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False Fire Alarms: The Risks, The Consequences and How to Avoid Them

Automatic fire detection alarms are installed in a host of commercial, industrial and multiple-dwelling residencies throughout the UK in order to help keep properties and their occupants safe from the destructive dangers of fire. Automatic detection reacts to an increase in heat or the presence of smoke and then gives an auditory or, if required, visual warning, in the event of a suspected fire.

An incredibly important, and sometimes life-saving, piece of fire safety equipment, automatic detections sometimes reacts to triggers which are not necessarily a symptom of fire. For example, steam, cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays and smoke from cooking are all common causes of fire alarms going off when they shouldn’t and, when they go off for anything other than a real fire, are classified as a false alarm.

False fire alarms are incredibly common and the London Fire Brigade alone is called out to attend one almost every 10 minutes at an estimated cost of £37 million per year. In 2011, they were present at 55,719 false alarms, reports in June 2012 revealed, and although this figure has steadily declined from 71,679 in 2007, the LFB have said that this figure is “still too high”.

In buildings where evacuations are carried out following the onset of an alarm, false alarms can be extremely detrimental. They halt work while the evacuation is being undertaken, resulting in decreased productivity and in retail and commercial environments, such as shops and restaurants, can result in a loss of profit and customers.

The further-reaching consequences of false fire alarms can be catastrophic. Not only do they induce a sense of complacency with the public, as they become increasingly used to false alarms and as such are less willing to act quickly when the alarm activates, but they also mean that when the fire brigade are called out to false alarms their team, equipment and resources are not available for real emergencies.

LFB’s deputy assistant commissioner, Lee Philpotts, agrees with this statement saying that when their crew are “out dealing with false fire alarms they are unavailable to attend genuine emergencies or carry out training or community safety work”. He went on to state the importance of high quality, well installed and managed fire alarm systems, saying that it is “in everyone’s best interests to ensure that alarms are properly fitted and maintained.”

Specialists within the fire industry agree this is one of the most effective methods of significantly reducing false fire alarms and, as a result, numerous legislations and campaigns have been put in place to encourage businesses and multiple-resident environments to implement this.

The Fire Industry Association has recently launched a nationwide campaign to reduce false alarms and have set up a new section on their website which aims to help organisations manage their fire alarm systems more effectively. According to industry magazine Means of Escape the FIA have designed their website to “be used as a signpost by alarm maintenance companies to help end users work with them to implement better alarm management.”

Another reason for businesses to ensure they have effective fire alarm systems installed is the introduction of the Localism Act 2011, which states that the Fire and Rescue Service can now charge for attendance at false alarms of persistent offenders with an automatic fire alarm. The charge may be made if the false alarm occurs is non-domestic properties and the report is made as a direct or indirect result of warning equipment having malfunctioned or been installed incorrectly.

It is, therefore, vital that businesses and organisations ensure they have taken every precaution to avoid a false fire alarm. This involves ensuring fire risk assessments are up-to-date and have been completed thoroughly and that fire alarm and detection systems have been properly designed, installed, commissioned, managed and maintained.

Fire specialists recommend employing a professional to perform a Risk Assessment as they have the skill and knowledge necessary to make sure they are carried out comprehensively and can then also undertake any remedial action deemed necessary to prevent the recurrence of false alarms and evacuations. This can include the installation of innovative and highly advanced equipment such as early warning systems, which aim to avoid unnecessary fire brigade call-outs and evacuations.

So if you own, manage or are responsible for fire safety and fire protection equipment within a commercial environment and would like further information about false alarms, the consequences and how to avoid them, contact the experts at City Fire today. We can arrange a consultation with a member of our team, ensuring you benefit from our specialist knowledge and experience, and can install, manage and maintain high quality fire alarm systems.

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