Fire alarms and systems have been designed to give early warning to building occupants in the event of a fire. Early fire detection can mean the difference between a manageable fire incident and a disastrous one. In today’s environment fire alarms and active fire suppression systems are commonly known as life safety systems.
We respond to buildings with installed commercial life safety systems. These systems can be monitored by the Fire Service or by a third party private monitoring company.
CFS alarms are managed in South Australia in line with national best practice
Managed Fire Alarm Service
The SA Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS), SA Country Fire Service (CFS) and Telstra have worked together to develop a solution that provides a monitored fire alarm service to certain buildings across South Australia.
The Managed Fire Alarm Service (MFAS) allows clients to connect their premises fire alarm to the CFS monitoring centre. MFAS is a managed service comprised of the following elements:
- supply, configuration and ongoing support of an Alarm Signalling Equipment (ASE) Device by Telstra, eliminating the need for clients to purchase a new ASE or be responsible for future upgrades
- maintenance and support of the equipment (some exclusions may apply)
- supply and setup by Telstra of secure communications between the alarm and the SA Fire Services to enable monitoring
- dual network services providing redundant connectivity via two separate mobile networks
- monthly bill from Telstra to the end users for the rental of equipment.
To be eligible for the service you must:
- have a Fire Indicator Panel (FIP) or Fire Sprinkler System installed at your site before we can install the equipment
- be approved by the CFS.
As you may have heard the 3G network will soon become redundant. Telstra, MFS and the CFS identified this issue early and created a solution that will provide coverage for 4G and 5G, now and in the future.
A deed of variation was signed in December 2020, enabling an upgrade to the current ASE's, and extending MFAS for a further five years. By acting early, the next generation ASE can be installed and functioning well before 3G end of life. It also provides the opportunity to maximise the life of the new ASE.
MFAS version 2.0 will still use dual mobile carriers and there will be no transition cost associated with this process if the installation is performed during the transition period.
What happens now?
Telstra will provide further information with your next MFAS bill, including details about completing an electronic MFAS Transition form. Once this form is submitted, Telstra will then arrange a date for installation of the new ASE device.
The MFAS is a further development of the previous fire alarm monitoring solution that has been developed by Telstra in consultation with the CFS and MFS.
It has been developed to address the decommissioning of the copper telephone lines associated with the roll-out of the optical fibre based National Broadband Network (NBN).
The MFAS incorporates technology that utilises the mobile networks of two separate carriers to offer diverse pathways for alarm monitoring. This alleviates the reliance on copper services scheduled to be removed as part of the NBN rollout and in which minimises the reliance on NBN services.
In a small number of areas where dual mobile network coverage may not be available, a dual monitoring path may be engineered using one mobile network, and an alternative NBN fibre or wireless connection.
We need the most up-to-date information on the owner/occupier and after hours contacts of the alarmed premises we monitor.
We use this information to correspond with you regarding monitoring of your fire alarm.
Our monitoring centre will also use this information to contact you urgently should an occurrence require your attention. Please note: you will NOT receive a call from the CFS or our monitoring centre for a primary fire alarm activation.
If you have any issues completing this form, please contact the CFS Fire Alarms Officer on 08 8115 3365.
Privately Monitored Alarms
Third party security and privately monitored alarms is a service provided by independent security monitoring centres for residential and commercial (business) properties. The owner/occupier generally engages one of these monitoring centres to provide real time intruder, systems and fire detection monitoring. An activation of the fire detection system will not result in the immediate dispatch of the fire service to the property.
To prevent the attendance of the fire service to a false alarm at your property, speak to your security monitoring provider/security system installer.
These are some things you can discuss with them:
- Is your system installed correctly?
- Are intruder or panic alarms reporting as a fire alarm?
- Is your system maintained to the relevant standards?
- What instructions have you given to your monitoring provider on what to do when a fire alarm signal is received?
- Who should they call first, second etc?
- Are all your contact details up to date?
- How many contacts will they call?
- Can you put their number into the contact of your phone so that you know it is them calling you?
