Fire detection and alarms

What is an Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA)?

An AFA is an Automatic Fire Alarm activation, warning people of a possible fire by a sounder or speech. Most business properties should have them properly fitted, tested and serviced. Some of them may be monitored by an external company.

Remember: In an emergency or if you know there is a fire in a building, dial 999 immediately – even if the building has an automatic fire alarm.

Why we are adapting how we respond to all AFA calls

As of October 2022, we are only responding to AFAs in non-domestic business properties if we receive confirmation that there is a fire.

Watch this short animation video explaining why this is happening and how it will improve the service.

Our Business Fire Safety Team already works hard with business owners and managers to educate them about their responsibilities for fire safety. They also work with those responsible people to help them prevent fires and other incidents to improve their resilience.

We offer free Business Safe and Well Visits for all businesses in Surrey where you can gain advice from our specialist teams and crews. Visit business safe and well visit webpage to book one.

Frequently ask questions

Does this apply if I live in a private property?

In Spring 2024, we changed the way we respond to AFAs in domestic and residential properties, by only responding if we receive confirmation that there is a fire.

These properties include:

  • Residential, such as boarding schools
  • Halls of residence, such as student accommodation
  • Hospitals
  • Hotels
  • Care homes
  • Any other residential building types, including those that contain single private dwellings.

What are my responsibilities as a business owner?

Business owners and managers have legal responsibilities regarding fire safety.

You should consider how our reduced response to automatic fire alarms affects your premises, and if necessary, update your fire risk assessment and evacuation plan. You may need to arrange training for staff designated as fire wardens, marshals, or key holders.

If your fire alarm is connected to a fire alarm monitoring organisation, make sure your key holder information is accurate and robust enough to ensure a key holder is always available during periods of staff absence or when the premises is unoccupied. Consider linking your alarm system to CCTV.

How do we respond to automatic fire alarms?

Over the last five years, 98% of the AFA incidents that we attended were false alarms. These accounted for nearly a fifth of all incidents – that's almost five fire engines a day being sent out on blue lights to false alarms where there isn't a fire.

Our Mobilising Control Staff assess calls to determine the most appropriate response. This applies:

  • At all times, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including bank holidays.
  • To all AFA calls, whether received from alarm monitoring centres or directly from premises.
  • To all business premises, residential and domestic properties.

This does not currently apply to Critical National Infrastructure, Control of Major Accident Hazard sites (COMAH) or major heritage locations.

What causes a false alarm?

Fire alarm and detection systems activate as a result of either an increase in heat or the presence of smoke. Unfortunately, they can also react to things such as steam, cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays or light smoke from cooking. These may be caused by poor working practices, badly sited detector heads or a fire alarm system that is not serviced properly.

How to investigate a false alarm?

  • Check the fire alarm panel to find out the cause of the activation. Use the alarm zone / detector plan which should be next to the fire alarm panel to confirm location.
  • Have a member of the staff remain at the panel and keep in contact via mobile phone.
  • When investigating look, listen, smell for signs of fire. It might be smoke, unusual noises or heat.
  • Before opening a door feel it with the back of your hand, as high up the door as you can reach, for signs of heat. If it is hot, do not open the door.
  • If at any time you discover signs of fire, raise the alarm, get out using the nearest fire exit and call 999.
  • When the call to the fire service is made clearly state that an investigation has taken place and that this is a call to a fire and not just an alarm sounding.

What are the consequences of false alarms?

False alarms cause disruption to your business, affecting efficiency, profitability and services. There is an inherent health and safety risk in any evacuation, and false alarms cause staff to become complacent and less willing to act quickly when the fire alarm activates. This puts their lives in danger if there is a genuine fire in your building.

If you are a business, we will work with you to reduce the number of AFA activations at your premises and advise you on how you can investigate whether it is a genuine fire or a false alarm.

Following our advice, we will expect you to reduce the number of AFA calls to your business premises; by changing your business/manufacturing processes, amending your fire alarm response procedures and contacting your fire alarm provider or servicing company for specialist advice.

Subscribe to our newsletters for latest news and events.