Automatic fire alarms - reducing false 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 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 your property, dial 999 immediately – even if the building has an automatic fire alarm.

How we respond

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

98% of the residential and domestic AFA incidents that we attended from October 2022 to March 2023 were false alarms. These accounted for 976 mobilisations – that's more than 5 fire engines a day being sent out on blue lights to false alarms where there isn't a fire.

Last year, we made the change for businesses, and false alarm visits have decreased by over 95%.

How will this affect me?

We are committed to keeping our communities safe, and nothing is changing in our response to a real fire.

Our mobilising control operators will ask a series of questions designed to determine the nature of the call and whether there is a fire, or there are signs of fire. Depending on the responses we receive, we may attend to investigate the reason for the AFA.

Our response will be the same whether the call to us is by the occupier or from a fire alarm monitoring organisation (FAMO).

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 fumes from cooking. These may be caused by incorrectly sited detector heads or a fire alarm system that is not serviced properly.

How can I investigate an alarm activation?

  • If you have one, 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 the location.
  • Have a member of staff remain at the panel and keep in contact via mobile phone.
  • When investigating an alarm activation 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 can I do to make my home as safe as possible?

Our Community Safety Teams work hard with the community to provide advice and education on how to stay safe at home and reduce the risk of fire.

We offer free Safe and Well visits where we can come to you, a loved one or someone you care for, with personalised support and advice about fire safety.

Visit our Safe and well webpage to book one.

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