- Before testing or routine maintenance, you may have isolated your ASE device to the Fire Service, but did you tell your security provider?
- Do the relevant people know if your system is monitored by security?
- Inform the incoming owner/tenant that the system is monitored by security.
- Speak to your provider about modifications you can make to the system.
The SA Country Fire Service can charge for the attendance to a false alarm to a privately monitored alarm.
Unwanted false alarms
We respond to a significant number of unwanted false alarms per year.
An unwanted false alarm is when we respond to a fire alarm activation and where we deemed the activation was preventable.
Unwanted false alarms can:
- put lives at risk due to a "culture of complacency" created by unwanted false alarms
- cause business downtime due to evacuations
- results in firefighting resources being unavailable for genuine emergencies
- increase the risk of accidents and injuries to firefighters and the public when attending unwanted and unnecessary call-outs under lights and sirens
- can add to maintenance costs for building owners and managers if they are the result of inefficient alarms.
Main causes for unwanted false alarms
- poor ventilation
- burnt toast
- cooking fumes (indoors and outside)
- aerosol sprays
- cigarettes and candles
- dirty smoke detectors
- damage to break glass alarms/Manual Call Points (MCPs)
- poorly maintained systems
- insect infestation
- party smoke
We have measures to reduce the number of unwanted false alarms by:
- charging for attendance to unwanted false alarms
- amendments to legislation to raise the standard of fire alarm systems and their maintenance
- developing partnerships with key stakeholders, including building owners/occupiers and the fire protection industry
- community education programs and information.
You can help manage the unwanted false alarms at your site:
- Ensure your fire alarm system is tested and maintained to the relevant Australian Standards by a professional fire alarm technician.
- Maintain a detailed log of all unwanted false alarms. This can show you causal factors, such as occupant or system behavioural patterns and faulty components.
- Use and enforce an on-site works’ management plan that will prevent activations by tradespeople using welders, blowers, and the like. Have the tradesperson or contractor sign in and acknowledge that your site has a monitored fire alarm system.
- Protect and isolate detectors when undertaking work which generates dust, smoke, steam, or when using spray paint and other materials.
- Manage work activities that produce dust, heat, smoke etc to ensure workers do not activate a detector.
- Ventilate steam and fumes away from smoke detectors particularly from bathrooms and kitchens.
- Use the building public address system to tell occupants and visitors of the reason for the alarm activation.
- Provide information to staff, tenants, clients, tradespeople and visitors on how to effectively live and work with the installed fire alarm system.
You can review building design:
- Ensure the building components provide adequate ventilation, especially in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry areas.
- When designing or renovating ensure detectors are suitable for the occupancy.
You can educate your occupants. They should:
- NOT walk away from a toaster that has been reset to darken toast
- NOT leave cooking unattended
- NOT smoke near smoke detectors
- NOT direct aerosol spray at smoke detectors.
If you are an owner/occupier, you must:
- ensure your fire alarm system is maintained to Australian Standards by a certified maintenance technician.
- keep a maintenance logbook with your company's name and contact details adjacent to the Fire Indicator Panel (FIP). You should record sequentially all known alarms, faults, disconnections, maintenance, and inspection procedures. Further maintenance recording requirements are legislated under the SA Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 and the Minister's Specification SA76.
- complete a Certificate of Maintenance annually and send to your relevant council's Building Inspector. Your maintenance company should be able to provide this for you.
- ensure all fire alarm zones are in operational condition unless specifically isolated for the purposes of maintenance of the system or other acceptable reason e.g. workers are in the area, smoke machine operating. These isolated sections must be restored to operational effectiveness as soon as possible. It is your responsibility to take any extra fire precautions and to advise the building's occupants about the isolated sections of the fire alarm system.
- have a fire and evacuation plan detailing the course of action to be taken by the occupants in the event of a fire or other emergency.
- give all persons permanently working or residing in the building instruction on what to do in the event of a fire.
- keep records of the training given and produce them if asked by an authorised Fire Officer.
