A false alarm occurs when FRV attends an incident to find there is no emergency and no need for fire fighting or other expertise.
Most automatic fire alarm systems are a legal requirement, or have been installed to provide fire safety, and it is essential they operate efficiently at all times.
It is important to reduce unwanted false alarms as they impact on emergency service delivery and business resources through:
- Unwanted and unnecessary calls increasing the risk of accident and injury to firefighters and the general public as firefighters will treat every incident as an emergency.
- Response times to real emergencies can be delayed through attendance at false alarms.
- Congestion to the Triple Zero (000) emergency call system.
- Complacency to alarms when there is a real emergency.
- Businesses can be charged for false alarms when there is no reasonable excuse.
- Inefficient alarms can result in additional maintenance costs.
- Disruption to business activities can lead to a loss of productivity.
In order to avoid being charged for false alarms businesses need to be vigilant with assessment, maintenance, and management of alarm systems.
FRV is required to keep records of all buildings/properties with automated fire alarm systems. This ensures we have up to date information if there is a need to contact the owner/occupier of a building, such instances are usually to disseminate proactive information or to investigate incidents of false alarms of fire.
It is important to understand if your fire alarm system suits your needs. Chances are your business or site will fall into one or more of the following categories. Be proactive don’t wait for a false alarm to occur before you assess your site.
If your fire alarm system generates faults that cannot be explained then it may be worth investigating the application of new technologies including analogue addressable systems.
Owners and their representatives must ensure that their fire alarm system and the entire site it protects is managed effectively to provide fire safety and to mitigate unwanted false alarms.
In developing management systems, the challenge is to 'think outside the square' to foresee any possible problems and implement prevention strategies before a false alarm occurs.
The management of your site may include the following:
Appointment of a responsible person
Does your building or site have an appointed person responsible to oversee the management of the fire alarm system?
Appointing someone to manage the fire alarm system has proved to assist in reducing unwanted false alarms. Personnel that have been appointed to this role include:
- site engineers
- building managers
- fire wardens
They should be motivated, authoritative, and receive training in all aspects of your fire alarm system and monitoring equipment.
Procedures for visitors including sub-contractors
Smoke detectors activate from dust, heat, fumes, etc. that are the common product of trade activities, and so it may be necessary for specific zones or circuits of the fire alarm system to be isolated prior to work commencing. Managing an isolated alarm is a priority when this occurs.
When managing an isolated alarm always use minimum isolation methods.
Depending on the length and purpose of isolation, an isolation may amount to a disconnection in which case a building permit is required.
Procedures can be implemented to protect your fire alarm system from generating these types of unwanted false alarms.
Education and training of personnel
For personnel responsible for the fire alarm system training should include:
- correct testing procedures
- correct isolation procedures
- liaison with fire maintenance company
For all personnel and occupants of the site, education should include:
- overview of the fire alarm system, including detector types and positions
- information on which activities and conditions are likely to activate the fire alarm system
- information on policies and procedures that may affect the fire alarm system
False alarm prevention should form part of all new personnel orientation programs.
Detector types (e.g. smoke, thermal) should be chosen to suit the environment and must comply with Australian Standards. You should also consider
- the calibration or sensitivity of the detectors may need to be adjusted.
- the position of detectors
Note: If you wish to modify any part of your fire alarm system, all changes must be approved by a registered building surveyor. We suggest you advise your insurance company of any intended changes.
Modern day fire alarm systems are complex in design, and need to be maintained by a reputable fire maintenance company that has expertise in this field.
As a minimum requirement, an automatic fire alarm system should be designed, installed and maintained in accordance with the requirements of the relevant Australian Standards.
Additional maintenance is often necessary to prevent unwanted false alarms.
