Unwanted false activations (UFAs) often occur where people purposely set off an automatic fire alarm system. They may do this for a variety of reasons.
There is a difficult balance involved in making it hard for vandals to activate the system, while still making it easily activated during an actual emergency.
Solutions to address malicious activations may include:
- Establish if the building is required to have Manual Call Points (MCPs) installed in "high risk" locations?
- Conducting frequent security patrols to prevent vandalism.
- Placing security cameras at MCP locations.
- Locating MCPs in highly visible locations where offenders will feel vulnerable.
- Fines and Penalties for offenders who maliciously cause UFAs.
- Placing correct informative signage near alarms.
- Keeping the alarm clear from obstructions.
- Frequently checking that the glass is intact.
- Putting covers on MCPs to avoid accidental activation by bumping or weather.
- All manual call points other than the MCP located adjacent to the Fire Indicator Panel (FIP), to be programmed to activate locally only. MCPs installed under a performance assessment may not allow this unless a building variation is submitted to the Local Authority.
It should be noted that no modification of your fire alarm system should be undertaken without prior approval of the relevant authority and CFS.
In all buildings with an automatic fire alarm system, there is a need for a structured fire alarm system maintenance schedule to be implemented in order to have optimum functionality.
Only properly accredited maintenance contractors should be employed to maintain your fire alarm system.
Fire alarm systems need to be cleaned, maintained and tested on a regular basis.
Alarm Maintenance and System Fault Recommendations:
- Be clear with fire alarm system contractors about the standard of service to be delivered.
- Make an agreement with the maintenance technician as to when the technician is to be called following alarm activations.
- Ask technicians to show you exactly what maintenance needs to be done.
- Keep a logbook of all maintenance and changes to alarm systems. Any changes to alarm systems require the block plans to be updated and copies emailed to email@example.com.
- Take an interest in ensuring particular attention to detail occurs with the introduction of a planned maintenance schedule.
- Ensure maintenance is kept up to a contracted standard, including extended fire alarm maintenance periods to ensure full compliance with AS1851.6 and AS1851.8.
- Scheduled maintenance according to AS1851.8 may be insufficient for buildings located close to the ocean. Alarm system efficiency and longevity will most likely be affected in these locations resulting in UFAs.
- Provide advice to tenants at time of registration, about optimum management of fire alarm systems.
- Before becoming an owner/occupier/manager of a building fitted with an automatic fire alarm system, establish that the fire alarm system is up to standard.
- Conduct regular staff training in how to use the automatic fire alarm system.
- Ensure staff and contractors that maintain fire alarm systems have the appropriate accreditation.
- Fire alarm zone isolation procedures should be discussed and signed with contractors and workers.
- Regular tests must be carried out on all detectors (AS1851). The initial commissioning of a system must include a satisfactory test of all detectors.
- Electrical conduits and detector bases should be sealed against insect infestation.
- That regular housekeeping is affected to avoid dust build-up and to ensure doors are not wedged open to allow dust and insects to enter.
- Ensure smoke doors are functioning correctly.
- Ensure self-closing doors do actually close.
UFAs through a sprinkler system can occur for a variety of reasons such as:
- 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.
- Location and temperature of sprinkler heads should be considered.
- Regular maintenance, servicing and testing of sprinklers.
- Education of employees on where the sprinkler heads are located and how they work.
- The installation of overhead barriers at car park access ways if vehicles are knocking sprinkler heads off.
- Pressurise and monitor 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.
- Your maintenance company can also recommend other devices that might be installed 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 due to incorrect fire alarm systems being installed for the design of the building with detectors located too close to problematic environmental factors such as showers, ventilations, cooking facilities, industrial work areas, etc.
Australian Standards for fire alarm installation require that the system be designed and installed to suit the purpose of the building.
Building Design Solutions:
- Ensure that the installed fire alarm system is compatible with the building and the environment.
- Check with fire system contractor that detectors are in correct positions.
- Is it possible to replace smoke detectors with a more suitable type?
- Consult with 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.
- When current fire alarm systems reach the end of their life, ensure the fire alarm system and alarm panel are upgraded to optimum standards.
- Remove unnecessary detectors, (i.e. detectors installed in excess of code requirements).
- Upgrade buildings that prevent water penetration due to poor internal and external plumbing design.
- Upgrade building design and layout where inadequate ventilation management exists, e.g. no door head from bathrooms, or ventilation draws cooking fumes from kitchen areas past smoke detectors.
Workmen and contractors can accidentally set off automatic fire alarm systems by conducting work such as welding and using heating appliances; mowing and landscaping; and cleaning (steam and air blowers) and pest fumigation, etc.
Check that all tradespersons who enter the building are familiar with (and have preferably signed) the building trade work policy.
- Hot work permits;
- Covering detectors that could be affected by heat/smoke/dust;
- Isolating zones that could be affected by heat/smoke/dust;
- Liability; and
- 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 themselves work.
- Introduce work permits that detail strict alarm isolation procedure to be adopted before any work is carried out on the premises.
- Explain why and how the fire alarm detectors have to be isolated before starting work.
- It may become necessary to cover detectors to avoid particles building up in the detector but note it is an unacceptable 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 care is taken over the use of grinders and gas equipment as gases may drift to other non-isolated zones in the area - this could involve installing automatic closing doors for use in confined areas.
- Ensure workers or contractors do not cut any fire alarm cabling.
There are many possible solutions for minimising false alarms. Modifying the system is the least favoured option however 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. \
- Relocating detectors.
- Changing types of detectors.
- Upgrading to intelligent type of detector if the fire alarm panel can support this.
- Removal of detectors where they are outside of the Building Code requirements.
- Change manual call points to local alarm only.
- Remove manual call points entirely.
- Activate/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.
It should be noted that no modification of your fire alarm system should be undertaken without prior approval of the CFS.
Pass on all information relevant about the fire alarm system to any caretaker manager or new owners/occupiers:
- Know how to read the fire alarm display;
- Know the relationship between the fire alarm zones, the mimic board/drawing and the building layout;
- Check that the mimic board is accurate and correctly orientated;
- Know how the fire alarm system functions;
- Know how to use the Public Address (PA), Early Warning System (EWS), Early Warning and Intercommunication System (EWIS) if fitted; and
- Know the procedure to carry out when an alarm activates.
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; and
- How to live with the fire alarm system.
What should you do when the fire alarm activates? The most important thing to remember is that:
"Life always takes precedence over material loss!"
The CFS is on the way and if 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; and
- Meet the CFS on arrival and let them know what you've done so far.
Always 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.