- not silence the alarm system or Early Warning and Intercommunication System (EWIS) once activated until a search of the area indicated on the alarm panel has been made. Once it has been established there is no danger to the occupants the EWIS system may be silenced.
Managing unwanted false alarms
Unwanted false alarms (UFAs) sometimes happen when people set off an automatic fire alarm system on purpose.
You'll need to balance making it hard for vandals to activate the system and easy for people to activate it during an emergency.
- find out if the building needs to have Manual Call Points (MCPs) installed in "high risk" locations
- conduct frequent security patrols to prevent vandalism
- place security cameras at MCP locations
- locate MCPs in highly visible locations where offenders will feel vulnerable
- put in place fines and penalties for offenders who maliciously cause UFAs
- place correct signage near alarms
- keep obstructions away from the alarm
- frequently check that the glass is intact
- install covers on MCPs to avoid accidental activation by bumping or by the weather.
All manual call points other than the MCP located adjacent to the Fire Indicator Panel (FIP), need to be programmed to activate locally only.
If you need to install MCPs under a performance assessment, you may need to submit a building variation to the local authority to make these changes.
You'll need approval of the relevant authority and CFS to change your fire alarm system.
You need a structured fire alarm system maintenance schedule in all buildings with an automatic fire alarm system to make sure it operates effectively.
You should only use properly accredited maintenance contractors to maintain your fire alarm system.
You need to clean, maintain and test your fire alarm systems on a regular basis.
To maintain your alarm system you can:
- Agree on the standard of service from your fire alarm system contractors.
- Agree with the maintenance technician that they will attend after an alarm is activated.
- Ask technicians to show you exactly what maintenance needs to be done.
- Keep a logbook of all maintenance and changes to the alarm system. If you make any changes to alarm systems you need to update the block plans and email copies to email@example.com.
- Introduce a planned maintenance schedule.
- Ensure you complete maintenance to a contracted standard, including extended fire alarm maintenance periods to ensure full compliance with AS1851.
- Provide advice to tenants at time of registration, about how they can manage the fire alarm systems.
- Establish that the fire alarm system is up to standard before you become an owner/occupier/manager of a building fitted with an automatic fire alarm system.
- Conduct regular staff training in how to use the automatic fire alarm system.
- Ensure fire alarm system maintenance staff and contractors have the appropriate accreditation.
- Discuss and approve fire alarm zone isolation procedures with contractors and workers.
- Carry out regular tests on all detectors (AS1851). The initial commissioning of a system must include a satisfactory test of all detectors.
- Make sure electrical conduits and detector bases are sealed against insect infestation.
- Clean regularly to avoid dust build-up.
- Make sure doors are not wedged open to allow dust and insects to enter and self-closing doors actually close.
- Ensure smoke doors are functioning correctly.
If your building is located near the ocean, scheduled maintenance according to AS1851 may not be sufficient. Conditions in these locations can affect the efficiency and life of alarm systems resulting in UFAs.
Sprinkler systems can cause UFAs by:
- Faulty or malfunctioning sprinkler equipment
- A leaking system or water system surge
- Poor work practices
- A rise in mains pressure or a fall in installation pressure due to leaks.
You can prevent these by:
- Considering the location and temperature of sprinkler heads.
- Regular maintenance, servicing and testing of sprinklers.
- Educating employees on where the sprinkler heads are located and how they work.
- Installing overhead barriers at car park access ways.
- Pressurising and monitoring both town mains and tank fed systems.
- Identify your system pressure, then check and record it daily - if any drop is evident then contact your maintenance company immediately.
- Discuss with your maintenance company and insurance company the alternative devices used to monitor your sprinkler system for generating fire calls e.g. flow switches or pressure switches.
- Talk to your maintenance company. They can recommend devices to reduce the incidence of UFAs e.g. automatic jacking pumps and protection barriers for sprinkler heads.
Building design is frequently found to be the cause for UFAs. Poor building design means detectors can be located too close to showers, ventilation, cooking facilities or industrial work areas.
