Automatic fire alarms
An automatic fire alarm (AFA) helps to keep people and property safe by giving early warning in the event of fire.
Automatic fire alarm systems detect fire, heat or smoke (or a combination of all three) and then produce a warning; some systems transmit these warnings to a receiving centre.
From August 1 2020, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) will not respond to fire alarm activations in premises where there is no sleeping accommodation between 8am and 7pm unless the caller reasonably believes a fire to have broken out. The fire service will always respond to calls reporting a fire.
If your premises has a monitored fire alarm system you should ensure that the alarm receiving centre holds accurate and up to date information for your premises within Greater Manchester this should include the premises type and whether it contains sleeping accommodation. The information is required at the point of call and without it being available; no attendance will be made to any premises during the day (8am until 7pm).
False alarms in businesses
Sometimes, AFA’s go off when there is no fire and they create a false alarm – most of us have experienced the disruption and inconvenience caused when this happens.
As a business, the nuisance from false alarms includes loss of productivity but also repeated false alarms can affect the way staff and members of the public react causing complacency and reducing the effectiveness of the alarm system.
Fire service attendance at false alarms also mean that firefighters are not available to attend real emergency calls and are disrupted from carrying out important training, emergency planning and other key activities. Guidance on your legal responsibilities how you can reduce false alarms in your business premises and preventing unnecessary calls to the fire service can be found below.
If your premises is not a private dwelling then you will have responsibilities under the Fire Safety Order in relation to your alarm system, its suitability for your premises and its maintenance as well as the procedures in place for when it goes off. Where we consider that a fire alarm is not working properly to protect people, we may take enforcement action.
In the event of an automatic fire alarm activation there should be someone who is trained and authorised to reset the system. Outside of normal working hours there should be a key holder who can attend the premises within 20 minutes of being notified by the Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). GMFRS does not reset alarm panels, and will only remain in attendance at closed premises for 20 minutes for monitoring purposes.
The purpose of the fire alarm system in most regulated premises is to provide a suitable means of raising the alarm and give warning in the event of a fire. This links with the duty to establish procedures to follow in an emergency – these are commonly referred to as evacuation procedures.
If you have an automatic fire alarm you should have set procedures to follow in the event of an alarm activation which may include an evacuation of the premises. Where there is an onsite staffing presence, these procedures should include trained staff members checking on the cause of the alarm activation and calling the fire service if there are any signs of fire. A zone plan, or a written description of the zone locations relating to the fire alarm system on display beside the fire alarm panel will make it easier for people at the premises to check on the cause prior to calling GMFRS.
Automatic fire alarm systems should be tested on a weekly basis and all routine fire alarm system checks should be notified to the ARC or Fire Alarm Monitoring Organisation (FAMO) to prevent these being mistaken for an alarm. Staff training should include input on the type of fire alarm system in the premises and the correct procedures for both raising the alarm, investigating a fire alarm actuation and evacuating the premises.
Reducing false alarms and preventing unnecessary calls to the fire service
Your fire alarm system is most likely a key part of the fire protection measures for your building and you should ensure it is properly designed, installed and maintained by a competent fire alarm engineer.
If you do experience a false alarm, you should take action to prevent it re-occurring. You will firstly need to establish what has caused the alarm and then look to put control measures in place to prevent re-occurrence - this could be as simple as re-siting a toaster or keeping a bathroom door closed to prevent steam setting of a detector.
Ensuring that heat detectors (instead of smoke) are fitted in kitchen areas can help to reduce false alarms caused by cooking fumes. Adequate ventilation should also be provided in showers and bathrooms and if there have been steam related activations, consideration should be given to moving the affected detector head further away from the source of steam or fitting an alternative type of detector. Smoking regulations prevent most premises from having indoor smoking areas; this should be strictly enforced but where smoking is permitted it must be in a specific room with adequate ventilation and a heat detector.
Dust entering detectors can cause false alarms. If dust is generated in your premises, place a cover over the affected detector heads and remove them when the work is complete. Anyone undertaking work that generates dust or will affect the system must be briefed prior to working. No-one should be permitted to work in the area, or on the system without being briefed by management in advance. If your premises is/are connected to a FAMO or ARC, make sure they are informed before any work is carried out on the system.
Some companies use call filtering to prevent unnecessary calls to the fire service. This means that if the fire alarm sounds the premises checks to confirm if there is a fire or fire symptoms before calling GMFRS - if it is a false alarm then there is no need to call. If your alarm system is linked to a receiving centre, ensure that when your premises is occupied a call back check is made to someone at the building before calling the fire service - this will reduce unnecessary fire service attendances to false alarms and also ensure that if a fire has occurred the appropriate resources attend.