Fire alarm systems provide an early warning of fire and are one of the most effective ways to keep people and property safe from fire. But unfortunately, many fire alarm signals are false, triggered by cooking fumes, dust or lack of maintenance. This means fire crews are called out unnecessarily for unwanted fire alarm signals (UFAS). A policy change has now become necessary, as 98% of alarm activations which the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) is currently summoned to, are false alarms.
As a result of the change, duty holders with responsibility for commercial premises, will need to safely investigate a fire alarm before calling 999, as control room operators will ask for confirmation of an actual fire or signs of fire, prior to sending the nearest resource. This change however, does not apply to sleeping premises, such as hospitals, care homes, hotels or domestic dwellings.
To accompany these changes, the FIA has published ‘Guidance on Safe Investigation of Fire Alarm Signals in the Absence of the Fire and Rescue Service’ to assist duty holders investigating fire alarm signals at premises prior to summoning the SFRS. It states that given the new policy “… dutyholders for premises in which people do not sleep should discuss, with their alarm system provider or maintainer and/or any company monitoring their fire alarm system at an ARC, more technologically advanced arrangements.” Fortunately, there are now advanced addressable fire panels available, that offer investigation and verification solutions to help combat false alarms.
Neil Parkin, Regional Sales Manager of North and Ireland at Advanced, says, “In the UK, false alarms cost £1bn a year, with annual false alarms in Scotland representing approximately 57,000 unnecessary blue-light journeys for the SFRS alone. These unnecessary callouts have an impact on resources available to attend real fires and the time available for fire crews to undertake other valuable work. False alarms have other detrimental effects too, by affecting business continuity and causing alarm complacency, which can put lives at risk in real fire situations.
“However, there are technologically advanced solutions available to help. The latest addressable fire panels feature false alarm management capability, such as our AlarmCalm software, available as standard on our MxPro 5 and Go ranges of addressable panels. AlarmCalm delivers unprecedented control of verification and investigation delays, substantially reducing the risk of false alarms and giving duty holders peace of mind.”
Advanced’s AlarmCalm allows total control and configurability of the false alarm strategy across any site. Fire systems offer two lines of defence against the issue. The first is based around detector technology, which functions by screening false signals in the detector heads themselves. The second focuses on the fire panel, analysing the signals received from sensors and interpreting this to determine if the signal is real, before taking further action.
Advanced provides flexibility in false alarm management, thanks to its approach to programming cause and effect. By dividing sites up into virtual false alarm ‘building areas’, independent of fire zones, users gain more precise control and reduction strategies that exactly fit the needs of each part of a building. Virtual building areas can cover multiple zones, partial zones or even single points for precise application of false alarm strategies based on risk per area.
It comes with both options, often referred to as Type A, B or C dependencies in line with EN54-2, section 7.12. Alarm verification is used to automatically check if an activated device is genuine, before a fire condition is displayed on the panel. This is ideal for when the designated responsible person is not available on site. Here, the system will work independently and can verify the alarm without human input. The system is flexible, accommodating many timing options and scenarios. This reduces false alarms since the verification delays check whether there is genuine reason for the alarm to activate.
It also features investigation delays, which allow an occupant to physically check if an activated device is genuine after a fire condition is displayed on the panel. This option is ideal when there is a responsible person on site. Human input brings certainty in identifying the cause of the alarm.