The fire alarm installation must be designed and installed to suit the purpose of the building to meet Australian Standards.
To fix building design problems you can:
- Ensure that the installed fire alarm system is compatible with the building and the environment.
- Check with your fire system contractor that detectors are in the correct positions.
- Check if it is possible to replace smoke detectors with a more suitable type.
- Consult with the building surveyor over any plans for change to the alarm system or detector positioning.
- Review the capacity to remove or relocate potential alarm initiators such as toasters and cooking devices.
- Check to see if the floor plan layout has changed since the fire alarm system was originally installed.
- Ensure you upgrade the fire alarm system and alarm panel to current standards when they reach the end of their life.
- Remove unnecessary detectors e.g. detectors installed in excess of code requirements.
- Upgrade buildings to prevent water penetration due to poor internal and external plumbing design.
- Upgrade building design and layout where ventilation is inadequate e.g. no door head from bathrooms, or ventilation draws cooking fumes from kitchen areas past smoke detectors.
Workers and contractors can accidentally set off automatic fire alarm systems by work such as:
- using heating appliances
- using steam and air blowers to clean
- pest fumigation.
- Check that all tradespersons who enter the building are familiar with and have signed the building trade work policy including:
- hot work permits
- covering detectors that could be affected by heat/smoke/dust
- isolating zones that could be affected by heat/smoke/dust
- permission to access/work in the building.
- Brief workers, contractors, and maintenance staff on how to work in the building with alarms and how the alarms work.
- Introduce work permits that detail alarm isolation procedures to be done before any work is carried out on the premises.
- Explain why and how the fire alarm detectors have to be isolated before starting work.
- If necessary cover detectors to avoid particles building up in the detector BUT it is not acceptable practice to cover them with plastic bags.
- Nominate a person as a safety watch while the fire alarm zone is isolated.
- Explain Essential Safety Provisions (ESP) purpose to all contractors.
- Explain the role of the MFS Fire Communication Centre.
- Explain the consequences of what will happen if an UFA occurs and what your business policy is for payment of a chargeable alarm.
- Establish who is responsible for reinstating the alarm system on the completion of work.
- Make sure particular workers take care using grinders and gas equipment. Gases may drift to other non-isolated zones in the area. You can install automatic closing doors for use in confined areas.
- Ensure workers or contractors do not cut any fire alarm cabling.
There are many ways of minimising false alarms. You can modifying the system. This is not the preferred option but it may be the only solution in some cases. The CFS may be able to help you and your fire alarm company by approving some modifications. Some modifications may also need the lodgement of a building application with a building certifier.
Possible modifications are:
- Relocate detectors.
- Change the types of detectors.
- Upgrade to an intelligent type of detector if your fire alarm panel can support this.
- Remove detectors where they are outside of the Building Code requirements.
- Change manual call points to local alarm only.
- Remove manual call points entirely.
- Activate or install Alarm Verification Facility (AVF) if the fire alarm panel can support this (check with CFS Development Assessment Service (DAS)).
- Disconnect from CFS alarm monitoring service if allowed under Building Code of Australia and insurance or planning requirements from your local council.
You must get approval from the CFS DAS before you make any modifications to your fire alarm system.
You need to pass on all information relevant to the fire alarm system to any caretaker, manager or new owners/occupiers including:
- How to read the fire alarm display.
- The relationship between the fire alarm zones, the mimic board/drawing and the building layout. You need to check that the mimic board is accurate and correctly orientated.
- How the fire alarm system functions.
- How to use the Public Address (PA), Early Warning System (EWS), Early Warning and Intercommunication System (EWIS) if fitted.
- The procedure when an alarm activates.
You need to check that all owners/occupiers know the following:
- fire evacuation procedures
- assembly areas
- what to do when the alarm activates
- their responsibilities when workers come to do work in their room/area
- how to live with the fire alarm system.
What should you do when the fire alarm activates?
Remember: life always takes precedence over material loss!
When we are on the way but you don't have time to check the zone/area then:
- keep everyone calm
- evacuate as per the building fire evacuation plan
- assemble in the appropriate location
- meet the Fire Service on arrival and let them know what you've done so far.
