AF&RS introduces new Fire Alarm Signal procedure

Avon Fire & Rescue Service (AF&RS) is changing how it responds to Automatic Fire Alarm signals to reduce its response to unnecessary false alarms.

From the 20th March 2020, the new procedure will be introduced and will mean the automatic response to some alarms will be removed.

This change follows the implementation of the Service Plan (2019-2022) to ensure that the AF&RS is better able to match resource to risk and ensure public safety.

In 2018/19 alone, AF&RS attended over 5,700 calls to Automatic Fire Alarms (AFA) which turned out to be false alarms.

The Service receives and responds to thousands of AFA calls each year, with only a very small percentage of these turning out to be a real emergency.

Due to this, the Service will no longer automatically respond to AFAs triggered at business premises such as offices, shops and factories until a fire is confirmed.

Domestic premises and sleeping accommodation, including residential flats, Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMO), hotels, student accommodation and shelter housing will still receive a response to alarms operating.

Similarly, high-risk premises such as hospitals and heritage premises, along with Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) sites will also still receive a response.

If an automatic call is received from an Alarm Receiving Company (ARC) then a response will not be automatically mobilised. 

Instead, an attendance of crews will only be made if a key holder can confirm that there is an actual fire or a secondary call is made to 999 confirming there is a fire.

Temporary Area manager for Operational Response, Steve Quinton, said: “97% of all alarms attended last year turned out to be false alarms.

“Each false alarm diverts our emergency vehicles away from real emergencies. False alarms also impact on our prevention and protection work, core and critical training and increase the risk to road users from unnecessary blue-light responses.

“These new procedures will bring the service in line with other fire and rescue services across the country and also addresses concerns raised following a visit from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services HMICFRS visit in 2018.

“I would like to encourage all businesses to now ensure that they have suitable procedures in place to manage their alarms and ensure all staff are aware of their procedures and that alarms are fully tested in accordance with the relevant standard.

“Staff from our Technical Fire Safety department will also be available to assist businesses and ensure they know their responsibilities.”

Unnecessary response to AFAs has a wider impact on the community.

For AF&RS, these calls divert essential services from real incidents; causes risk to the public and responding crews; disrupts training, arson reduction and community work; and increases costs to the Service.

Similarly, businesses will suffer downtime from evacuations, face disruption to production, and potentially impact reputation.

All businesses are reminded that fire alarm maintenance, false alarm reduction and procedures to identify false alarms are the responsibility of the premises’ responsible person.

Under the regulatory reform ‘Fire Safety Order’ 2005, all premises have a responsibility to ensure they have appropriate procedures in place to manage false alarms within their premises. 

All premises with an AFA system should also have call filtering at the premises to ensure false alarms are identified prior to the Fire Service being called.

If you are a business owner in the AF&RS area, you should act now and ensure you have an effective investigation procedure.

Business owners have a responsibility to:

  • Review your alarm management strategy. Do you have a delayed alarm so that you can investigate the cause before calling the Fire Service?
  • Ensure regular maintenance of your fire alarm.
  • Ensure you have a suitable number of responsible people and key holders who can attend the premises out of hours.
  • If you are linked to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) ensure they have the correct contact details for the premises, opening hours and the key holder’s details.
  • Investigate all false alarms and look at what you can do to stop them happening again.
  • Put in place a strategy to investigate the cause of the activation the moment it happens so that your staff can quickly identify false alarms, reset the system and return to work.

With the new procedure, the following premises will still receive a response to alarms (although they may be subject to some call challenging depending on the premises type and time of day):

Domestic premises:

  • Sleeping accommodation including residential flats, Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO), hotels, student accommodation and sheltered housing
  • Residential care and nursing homes (these premises will not be subject to call challenging)

High-risk premises:

  • Primary Care Trust Hospitals and Private Hospitals
  • COMAH sites.
  • Heritage premises
  • Critical national Infrastructure
  • Educational establishments
  • Premises that do not fall into the above criteria but are locally determined to be unsuitable for call challenging

If you would like to read more about how to reduce false fire alarms and the legislation please visit www.avonfire.gov.uk/business-safety for information or to contact the Technical Fire Safety Team.