Fire detection and alarms

Automatic fire alarms (AFA) help to keep a building's occupants safe by providing early warning of a possible fire, enabling people inside the building to evacuate.

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.


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How we respond to automatic fire alarms

Due to the COVID-19 virus (Coronavirus), we have adjusted the way we respond to AFAs to reduce the spread of the virus between Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) personnel and members of the public. We are as far as possible observing the government's direction for social distancing.

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.

Because of this and the need to reduce the possible spread of the COVID-19 virus, we no longer provide an automatic emergency "blue light" attendance to AFAs. 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.

Responsibilities of businesses

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. Our guide to how to investigate a fire alarm (PDF) can also help.

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.

Causes of false alarms

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.

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. Advice will be given by our fire safety officers via telephone, video call or email, we will not attend your premises in person as a matter of course whilst COVID-19 virus remains a threat.

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.

Why we won't respond to all automatic fire alarm calls

We're not legally required to respond to calls originating from a fire alarm system to investigate if there is a fire. We will always attend any premises where we have confirmation through the 999 system that the building is on fire, or where there is insufficient information available via the 999 call to reduce the emergency attendance.

By improving how we handle AFA calls, we can:

  • reduce the number of emergency blue light responses to calls, which in turn reduces the risk to fire crews and other road users
  • Release firefighters and fire appliances to deal with real emergencies, carry out vital training or deliver valuable fire safety advice in the community
  • Reduce fuel and mobilisation costs
  • Reduce wear to appliances
  • Reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus between SFRS personnel and the public

Does this apply if I live in a private property?

If you live in a private property comprising of private homes, sheltered housing, purpose built flats and houses in multiple occupation (HMO), unlike businesses, you will not receive an automatic suspension of our attendance.

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 and depending on the responses we receive, we may attend to investigate the reason for the AFA. Under normal circumstances, if we attend we would also offer a safe and well visit to make people safer in their home. Where required, this includes the fitting of free smoke detectors. However, due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak and in order to reduce its spread, this service is suspended and will only be offered if the attending fire crew have concerns over your safety.

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