The LWF Blog

Facilities and Fire Alarm Systems – Dealing with False Alarms – Pt 1

April 22, 2014 1:20 pm

A full evacuation of a facility due to a false fire alarm can be a time consuming and thoroughly irritating process. Of course, it is essential to follow your fire safety plan should a fire alarm sound and if this happens regularly without an apparent cause, it can prove costly and disruptive to your day to day operations.

A fire alarm is designed and configured to warn of fire danger and so to protect the staff and building occupants. If the system ‘cries wolf’ too often, it is common to find that the sound of the alarm does not continue to inspire the occupants to evacuate promptly and without delay. This lack of urgency is a real danger to all occupants and so it is essential that the cause of the false fire alarms is found and resolved.

System Maintenance

The first port of call in false fire alarm situations is usually that of the fire alarm maintenance company, who are asked to come out and ‘fix’ the problem. It is necessary to have the alarm system checked and tested regularly but, all too often in the case of false fire alarms, the maintenance company can find nothing ‘wrong’ with the system.

This can lead to some frustration on the part of the owner of the fire alarm system, but this technical check is not the end of the road.

The human angle

A correctly configured fire alarm system can instigate a fire alarm for a reason which a human being would not. On a smaller scale, we have all spent time waving a newspaper at a home fire alarm after removing slightly burnt toast from the grill. The fact that we already know why the alarm sounded means that we do not evacuate our houses, but just make the alarm stop.

In your facility, it may be that there is a reason for your false fire alarms that is caused by an individual who does not realise they are to blame. This could be that someone is making toast, someone has a sneaky cigarette out of a window, someone uses hair tongs or hair straighteners too near a smoke detector.

In this way, it would not be correct to say that it was a false fire alarm, but the fire alarm is actually doing its job  and detecting sources of smoke. To resolve the situation, note the times of the fire alarms in your log book and look for a pattern. Perhaps the false fire alarms do not happen when a member of staff is on holiday, maybe they only happen when a part time member of staff begins work.

In any case, false fire alarms that are caused by human actions can often be resolved by discussing the situation with members of staff and building occupants to ensure they know that these actions can cause a full building evacuation.

If it is found that a necessary and not dangerous, legitimate work process is causing the false fire alarms, it may be that the sensors nearest to this process can be moved or adjusted in order to not trigger so easily.

Next week’s blog will look in more depth at fire alarms and categorising the main causes. In the meantime, if you have any issues with the fire alarm system in your facility or wish to discuss this blog, please contact Peter Gyere on 020 8668 8663.

Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF) is a  specialist fire engineering and fire risk management consultancy, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings.


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