The Cost of False Fire Alarms

Mircom Fire Alarm HornStrobeEvery year false fire alarms cost taxpayers in Britain around £1bn. The percentage of false alarms to the Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) has increased from 53.4% in 2011-12 to 58% in 2014-15.

The hard truth is that most fire alarm and detection systems do not actually cause the false alarms – it is much more likely that it is due to mismanagement, lack of training and an absence of responsibility and procedures.

So, what do you need to know and consider in relation to false fire alarms?

What is a false fire alarm?

Quite simply, a false alarm is a fire alarm signal from a fire detection or fire alarm system that is not caused specifically by a fire. It will cause disruption in your business, because every alarm must be taken seriously until investigated. And if you have a system that alerts the Fire Service, there’s a whole extra level of unnecessary disruption and waste of time and money.

What causes a false alarm?

Causes can include pollutants or extremely high temperatures triggering alarms, human error or even deliberate vandalism, faults in the system or even inappropriate locations for the detectors themselves. Here are some examples: -

  • A fire-like phenomenon such as a smoke machine triggering a smoke detector
  • Accidental damage to the system
  • Inappropriate human action, such as spraying an aerosol at the detector, or smoking
  • Equipment malfunction
  • Small insects such as thunder flies getting into a detector

If your fire detection and fire alarm system is well designed and maintained it should produce no more than one false alarm a year for every 50 detectors fitted and no more than one false alarm in any four-week period.

What are the costs of false alarms?

There are both human and financial costs to false fire alarms but more than that; false alarms can be considered a public safety issue as they can cause complacency. If staff don’t respond as they should in the event of a real fire, it could ultimately lead to fatalities.

From the perspective of the FRSs, false fire alarms mean that resources are not only unnecessarily deployed but are also stretched. There is also that increased risk of traffic accidents when the brigade rushes to what they believe is a genuine emergency.

The mismanagement of fire alarm systems can really cost you money due to the following:

  • Lost production:
    • Disruption due to staff evacuation
    • Loss of productivity among staff
    • Out-of-action machinery due to shutdowns triggered by alarms
  • Possible future charging for attendance by fire and rescue services
  • Increased insurance premiums

How can false alarms be dealt with and prevented?

Being proactive is critical when looking to prevent false fire alarms. Our top 10 recommendations are: -

  1. Ensure that all employees, including new staff are educated in proper fire safety management.
  2. If you have persistent false alarms look to instigate an in-depth investigation by suitable specialists.
  3. Only use accredited installers and suppliers who use high quality products.
  4. Ensure detectors are installed in the correct positions and that heat sensors are appropriate for their location. The latest generation of combined detectors can provide better protection against false alarms.
  5. Ensure you have a suitable, designated person responsible for all fire alarm processes and procedures. Ensure this person has the required education and training.
  6. Ensure that there are regular checks and maintenance, and that these are recorded.
  7. Always record false alarm incidents. This data can be used to analyse patterns which should be included in your Fire Risk Assessment process.
  8. Work closely and communicate with all contractors to ensure alarms aren’t triggered accidently.
  9. Consider having covers installed on manual alarm call points to lessen the chance of accidental or deliberate activation.
  10. Ensure that smoking areas are far enough away from detectors and that staff do not smoke in an open exit doorway.

Conclusion

As a business owner it is essential that you recognise the importance of premises management in the reduction of false fire alarms. Properly installed and maintained systems rarely suffer malfunctions and it is possible to achieve a rate of 1 false alarm per 100 detectors and 1 per 75 detectors in more industrial environments.

The potential costs of false fire alarms to a business can be estimated as around £2.9K per alarm and with changes to the Localism Act of 2011, FRSs can charge for false fire alarm callouts. When you consider the average cost of an alarm, the investment in hardware, training and due diligence is clearly worthwhile.

Persistent false fire alarms breed complacency in employees and reduce confidence in the reliability of alarm systems. Essentially, if a genuine alarm is ignored this can lead to damage, injury or even death and surely that cost is not even worth contemplating.

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