What are the impacts of false alarms and how can we reduce them?

The Tasmania Fire Service has a legal obligation to monitor fire alarms in certain premises for a variety of reasons. Monitoring alarms provide many benefits to the community such as allowing faster response due to the early notification of fire. Early intervention reduces the risk of exposure to fire and other hazards for building occupants and firefighters. For higher-risk premises (such as hospitals, schools, and nursing homes) fire alarm monitoring also enables a pre-determined response strategy, thereby providing a swifter and safer response. Early intervention also reduces the potential cost to insurers and companies.

With greater numbers of monitored fire alarms, also comes a higher occurrence of false alarms. The occurrence of false alarms can have a negative impact on the community in many ways:

  • Disruption to premises from the requirement to evacuate at the sounding of a fire alarm. This can lead to loss of productivity and business function, compounded where an alarm system is continually faulty.
  • Many firefighters are volunteers and responding to false alarms can be impactful on volunteer’s time and private lives and can lead to avoidable fatigue.
  • Repeated false alarms can lead to complacency in the event of a real fire emergency.
  • Delay Tasmania Fire Service operational response times to real emergencies.
  • An increased risk of injury to firefighters and the public.
  • Financial penalties to premises owners.
  • Premises can incur extra costs to maintain and test faulty alarm systems.

Ways to Reduce Instances of False Alarms and Your Responsibility

The design of buildings can often contribute to false alarms. This may be the case in situations where the installed fire alarm system does not align with the activities of the building occupants. This issue may be overcome by addressing any shortfalls in fire alarm system design at the planning stage.

For premise owners, there are many considerations at the planning stage that can assist in reducing false alarms:

  • Working with a Building Surveyor, an alarm system should be designed and installed in accordance with the appropriate standards for the approved use of the building.
  • Before and during occupancy of the premises, consider the benefits of undertaking a risk assessment with your fire protection systems contractor.
  • For existing buildings, work with your building surveyor and/or designer to consider installing the latest fire safety systems. Contemporary systems have inbuilt technology that reduces false alarm activations. Renovations provide a good opportunity to consider improvements to your systems.

Tasmania Fire Service regulates the fire protection industry. Contemporary fire detection and suppression systems are complex and require a high degree of expertise to install, repair, and maintain. Only contractors with a permit from the Tasmania Fire Service can undertake work on fire detection and suppression systems.

Premise occupiers are legally required to maintain fire safety systems and equipment according to the requirements in the applicable legislation and standards.

On many occasions, fire detection systems cause false alarms because they are not maintained or repaired as required.

If your alarm system is generating unexplained false alarms, then an investigation into the system is required.  Fire system contractors have the expertise to investigate the possible causes of false alarms.

Any modifications to your fire alarm system must be approved by a building surveyor.

Having a site management system in place to ensure your fire alarm system and procedures are functioning correctly is an effective way to reduce instances of false alarms. Risk assessments of possible weaknesses in the fire alarm system are a good way to document areas for improvement. Effective site management systems may then be developed to reduce these risks before a false alarm occurs. Effective site management systems use suitably qualified and competent persons and may include the following:

  • Building Managers
  • Fire Wardens
  • Site Engineers

Having an understanding of the history of false alarms at the premise may assist in effective site management and reduce instances of false alarms.

Premise owners/occupiers should have a site induction process in place for contractors and tradespersons attending the site. Contractors undertaking work on site can generate dust, fumes, and heat, that can trigger detectors. It is important to notify building occupants of any works so they don’t report false alarms through a triple-zero (000) call.

Part of the contract for having an alarm system monitored by Tasmania Fire Service is that any work undertaken on-site is isolated from the alarm system. This can be undertaken by having your fire protection systems contractor or a competent person isolate the zone on your Fire Indicator Panel. The premise owner/occupier should also contact FireComm (1800 000 699) to make them aware of the work and its location.  This simple procedure can avoid false alarms resulting from contractor work.

The education of staff and occupants of a site is important in contributing to the reduction in the occurrence of false alarms. This may include training on the following:

  • Automatic fire alarm system and its components.
  • Policies and procedures that support the reduction of false alarms.
  • How to avoid activating the fire alarm system inadvertently.