.

In the UK the spotlight on this problem was recently amplified because of the Localism Bill, which, with some caveats, gives Fire and Rescue Authorities the right to charge for attendance. Indeed, London Fire Brigade announced in January 2014 that it intended to start charging businesses for call-outs if they attended more than 10 false alarms at the same building within a 12-month period.

They issued 100 plus invoices within the first 120 days of the new regime!

However, it’s not all bad news where false alarms are concerned: official UK government figures show a steady decline in false alarm call-outs over the past 10 years – and this despite a rising overall number of installed systems.

Everybody obviously agrees that false alarms are a total waste of FRS’ and users’ time, let alone the money involved.

Lack of consistency

The problem is further compounded by the absence of a single automatic fire alarm (AFA) FRS attendance policy in England. This lack of consistency makes it difficult for both end users and fire alarm maintenance companies, whereas Scotland has a single policy reinforced by the setting up of a single fire service.

In England only one shire FRS attends all AFA signals and that’s Buckinghamshire. Check your fire risk assessment and consult your local fire service if you live anywhere else in England.

Another area of concern is the Weston-Super-Mare Grand Pier fire, where the judgment is certainly of interest to the alarm receiving centre industry. In this case the judge recommended a ‘default rule’ of calling the FRS even if the automatic fire alarm signal cannot be confirmed.

But the Localism Act could create a situation where the FRS threatens to charge for a false call and, in extreme cases, take the caller to court!

Concerned about the persistent fire alarm problem the Fire Sector Federation Technology Workstream has brought together a group of stakeholders, including the FIA, to look at the problem in general. Here is its remit:

  • Clearly identify the problem; look at the data and accurately determine the cause of false alarms
  • Examine technology available to provide reliable fire detection
  • Having proved that improvements can be made economically to the fire alarm system, set about changing the way fire detection is used in the built environment

Technology

Once the causes of false alarms are established the next step is to find ways of harnessing technology to solve the problem. To this end it is necessary to identify problem sites and bring relevant technology such as recent systems software/hardware updates to bear.

A major key to success will be site management and the commitment of occupiers to change what happens in their building. The possibility of FRS charging may help focus management’s attention.

Other incentives and techniques include on-site filtering, fire warden investigation, the linking of systems (fire and intruder) and multi-criteria fire detectors. For example, the latter can overcome many issues including hotel shower steam, burnt toast, exhaust in a loading bay and even cigarettes in prisons.

The added benefit with multi-criteria fire detectors is that if something changes in the monitored area, the sensor can often be re-programmed to suit the new scenario.

But where do we go next? Today’s fire panels can provide address data from triggered detectors – why not send this information to the fire appliance before it arrives?

Linking detection points – eg, the system may have one point in alarm and two others showing a rapid temperature increase – are another option.

All this will cost money to implement but just think how much could be saved year on year in fewer call-outs.

To drive down the number of false alarms everyone in our industry will need to change and come together for a common good, for example through the following measures:

  • Builders should fit what is suitable for the building rather than the absolute minimum
  • Installers should properly understand the building and how it is used
  • Manufacturers should develop simple ways to set up and, if required, change the system’s detection parameters
  • Users should understand what they have fitted, how to best use it and the requirement to change as their business changes
  • Legislators should understand that calling for the absolute minimum may not be the most cost-effective long-term approach

And last but not least, FRS need to understand where they fit into the sector.

Responsible persons/building owners can find more information on reducing false alarms from automatic fire detection systems on the FIA’s website.

Find out more news and research from the Fire Industry Association in the IFSEC Global Directory

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3 Comments on "How do we Solve the False Fire Alarms Problem?"

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paulwebber
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Interesting….. why is there a general reluctance about a charge being made for call outs? Maybe a sliding scale, first one a reasonable amount, 2nd to the same building a bit more and so on. Commercially it may be perfectly acceptable to know the fire service would turn out (and charge) but repeatedly would create a desire to manage the alarm signal better, with all of the above article coming into play. Businesses could then request to be on an “always turn out” agreement or “only turn out at night” (or whatever). If the charge was a sliding scale, there… Read more »
RobBenton
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I think this problem is very common in secondary schools. I would like to see schools hold an event each school year where fire marshals talk to the students about the importance fire alarms play in their safety. I feel that such a spreading of awareness will decrease the amount of kids who pull the fire alarm out of mischievous adrenaline. http://www.4seasonsfire.com/fire-alarm-inspections.html

philip west
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Our queens award winning patented product Ventmiser CMSM has been proven to stop false fire alarms in student accommodation and nurses accommodation by upto 100% where installed correctly. We have over 35,000 units out there in the market place and we are growing year on year. check out http://www.westenergy.co.uk for further information. KInd regards Philip West