False alarms

While firefighters are responding to false alarms they are not available to tackle real fires.  False alarms waste essential resources, potentially putting lives at risk, and they disrupt other activities such as training and community fire safety work.

Automatic Fire Alarms - our response

In just one year we responded to more than 2,500 Automatic Fire Alarms. On 99% of occasions these were avoidable false alarms caused by either a faulty system or an accidental activation, for example as a result of cooking fumes.

False alarms cost businesses time and money. They also divert firefighters from genuine emergencies and other duties. We are committed to reducing the number of these false alarms and so have adopted a policy around how we respond to Automatic Fire 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.

Leaflet - Automatic Fire Alarms: Our Response

Unwanted Fire Signal (UwFS) Reduction Policy

Amendments to AFA Policy

Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm System

The safety of your business premises and its occupants can be greatly enhanced by the installation of an Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm System

Properly used and maintained, the automatic system, with its fast response in detecting a fire, can be a significant factor in reducing the risk to life and limiting damage to your property.

Unfortunately, the very features that provide this fast response can also produce unwanted signals arising from activities other than a real fire.

About false alarms

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.

Why are they a nuisance for the fire and rescue service and how much of a problem do they cause? 

Unwanted fire signals (also known as false alarms) place a large burden on fire and rescue service resources.

Fire engines and firefighters attending a false alarm may be needed at a real emergency, such as a genuine fire or road traffic accident.

False alarms may impact on critical firefighter training, in addition to distracting from important community safety work. They might also cause on-call firefighters to be needlessly called away from their normal place of work.

How much of a problem are they for fire and rescue services?

This type of false alarm is a cause for concern for fire and rescue services as it dilutes fire cover available for other incidents, endangers public safety and fire crew safety when making a speedy attendance and is a waste of money. 

In 2009-2010, we attended some 2,400 unwanted fire signals (false alarms). 

This cost us 800 hours (or over a month) in dealing solely with unwanted fire signals.

At times when firefighting resources are particularly stretched, such as very hot summers, false alarms may impact on our resources even more.

Why are they a problem for your business?

False alarm signals can 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.

Lack of confidence

Continual false alarms may lead to complacency and a lack of confidence in the system by your personnel, affecting their willingness to take action when the alarm activates.

About 90% of automatic fire-detection and fire-alarm systems do not regularly cause false alarms. However, the remaining 10% are involved in most false alarms.


Every false alarm causes disruption. This may affect your customer service, your productivity or the general routine of your organisation.

The cost of false alarms in the UK is estimated to be about £1 billion a year!

What are the common causes of 'false fire alarms'?

There are many causes of false alarms (unwanted fire signals) in the workplace. 

Here are the more common causes of false fire alarms:

  • Fumes from cooking or burnt food.

  • Steam from showers.

  • Dust from building work.

  • Insects.

  • Poorly trained users.

  • Lack of maintenance.

  • Incorrect or poorly designed systems.

These are the more common causes, but there are many more causes too.

Many unwanted fire signals are the result of ignorance on the part of employees or contractors who may not be aware that an automatic fire system is in operation.

A few simple rules linked with good house-keeping practices can help to keep these unwanted nuisance signals to a minimum.

How to prevent a false alarms

What can you do to reduce the number of false fire alarms at your premises?

There are some things that you can do to help to reduce the number of false fire alarms (unwanted fire signals) at your workplace/business premises.

Good practice

It will obviously depend on your specific problem, but some general good practices should include:

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

  • Maintain the fire alarm system to keep it in good working order.

  • Ensure the alarm is appropriate to the risk.

  • Consider upgrading older systems. Money spent now could save money on lost business due to constant unwanted fire signals.

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

  • Consider implementing a delay in the system to allow for investigation. It is important you seek advice from your local fire safety department before you implement this though.

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

What is the fire service doing to reduce the number of 'false fire alarms' they attend?

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

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. 

By limiting the amount of time spent dealing with unnecessary calls to false alarms, we can only improve our performance in these very important areas.

Monitor levels of false alarms

Our Community Fire Protection team closely monitors the level of false fire alarms (unwanted fire signals) from all businesses premises.

Contact premises who have repeat false fire alarms

We contact or visit those premises creating repeated or large numbers of unwanted fire signals.

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. 

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

Where can I go for help?

We are actively working with businesses and organisations across the county to reduce unwanted fire signals from automatic fire detection systems.

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 your local Protection team

Checklist for Contractors

If you need more advice on reducing false alarms, please contact the Business Safety Team:

Contact the Business Safety Team at Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service

Last updated: Thursday, 22 June 2023