Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals
As of 1 July 2023, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) is no longer attending automatic fire alarm (AFA) call outs to commercial businesses and workplace premises unless a duty holder investigates and then calls the SFRS and reports signs of or the presence of a fire. The duty holder may be the employer, employee, occupier, or owner. SFRS will continue to respond to AFAs from sleeping premises, such as hospitals, care homes, hotels, student accommodations, and domestic dwellings, as they are exempt from this new policy.
Last year, Scottish firefighters attended more than 30,000 incidents involving unwanted fire alarm signals (UFAS). Most of these false alarms were caused by cooking fumes, dust, or lack of maintenance. These false alarms result in the unnecessary call out of fire crews.
Assistant Chief Officer (ACO) David Farries is the SFRS Director of Service Delivery. He stated, “By changing our response to these types of incidents, we can potentially free up 64,000 hours every year giving firefighters more time for other activities, such as training and fire safety prevention work. However, there are benefits to businesses too by preventing these incidents from happening in the first place. On average, every unwanted fire alarm signal interrupts business for around 27 minutes each time.”1
Duty holders are responsible for maintaining the premises and equipment and for ensuring the premises are safe for staff, visitors, and occupants. While SFRS supports the installation of automatic fire alarm systems, it cautions that duty holders must manage and maintain them to reduce false alarms. As a result of this change in its responses to UFAS, SFRS urges duty holders to
- Work with their fire risk assessor to update their fire safety risk assessment.
- Make sure staff and occupants know how to respond safely to AFA activations.
- Read the Fire Industry Association’s publication Guidance on Safe Investigation of Fire Alarm Systems in Scotland.
- Contact their insurance company to discuss the changes in response to AFA activations.
- Call 999 immediately and follow other specific strategies, such as evacuation and assembly points, if there is a fire.
To help with reducing UFAS, SFRS provides duty holders with a leaflet entitled TAKE 5 and a poster entitled BE AWARE to educate employees and guests about false alarms. SFRS also advises duty holders to
- Review their Fire Safety Risk Assessment.
- Keep a log of false alarms and discuss any trends that it reveals with the alarm engineer.
- Create an action plan to reduce the chances of false alarms.
- Talk with the alarm engineer about whether changing detector types or their locations would decrease activations.
- Upgrade obsolete AFD systems with more modern technology, e.g., “multi-sensing” detectors.
- Install protective plastic covers over manual call points located in problem, vulnerable, or high traffic areas.
- Determine if some false alarms are the result of activating the wrong call points, such as green emergency door release points.
- Consider whether a link to an Alarm Receiving Centre is necessary or if it is appropriate to suspend the automatic dialing function while buildings are occupied or at certain times of the day.
- Seek further guidance and advice from the alarm system provider and the local legislative fire safety officer. https://www.firescotland.gov.uk/your-safety/business-advice/unwanted-fire-alarm-signals-ufas/
In addition, to ensure your staff and current fire wardens know about the new regulations and their impact, consider sending them to Emcare’s fire safety training courses.