Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants
Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants


Client login
Forgotten password
Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Facebook Subscribe to our blog

Lawrence Webster Forrest
Legion House
Lower Road

Tel: +44 (0)20 8668 8663 Fax: +44 (0)20 8668 8583

Facilities Management & Fire Safety - How people act in a fire situation - Part 5

Posted by LWF: 12/02/2018 13:15

In LWF’s blog series for Facilities Managers and those who have an interest in or responsibility for fire safety, we have been looking at how people react when there is a fire. There has long been a preconception that people panic or act irrationally when informed a fire is in progress, but research has shown this is very rarely the case. In Part 4, the frequency of fire alarm soundings was discussed and in Part 5, the need to reduce false alarms and why they are an issue in fire safety terms is explored.

Regular occupants of a building should only ever hear the fire alarm if there is a fire, or if they have been informed in advance of a test. While false alarms are a common issue, they are to be avoided if at all possible. Frequent false fire alarm soundings can affect the safety of the building occupants as they become complacent. They are likely to assume it is just another false alarm when it is heard and may fail to evacuate the building.

For buildings where there are very many fire detectors and false alarm signals are unavoidable, it may be possible to install a system whereby the first alarm is silent and indicated to designated staff only, for example, security staff. This allows investigation of the cause before the alarm proper is sounded. Any such investigation period would have a time-related element, as well as a ‘coincidence’ detection effect, for example, should 2 devices activate, the investigation period will be overridden. 

The downside of this solution is that any delay in a real fire situation can increase the amount of danger to the building occupants, however, if the first and silent alarm is urgently investigated, the time lost can be counter-balanced by the lack of delay in evacuation when the full alarm is sounded, coupled with the ability for a second signal to override the investigation.

The organisation of staff alarms and when to notify the Fire Service should be considered carefully. While it is acceptable to incorporate management and staff processes to reflect the number of false alarms experienced, the mistake of writing fire safety policy and practices around false alarms should not be made. Each instruction and procedure must assume it is a real fire and operate on that assumption.

In addition to the wish to not allow false alarms to take over and dull the responses of the building occupants, there can be encouragement from the Fire Service to investigate the validity of a fire alarm before calling them. The Fire Service in a number of areas, particularly rural ones, rely on the use of retained (on call) firefighters, and as such, a false alarm call-out can be extremely disruptive to firefighters who have to leave their ‘day jobs’ to come and attend. 

While some buildings and occupancies are suitable for a formal agreement to pre-verify the existence of a fire before the Fire Service are called, such arrangements are only as good as the staff on duty and the training provided to them. Indeed, there are situations where this is not appropriate, such as premises in which people sleep or where the early arrival of the Fire Service is necessary for the safety of occupants, as in care home and hospital situations.

Voice alarm systems are generally accepted as being superior to a simple fire alarm sounder, as they contain verbal instructions for those hearing it. While voice alarm systems show a marked improvement in response times and evacuation procedures, it would still be true that an excess of false alarms using such a system would have an adverse effect.

In Part 6, fire development will be discussed. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.

Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years' experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings. 

While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF's publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.

Leave a reply





[ Change the image ]


Subscribe to our fire safety blogs

Email Format
* indicates required


  • Fire Safety for Healthcare Premises - Vertical Escape - Part 23

    In LWF’s blog series for healthcare professionals, we look to give information on best practice in fire safety for hospitals and other healthcare premises. In part 22 of this series, we looked at the issue of vertical escape in relation to stairways and ascertained that in effect, all stairways in a hospital must be considered escape stairways as they would be used for escape in case of fire. In part 23, we will continue looking...


  • Facilities Management & Fire Safety - Inspection, Testing and Maintenance - Part 1

    In LWF’s blog series for Facilities Managers or those with an interest in or responsibility for fire safety, we aim to give an overview of best practice and methods of applying or maintaining fire prevention provision. In part 1, the importance of inspection, testing and maintenance of fire protection measures is discussed.Once fire protection measures are installed in a building, it would be comforting to think that they were simply waiting in case they...


  • Fire Engineering Design and Risk Assessment - Foam Proportioning - Part 4

    In LWF’s fire engineering blog series for Architects and others in the building design business, we have been looking at fire suppression systems and in particular, foam systems. In part 3, it was ascertained that foam proportioning is the means by which foam concentrate is mixed with water at the necessary ratio. An overview of inductors (also known as line proportioners) was given. In...


  • Fire Safety for Healthcare Premises - Vertical Escape - Part 22

    In LWF’s blog series for healthcare professionals, the aim is to give information on best practice of fire safety in hospitals and other healthcare premises. In part 21 of this series, LWF looked at the necessary considerations of hospital streets and escape route widths. In part 22, we will look at vertical escape using stairways.While it is possible for organisations to denote certain staircases as escape stairs (and therefore, certain staircases are not classed...


  • Fire Engineering Design and Risk Assessment - Foam Systems - Part 3

    In LWF’s Fire Engineering blog series for Architects and others in the building design business, we have been looking at fire suppression systems and, in particular, foam concentrate systems. In part 2, we began an overview of the different types of foam concentrate and part 3 will continue from that point before discussing foam proportioning.Synthetic, or high expansion foam is produced from detergents and, as a result, can produce great quantities of ‘bubbles’ making...


Case Studies

The Wohl Neuroscience Institute - Fire Safety, Strategy & Engineering
Key Facts: Client: King’s Clinical Neuroscience Institute Project Manager: MACE Ltd Designers: Devereux Architects/Allies and Morrison Approximate Size: 7,400m2 Description of the Project:...

Read more..

General Bulletins

Fire - The External Risk
When we consider fire safety, our focus is normally from within, what can we do to prevent the occurrence of fire and how we can limit its damage.  Whilst this is the correct stance to take, we m...

Read more..

Technical Bulletins

Evacuation Modelling - Factor in Human Behaviour
Evacuation of buildings can be analyzed in different ways. Approved Document B (ADB) which provides guidance on meeting the requirements of the England and Wales Building Regulations with regard to fi...

Read more..

Site map | Web development London