Reducing False Alarms

How we respond to automatic fire alarms is changing

How we manage and respond to reported automatic fire alarms, and the actions we will take to reduce false fire alarms is changing from 1 October 2017.

From 1 October 2017 call filtering for a reported automatic fire alarm for certain types of premises will now apply from 7am and 10pm (currently 8am to 6pm).

If your premises is NOT a domestic dwelling, residential care home, hospital, hotel or B&B, boarding school, heritage building or locations where heritage items are stored call filtering will affected you.

If you call 999, 112 or contact us indirectly through an alarm receiving centre and report an automatic fire alarm between 7am and 10pm the response you get will depend the premises type.

Reducing False Alarms (valid until 1 October 2017)

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In Cornwall we attend nearly 1500 false alarms a year, and only 2% turn out to be fires. This means 98% of our calls to fire alarm activations are false alarms. The impact of responding to false alarms is a drain on our resources and a distraction from real emergency calls and other community services.

Businesses in the UK have nearly 250,000 false alarms a year and according to the Fire Industry Association, this costs business and fire and rescue services £1 billion. Every false alarm causes disruption; this may affect your customer service, your productivity or the general routine of your organisation.

False alarms also have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your fire evacuation strategy and may put the lives of your staff and visitors at risk.  If a genuine fire alarm is ignored (for example, because people mistake it for yet another false alarm), this can lead to death, injury and extensive damage.  It is well known that many companies that suffer a serious fire may never effectively recover and could stop trading.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service have developed a toolkit to help businesses reduce the number of false alarms, limit business disruption and free up our resources for other essential activities. By following our guidance in our toolkit you could reduce/eliminate the disruptive impact of false alarms, improve productivity and save money.

The guidance covers the following;

  • Your responsibilities
  • What is a false alarm?
  • How many false alarms are too many?
  • Fire alarm management
  • Emergency plan
  • Action we take help reduce false alarms
  • How we respond to reported automatic fire alarms

Download the  Toolkit for Reducing false alarms

How we respond to automatic fire alarms

If you call 999, 112 or contact us indirectly through an alarm receiving centre to report an automatic fire alarm, the response you get will depend on the time the call is made, and the information we receive.

In all premises with the exception of residential care homes and domestic dwellings the activation of a fire alarm should no longer be the trigger to call the Fire Service; all other types of premises should investigate the reason for the alarm activation before calling the Fire Service.

We do not respond to known false fire alarms. If we have mobilised a fire engine as a result of you dialling 999, and if during your investigation you discover that it is a false alarm before our arrival, please redial 999 to inform us it is a false alarm so the fire engine can be returned and made available for other emergencies.

Between 8am to 6pm

We will no longer mobilise a fire engine to an automatic fire alarm between 8am and 6pm unless one of the following conditions are met:

  • The premises is a residential care home or domestic dwelling, these premises will always receive one fire engine to investigate the cause of the fire alarm regardless of the time of the call, and will not be subject to any call filtering
  • The premises is a sleeping risk or heritage property (e.g. hospital, hotel, boarding school, museum and cathedral) or
  • The type of premises is unknown at the time of call (e.g. a call from an alarm receiving centre with an incomplete address)

If you dial 999 and report an automatic fire alarm and we determine that we are not attending based on the information we receive, you will need to investigate the cause of the fire alarm.  If during your investigation you discover signs of fire, such as smell of burning, smoke or flames you will need to redial 999 and report a fire. 

Between 6pm to 8am

If you dial 999 and report the activation of an automatic fire alarm and the cause of the fire alarm is unknown at the time of the call we will send one fire engine to investigate the cause of the fire alarm, regardless of the premises type (premises filtering does not apply during these times).

Examine the reason why you are using an auto-dialler to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), if the reason is for property protection when the premises is unoccupied, consider taking the automatic call to the ARC offline when the property is occupied (e.g. during the day) or request the ARC to contact you before dialling 999 or 112.  Talk to your alarm installer or phone the ARC directly to discuss these options. 

We only recommend using an ARC if a delay in calling 999 or 112 would put people at significant risk (e.g. residential care homes) or if the building is left unoccupied for long periods of time. 

In an emergency, always backup your auto-dialler with a 999 or 112 call to ensure a fire engine is en-route, never just rely just on your ARC if the building is occupied as these systems can fail.

If your business has frequent false fire alarms and you default to calling the Fire Service when your fire alarm activates (residential care homes and domestic premises exempt), we will provide you with advice and guidance to help you reduce the number of false alarms.  We can also in some extreme cases implement cost recovery measures to businesses who have frequent false alarms and who default to calling 999 (please refer to the 'Toolkit for Reducing false alarms' above for more information).

We recommend you review your emergency evacuation plan to include an investigation period before calling the Fire Service (residential care homes and domestic premises exempt) when your fire alarm activates, unless it is a known or suspected a fire.

When the fire alarm sounds, everyone in the building should immediately follow the fire action plan. This plan must be well publicised within your building.  Designated staff members (or fire wardens) should be trained to safely find out the cause of the alarm.

If there are no signs of fire you will need to establish the cause of the fire alarm, and ensure there is no fire present and declare the premises safe to re-enter.  For full guidance on how to investigate a fire alarm activation refer to our 'Toolkit for Reducing false alarms' above.