Items to consider ensuring maximum fire protection:
- Do not reset your system prior to arrival of the fire service. It is now an offence to interfere with a Fire Indicator Panel or other apparatus. (Applicable from July 1 2020 under the FRV Act)
- The resetting of the fire alarm system will not prevent the FRV from responding to the call. It may also influence any decision on charges for false alarms, and will certainly result in increased cost should the charge proceed as the attending fire fighters will need additional time to establish the premises are not at risk from fire.
- Only fire service members attending an ‘alarm of fire’ have the authorisation to deal with the emergency, and the owner or occupier has a duty of care to ensure that firefighters are not hindered in any way in the performance of their statutory duties. In the past, site managers have incorrectly misread the details on the fire alarm panel and investigated the wrong area. This is an important public safety issue.
- Ensure faults are investigated and quickly fixed.
- Should there be a period where the system is not correctly functioning, ensure alternative fire safety measures are instigated. Actions to consider are included in managing an isolated alarm.
- Attending to fire alarm system faults in a timely and efficient manner will ensure the installed fire alarm system is in complete readiness in case of an emergency.
- Undetermined malfunctions – e.g. system returns to ‘normal’ status after alarm activates.
FRV attends many false alarms each year where the automatic fire alarm system returns to a ‘normal’ status before the brigade has arrived on scene. In these situations there is usually no indication on the fire alarm panel of which circuit/zone has activated. There are a number of reasons why this can occur:
- a voltage change has occurred in the fire alarm panel
- the wiring in the fire alarm panel could be old or corroded
- a valve monitor alarm could have dirty contacts
- a sprinkler pressure switch is not seating correctly
- there is corrosive wiring on components of a sprinkler system.
A maintenance log book must be kept on site and be available to the fire services 24 hours a day
Building design is frequently found to be the cause of unwanted false alarm activations.
This usually occurs when a fire alarm system is installed in the building with little or no planning for the activities of the occupants.
It is better to address potential fire alarm problems before the building is commissioned.
Suggested building design strategies for reducing false alarms.
- At planning stage research what type of system suits your needs. Some options for smoke detectors include aspirated, laser point, beam, filtered point, video and photo optical. The latter option may be attractive as it is often less expensive to install, however in the long term choosing a system that suits your workplace and does not generate false alarms may be the most cost effective.
- At planning stage discuss tailoring the system design to the occupants needs instead of accepting a maximum coverage design (often chosen due to its ease of complying with all Standards).
- Consider conducting a risk assessment of potential false alarm problems with your fire maintenance company prior to occupancy.
- For renovations of existing buildings, consult with the designer or building contractor and make changes to the existing fire alarm system if necessary.
- Check to see if the floor plan layout has changed since the fire alarm system was originally installed.
- Consider upgrading your fire alarm system, including alarm panels to optimum standards.
- Upgrade buildings where poor internal and external plumbing design allows water penetration.
- Upgrade building design and layout where there is inadequate airflow management.
- Ensure that all appropriate signage is in place before the building is commissioned, e.g. height restriction signs for car-parks, no smoking signs and false alarm prevention notices.
It is an offence in Victoria to damage or interfere with a fire indicator panel or other apparatus that transmits the alarm signal to the fire services without reasonable excuse.
The offence provisions are:
- Resetting a FIP (fire indicator panel) without a reasonable excuse; and
- Damaging or interfering with an FIP or other apparatus without a reasonable excuse – this includes isolating, disabling, disconnecting or modifying your monitored automatic alarm system.
The Act and the Building Regulations contain many offence provisions. An offence provision can be identified by the penalty provision at the end of the relevant section or regulation.
In order to avoid being charged for false alarms businesses need to be vigilant with the assessment, maintenance, and management of the building and fire alarm system.
The submission is an important part of the FRV process in determining whether or not a charge will be applied to a false alarm call. This provides an opportunity for building managers to outline all proactive measures taken to reduce false alarms. FRV will not charge where there is a reasonable excuse provided and if the alarm was not preventable or foreseeable.
Submissions will only be accepted by the party nominated in the FRV notification letter and must be made within 14 days of the notification date.
Reviewed 22 January 2021