Dealing With False Fire Alarm Activations
DEALING WITH FALSE FIRE ALARM ACTIVATIONS
- False activation of fire alarm systems can be a severe nuisance and if they happen too often they can lead to “the boy that cried wolf” syndrome where genuine activations are ignored with fatal consequences.
- False activations can be divided into 3 categories:
- Malicious – those false alarms caused by persons who want to disrupt the operation of a premise or an event.
- Accidental – false alarms that can be caused by various means, such as: the inadvertent operation of an alarm call point, the burning of toast or by fumes from contractors carrying out “hot work”. This could be somebody knocking into an alarm call point, although the design of these does make accidental operation difficult to achieve.
- Technical Fault – caused by a malfunction in a part of the fire detection and/or alarm system.
- The main defence against malicious activations is vigilance. Get staff to look out for suspicious actions and to report them. In those areas with a history of malicious activations hinged plastic guards can be fitted over alarm call points that require a definite action to open them to gain access to the break glass. CCTV can have a deterrent value and can be used to help identify offenders.
- Accidental activations are not very common. Where they are an issue consideration should be given to re-positioning the offending call point or to fitting them with hinged plastic guards. If re-positioning call points it is essential that their siting complies with the BS5839 and the relevant Scottish Government Practical Fire Safety Guidance.
- Technical faults can appear in any part of the fire alarm and detection system, such as:
- Control panel;
- Detection heads; or,
- Alarm call points.
Maintenance and inspection are the keys to minimising the likelihood of a false activation:
- Carry out daily checks of the fire alarm control panel. Check that the power light is illuminated and that fault light is out.
- Once each week test the fire alarm by activating a fire alarm call point. Use a different call point each time, ensuring that all tested over a period.
- Every 3 months the system will be tested by a competent engineer, who will provide a report. Copies of the report should be kept at the workplace and recommended work should be reported to ensure that remedial actions are put in place. This contract is set by Property Services.
- If an alarm activation is suspected to be due to a fault, it should be reported for priority investigation and repair. It may well be that living with a faulty alarm system that gives false indications of a fire is not acceptable in the workplace. Therefore, following discussions with the competent engineer, it may be that the best action is to disable the alarm system until the repair can be successfully completed. In this case an alternative system must be put in place to ensure that all persons in the building can be made quickly aware of the need to evacuate in the event of a fire. Everybody affected must be fully aware of these measures and of what actions they should take in the event of a fire.
- In smaller places of work a shout of “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE” by the person discovering the fire maybe sufficient;
- Other premises may require manual bells or air horns;
- In larger buildings a temporary electrical alarm system may have to be installed;
- In schools the interval bell may be adequate.
Whatever system is employed it is essential that those who may be affected are aware of the temporary system and what is required of them to ensure safe evacuation.
- Contractors carrying out repairs to buildings that involve “hot work” are often responsible for the false activation of a fire alarm. Hot work is defined as any process that generates flames, sparks or heat. It includes welding, cutting, grinding and sawing.
Hot work should not be carried out unless it is authorised and properly supervised by an experienced manager or supervisor who has knowledge of the work to be carried out, the risks involved and the precautions to be taken.
The insurers may require a permit to work system to be used whenever hot work is carried out on any premises insured by them. The permit details the work to be carried out, how and when it is to be done and the precautions to be taken. A written permit system is likely to result in a higher standard of care and supervision.
- Whatever actions are taken it is of the utmost importance that they every person who may be effected by a change in the alarm system is considered and is made aware of the system changes.
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