Important amendment to our policy
From 1 August 2017, we have included prisons, care homes and hospitals into our policy for attending automatic fire alarms. This builds on the established policy introduced on 1 February 2017 which adapted the way we respond to automatic fire alarms. See below to find out how this affects you and your premises, and what you need to do.
Automatic fire alarms (AFA) are commonly used in commercial, industrial and public buildings. They help to keep buildings and their occupants safe by providing an early warning of a possible fire, and 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.
How we respond to automatic fire alarms
Because of the very high number of false alarms that we receive, we do not provide an automatic emergency “blue light” attendance to AFA calls for non-residential premises. Our staff will assess calls to determine the most appropriate response.
- 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 most non-residential properties (buildings where people don’t live, such as shops, offices and businesses).
This amendment to procedure does not currently apply to:
- Critical National Infrastructure
- Control of Major Accident Hazard sites (COMAH)
- Major heritage locations
- Boarding schools
- Private domestic dwellings and sheltered accommodation schemes
Business owners and managers have legal responsibilities regarding fire safety.
You should consider how our 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. See our fact sheet on how to investigate a fire alarm (pdf).
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 to prevent 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. See our leaflet for more guidance and information on how to prevent and reduce false alarms in your buildings (pdf).
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.
Although we do not charge for attending AFA false alarms, we will consider suspending an automatic response to your AFA calls if you have:
- three or more AFA generated false alarms in a five day rolling period
- five or more AFA generated false alarms in a 13 week rolling period
If this is the case, we would only respond to confirmed reports of fire.
Why we don’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.
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.
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.
In revising our response procedure, we have followed best practice guidance from the Chief Fire Officers’ Association, incorporating learning from all the fire and rescue services in the United Kingdom, to ensure that our processes do not put the public at risk.
Files available to download
- SFRS response to AFA calls (186.2 KB)
Our standard operating procedure for responding to automatic fire alarms (AFAs).
- Fire alarms policy amendment - frequently asked questions (105.3 KB)
Answers to frequently asked questions about fire alarms and the amendment to our policy
- How to investigate a fire alarm (46.7 KB)
How to investigate a fire alarm in a commercial premises.
- The causes and prevention of false alarms (51.9 KB)
The reasons why false alarms are caused and what you can do to prevent them.