False alarms

What is a False Alarm?

A false alarm (also known as an unwanted fire signal) is a fire signal resulting from a cause other than a fire. In other words, any call from an automatic fire alarm system, that the fire and rescue service attends, that is not actually a fire, is considered to be a false alarm.

In a single year Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service can respond to almost 2000 Automatic Fire Alarms. On nearly 99% of occasions these were avoidable false alarms caused by either a faulty system or an accidental activation, for example, because of cooking fumes.

We have worked closely with owners and operators of non-domestic premises to drive down the number of false alarms, as well as implementing policies to help filter out genuine emergency calls from false alarms. Since 1 April 2017, we no longer respond to an Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) in a non-sleeping premises unless the alarm has been backed up by a call confirming that there is a fire.

Unwanted Fire Signal (UwFS) Reduction Policy

Even though we have worked to reduce the number of false alarms, false alarms in general still account for almost 40% of the total operational incidents we attend each year. Many of these are from domestic premises, which include individual houses, blocks of flats and sheltered accommodation.

Impacts of False Alarms

We are committed to providing the best possible service to the people who are most at need, whether that is attending emergency incidents or providing community safety advice to our most vulnerable communities. False alarms may divert firefighters away from these emergencies and other duties including critical firefighter training. False alarms can have a significant impact on resources, especially during spate conditions, such as very hot summers.

Attending false alarms costs time and money but also places road users, pedestrians, and our Firefighters at increased risk unnecessarily, where fire engines are responding to false alarms on blue lights.

False alarm signals can also cause loss of production and general disruption of normal business activities. Every time the fire alarm sounds, your staff must stop what they are doing and evacuate the building. Repeated false alarms can erode people’s confidence in the fire alarm system, meaning they may become less likely to take an alarm seriously in a genuine emergency.

Reducing False Alarms

There are a number of things that you can do to help to reduce the number of false alarms at your premises. They can be prevented by utilising good housekeeping, staff training and good working practices.

It will depend on each premises, but some general good practices should include:

  • Appoint a responsible person, as per the requirements of the Fire Safety Order 2005, to ensure matters relating to fire safety within the premises (including the fire alarm system) are adhered to.

  • Maintain the fire alarm system in good working order.

  • Ensure the alarm is appropriate to the risk and the evacuation strategy for the building.

  • Put in place robust procedures for notifying alarm receiving centres where applicable.

  • Consider upgrading older systems.

  • Ensure all relevant persons are made aware of the impact of unwanted fire signals - both on the residents and on the fire and rescue service.

  • Where the premises is staffed, consider implementing an investigation period. This provides staff with time to determine the source of an activation before the system moves into full evacuation.

  • During the summer months consider fixing flea collars to specific detector heads that are known to be vulnerable to insect infiltration.

Take a look at our ‘Building contractor’s checklist to avoid false alarms’ which provides guidance for contractors carrying out building work in a premises protected by an automatic fire alarm: Checklist for Contractors

Fire Alarm Provision

Article 13 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires that the premises should be, to the extent that it is appropriate, equipped with fire detectors and alarms.

The responsible person of all non-domestic premises must keep a written record of the Fire Risk Assessment that has been undertaken for the premises and the fire safety arrangements for ongoing monitoring of fire safety. The provision of a fire detection and alarm system should be addressed as part of the fire risk assessment including how this supports the evacuation strategy of the premises and the prevention of false alarms. If you chose to appoint a third-party Fire Risk Assessor to carry out the assessment on your behalf, then you must take steps to ensure that the Fire Risk Assessor is competent.

Action must be taken to ensure that adequate control measures have been implemented to manage and reduce the risk from fire.

Alarm Receiving Centres (ARC)

You are required by law to test alarms regularly to ensure that they are working properly. Some false alarms are a result of fire alarm systems being connected to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) and the ARC not being notified by the premises that the system is undergoing testing or maintenance.

The alarm signal is transferred directly via the ARC to North West Fire Control who will in turn send fire engines to the incident. If you have an alarm that is linked to a receiving centre it is important to inform the receiving centre before testing the fire alarm system.

What is the Fire Service doing to reduce the number of ‘false alarms’ that they attend?

We are working hard to reduce the number of false fire alarms (unwanted fire signals) that we attend by working with local businesses and organisations.

Monitor levels of false alarms
Our local Protection teams closely monitor the level of false fire alarms (unwanted fire signals) from all businesses premises and relevant domestic premises to which the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies.

Contact premises who have repeat false fire alarms
We contact or visit those premises creating repeated or large numbers of unwanted fire signals.

Firefighters may also give advice to premises owners if they are called to an automatic fire alarm and it is a false alarm.

Create action plans
We work in partnership with the premises to create action plans to reduce the level of unwanted fire signals.

Enforcement activities
Where a business shows little interest or improvement in reducing unwanted fire signals, it may be appropriate to instigate enforcement activities against the premises, under the current legislation.

Contact us

If you have a problem with repeat false fire alarm activations or you would like to discuss the issue of false alarms (unwanted fire signals) in general, please contact the Business Safety Team or your local Protection team.

Last updated: Thursday, 11 January 2024