Note: It is an offence for a person to conceal, remove, damage, interfere with or obstruct access to a fire alarm or signalling device for giving notice of fire or other emergency. Maximum penalty $5,000 (Fire and Emergency Service Act 2005)
Regularly liaise with your fire alarm maintenance contractor.
Ensure regular maintenance and testing of your fire alarm system.
If planning any building alteration or major works, seek advice from your fire alarm contractor before commencing work.
During building or maintenance work:
- Does the work produce dust or fumes in or near an alarm-protected area?
- Will activities involve penetrating or demolishing a wall or ceiling?
- Will welding, gas cutting, use of heat guns, sanding or grinding be carried out?
- Cover smoke detectors during periods of maintenance if work processes are likely to create unwanted alarm activations e.g. painting or dusting.
- Where smoke detectors are fitted, do not run equipment inside that emits dust or fumes e.g. grinding machinery or exhaust fumes.
- Ensure smoke detectors are not fitted where smoke or steam are present inside buildings e.g. near toasters, kitchens or showers.
- Ensure maintenance workers or other contractors do not cut fire alarm cabling.
Frequently check that MCPs have intact glass covers. Fit alarm covers or relocate manual call points to more visible locations where malicious calls have been a problem.
Inform guests or visitors to your building of ways to prevent UFAs.
Codes for alarm charging
Type of activation
Alarm activates due to extreme weather conditions - storm, lightning, thunder, heat, etc
Council or SA Water causes pressure fluctuations through mains
Alarm activation due to power surge/spike or short circuit
Unable to locate detector indicated by fire panel
Malicious/Mischievous False Alarms
Malicious or mischievous damage to MCPs or detectors/sprinkler heads
Fire Indicator Panel in normal condition on arrival including panel reset
Sprinkler suspected malfunction - includes water pressure fluctuations/equipment faults (internal pressure issues)
Fire Indicator Panel - normal on arrival - line fault/open line
Fire Indicator Panel - malfunction - fault in panel, inadequate maintenance, low battery
Nothing found / Alarm System suspected malfunction
Detector suspected malfunction
Simulated Conditions with no fire
Smoke detector operated (no fire) - external smoke, eg. bushfires, rubber burnouts, etc
Heat detector operated (no fire) - heat from other location
Cooking fumes - toast, foodstuffs, etc
Simulated conditions - incense, candles, sparklers, smoke machine, etc
Unintentional Alarms - Not Involving a suspected malfunction
Accidental operation of alarm, includes where human activity has simulated a fire situation
Failure to notify when testing or incorrect test by servicing company personnel
Incorrect testing by premises staff or maintenance staff
Alarm activation by outside tradesman/occupier activities
Alarm activation due to poor building maintenance - dust, cobwebs, insects, etc
Alarm activation due to aerosol use - hairspray, insecticides, deodorant, etc
Alarm activation due to steam - shower, bath, sauna, urn/kettle, etc
Monitored Alarm System - Fire Indicator Panel
FIP activated - ASE not activated management rang/bell ringing
FIP not activated - ASE activated
Private Alarm Systems
False alarm call-outs by Private Security Company - domestic premises
False alarm call-outs by Private Security Company - commercial premises
Applying to review fire alarm charges
If you believe you have been charged for an unwanted false alarm that is unfair or beyond your control, you can apply to the CFS for consideration of a review of the unwanted alarm charge using the Application to Review CFS Charges.
For us to assess your application you must:
- lodge an application within 30 days of the invoice date
- include the reasons for CFS to review the charge
- tell us what actions you have taken to ensure that false alarms will not happen again - please include evidence such as an invoice from your alarm maintenance company
- attach a copy of our invoice(s).
We will assess your application and notify you of the outcome within 10 working days. We may contact you to seek further information to support your reasons.
Send all documentation to:
Corporate and Business Services
SA Country Fire Service
GPO Box 2468
ADELAIDE SA 5001