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Automatic Fire Alarms (AFAs) provide early warning in the event of fire. However, where they immediately send an automated signal to a monitoring centre, or staff dial 999 because an alarm is sounding (without investigating first), they can also be the cause of false alarms and fire service call-outs known as UnWanted Fire Signals (UWFS) that can be avoided. Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) are called out around 2,000 times every year by automated signals, or by staff dialling 999 reporting that an alarm is sounding, to non-sleeping risk premises. Over 99.5% of these calls are subsequently found to be a false alarm when fire engines arrive.
There has to be a balance of benefits against risk. Sending fire engines on an emergency call because an alarm is sounding (in a non-seeping risk building) is not sustainable because unwanted fire signals have been found to:
- Divert essential resources from genuine emergencies – appliances must be available to save life.
- Create avoidable road risk to both crews and public whilst responding on blue lights.
- Disrupt Community & Business Safety activities, increasing risk elsewhere.
- Disrupt operational training, reducing the effectiveness of the teams.
- Create avoidable environmental impact.
- Drain public finances and resources.
- Disempower businesses from managing their own fire safety.
- Divert Fire Safety Inspectors, who follow up UWFS calls, away from inspecting high-risk premises.
- Create disruption for businesses employing On-Call Firefighters.
- Tie up call handling resources in Fire Control potentially slowing reaction to genuine emergencies.
Changes to Response to Automatic Fire Alarms in Non-sleeping Risk Premises – Does This Affect My Building?
LFRS are not changing the way they respond to automatic fire alarm systems after 7 pm at night for any building type – they will continue to respond as they always have.
LFRS are not changing the way they respond to automatic fire alarm systems in higher-risk premises at any time of day or night (see below) – they will continue to respond as they always have.
LFRS will always respond to 999 calls from a person reporting a fire, or sign of fire, in any type of premises at any time.
From 1 April 2022 however, based on evidence, LFRS are changing the way they respond to calls from automatic systems and from persons who have not investigated the source of a sounding fire alarm in non-sleeping risk buildings 7 days a week, between the hours of 8 am and 7 pm
LFRS will always respond to automatic fire alarm calls 24 hours a day if:
- A backup call is received through 999 reporting a fire or signs of fire (such as a smell of burning).
- You have successfully applied to LFRS for a fire alarm exemption, and it has been granted (see below).
If your building has a monitored fire alarm system, you should ensure the alarm receiving centre holds accurate information regarding building type/use and whether it contains sleeping accommodation. This is because LFRS will always respond to automatic fire alarm calls 24 hours a day if the premises is a:
- Sleeping risk.
- Single private domestic dwelling.
- Sheltered accommodation.
- Other residential premises such as hostel, hotel, student accommodation, care/nursing home etc.
- Registered Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) sites, nuclear sites covered by the REPPIR legislation.
- High rise.
- Prison/young offenders institution.
- Police station or military barracks.
- Infant, primary or secondary education premises.
- Grade 1 or Grade 2* heritage premises.
What do you need to do?
Firstly, decide if this policy change affects you. If you are responsible for a building that isn’t in any of the categories above, then you will need to:
- Ensure you have procedures in place to safely investigate the source of a sounding fire alarm.
- Ensure your staff are aware of the procedures and trained to safely investigate the source of an alarm and make a back-up 999 call.
- Consider if you would like to apply for an enhanced reliability alarm system exemption.
Unwanted Fire Signal Policy and Application to your Premises
All premises, except single private domestic dwellings, are subject to LFRS UWFS policy. This includes those granted an enhanced reliability fire alarm exemption or a premises type listed above.
For further information please see the Unwanted fire signal (UwFS) policy.
Call Challenge at Fire Control
On all occasions, automatic fire alarm (AFA) calls are received in North West Fire Control (NWFC), no matter the type of premises, NWFC will adopt a call challenge process. This will start by asking if the source of the sounding alarm has been investigated.
Being able to safely investigate the source of a sounding fire alarm is an important part of a building’s fire procedures. Knowing if an alarm is sounding due to a developing fire enables appropriate action to be taken immediately to keep people safe. If the cause is a false alarm, investigating the source also enables the ‘all clear’ to be given minimising disruption and avoiding the need for fire engines to attend a known false alarm. It also helps avoid the wider risk to the community which occurs when the Fire Service are asked to attend with valuable resources that may be needed elsewhere for a genuine emergency. If you have not already done so, please update your fire procedures in readiness for the policy change on the 1st of April 2022. Further guidance on safely investigating the source of a sounding fire alarm is provided in LFRS introduction to business fire safety and the law.
Please remember, it is not the responsibility of the fire service to evacuate your premises. You must ensure that you have an evacuation strategy appropriate for the use and occupancy of your building, paying particular attention to occupants who may require assistance to escape. Further guidance is available on LFRS’s guidelines for businesses page. Your organisation’s fire evacuation strategy and evacuation procedures should be practised regularly to ensure they are timely and fit for purpose.
Enhanced Reliability Fire Alarm Exemptions
If your premises is exempted, LFRS will continue to attend AFA activations at any time of day or night.
To be considered for this exemption, your fire alarm system must meet certain criteria which means it is highly unlikely to generate false signals. You will need to provide:
- Certification confirming that the fire alarm detection system has been installed to BS 5839 Part 1 or equivalent standard (preferably with third party accreditation).
- Evidence that the fire alarm detection system is serviced and maintained in compliance with the recommendations of BS 5839 Part 1 or equivalent standard.
- Certification confirming that a fire signal output is only obtained when at least two independent triggering signals are present at the same time (preferably with third party accreditation). This is referred to as a ‘Coincidence Alarm’ in BS 5839.
Enhanced reliability fire alarm exemptions may be withdrawn at the discretion of LFRS if systems are not maintained and managed effectively resulting in UWFS.
For more information on how to apply for a fire alarm exemption, contact the Business Fire Safety Team on 01772 866954 or email at [email protected].
All applications are considered on an individual basis.
Preventing False Alarms
Prevention is always better than cure. Avoiding unnecessary fire alarm activations ensures your business is not disrupted and that in the event of a real emergency staff and visitors will react to the alarm.