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Our Response to Unwanted Fire Signals

Our Response to unwanted fire signals

From April 2022, our Service no longer attends fire alarms operating in low-risk commercial premises, between 0900hrs and 1700hrs Monday to Friday (except bank holidays) unless we receive telephone confirmation that there is a fire. 

Low-risk premises are classified as premises with no sleeping risk, such as offices, shops, factories, pubs, clubs and restaurants. 

Changing our response to unwanted fire signals

We want to ensure we put our resources in the right place, at the right time to deal with emergencies and help prevent them in the first place.

Following our Planning for a Safer Future public consultation in 2020, we have brought in some changes to East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.

What is an Automatic fire alarm (AFA) versus an Unwanted fire alarm signal (UwFS)?

  1. An AFA is a system that warns people of a possible fire by automatic means such as a detector or manual means such as by a call point. This is very different to an unwanted fire signal.

  2. Whenever an alarm has activated for a reason that is not a fire, it is a false alarm. If the fire and rescue service have attended the premises for this false alarm it is subsequently classified as an Unwanted Fire Signal (UwFS)

    Inevitably, this causes significant disruption to our training, fire safety and community safety work and, crucially, while firefighters are investigating the cause of the alarm, they cannot attend emergencies where lives are at risk.

What have we changed?

Because of all of these impacts, our Service  no longer attends fire alarms operating in low-risk commercial premises, between 0900hrs and 1700hrs Monday to Friday (except bank holidays) unless we receive telephone confirmation that there is a fire.   

Low-risk premises are classified as premises with no sleeping risk, such as offices, shops, factories, pubs, clubs and restaurants.  

In these premises, when people are present, they are able to confirm there is a fire and call 999 for the fire service; we would then send the appropriate resources to deal with the incident. 

When people are not present, such as when businesses are closed typically between 1700hrs and 0900hrs and at weekends and bank holidays, the life risk is very low however the impact on the business may be greater. Therefore at these times, we continue to respond to Automatic Fire Alarms in the normal way. 

The Impact of unwanted fire signals

We average around 9,200 operational responses to incidents each year. 

Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) systems account for 34% of all these calls, of which a huge 96% turn out to be false alarms. These are often described as ‘unwanted fire signals”.

Of these AFA calls, 

  1. only 2% in non-domestic premises turn out to be fires - an average of 32 per year. 
  2. 20 of these do not require any firefighting action because the fire will already be out when the crews arrive. 
  3. The majority of the others only require a minimum amount of action from our crews, ranging from an item being taken outside to the use of portable extinguishers. 

On average, only one call per year to an AFA in non-domestic premises is significant enough to need to use main firefighting jets of water or specialist foam. 

These AFAs, or Unwanted Fire Signals, divert essential fire service resources from other incidents, with the possibility of delayed attendance at emergencies where lives or property are in danger.

They create unnecessary risk to fire crews and members of the public when fire engines and other appliances are responding under emergency conditions, and are disruptive to work routines for our crews, particularly community and fire safety activity and training. 

There is also a financial impact due to salary and vehicle fleet costs, which ultimately are met by the public and businesses who pay taxes and rates.

What you need to do

If you are;

  1. an employer, the owner, the landlord, an occupier or anyone else with control of premises, for example,
  2. a facilities manager, building manager, managing agent or risk assessor,  

you may also be responsible for the fire safety of a business or non-domestic property (including common ways of flats and houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) where at least 3 tenants live that forms more than 1 household and share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities with other tenants).

Responsible Person

If you are the ‘responsible person’ and have a legal responsibility to manage the fire protection measures in a building, and failure to do so competently can lead to prosecution under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Where necessary, this includes making sure that the appropriate fire-fighting equipment, detectors and alarms are fitted and that the premises, facilities, equipment and devices are maintained in an efficient state, of working order and good repair in order to safeguard the safety of people on the premises. 

The responsible person must also, where necessary, nominate a competent person to implement these measures.

If you are not sure where to start, read our information about Risk Assessments.

Minimum actions

We would like you to manage your fire alarm system so that when the premises is occupied the Fire and Rescue Service is only called when there is a fire to avoid false alarms receiving an unnecessary emergency response.

There are a number of ways you can do this and the following should be considered as a minimum: 

1) Review your Fire Risk Assessment and emergency plan

  1. You may need to adapt it to include an investigation period for a physical check of the area identified on the fire alarm panel and zone plan, raising the alarm by calling 999 if there is a fire or resetting the system if there is a false alarm.

  2. Consider how to include and manage situations and times where a member of staff may be lone working.  

  3. Ensure all your staff know about the changes, are trained and know to phone 999 if there is a confirmed fire or smoke.  

  4. Some specific additional training for fire wardens / fire marshals might be required. Knowing how and when they communicate to the occupiers and when it is safe to return to the building will become part of their role.

  5. Consider feast days and holidays that don’t occur on national bank holidays or weekends when your business may be closed or unoccupied. Ensure your Alarm Monitoring Organisation has this information to pass to East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.

  6. Ensure your Fire Action Notices are updated with any new arrangements.

2) Update your alarm companies and insurers

  1. Contact your competent alarm maintainer. Ask their advice on setting up your fire alarm for the change in response e.g. day/night mode, investigation, coincidence detection etc.

  2. Contact your insurance provider to ensure your cover is adequate for the change. There shouldn’t be any change but best to check.

  3. Contact your Alarm Monitoring Organisation to ensure they are aware of the changes and have up to date site contact details to verify any fire alarm signals received in normal working hours.  

3) Start learning  

  1. Reducing unwanted fire signals will not necessarily reduce the number of false alarms and we know that, even if we never attend, your staff could become complacent. 

  2. Speak to your fire alarm maintainer about solutions to false alarm issues.

  3. Ensure you consider the fire alarm management during building and decorating works and hot works.

  4. Examine previous activations to see if any changes might be beneficial in reducing the number of unwanted fire signals.

    For example, a smoke detector positioned outside the changing rooms of a gym is set off regularly due to steam from the showers. Staff and gym users may start to ignore the alarm and staff may reset the system without checking the cause. There is therefore the potential for a fire to spread unchecked.

Latest Update :
24 March 2023
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