Managing unwanted false alarms
Unwanted false alarms (UFAs) sometimes happen when people set off an automatic fire alarm system on purpose.
You 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
- Put 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 need the 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 your fire alarm system contractors will deliver.
- Agree with the maintenance technician that they will come in 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 AS1851.6 and AS1851.8.
- 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 AS1851.8 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 upon 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 assist you and your fire alarm company by approving some modifications. Some modifications may also require 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 Building Fire Safety Unit).
- Disconnect from CFS alarm monitoring service if allowed under Building Code of Australia and insurance or planning requirements from local council.
You must obtain approval from the CFS 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 workmen 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 CFS on arrival and let them know what you've done so far.
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.