Unwanted False Activations

Unwanted False Activations (UFAs)

UFA measures (effective 1st July 2011) have been designed to encourage building owners/occupiers to address fire alarm management responsibilities and to reduce the number of UFAs.

The safety issues surrounding UFAs include:

  1. People who hear regular UFAs in their building may become complacent to the sound of the alarm. This can be dangerous when a fire does occur.
  2. UFAs call in resources (an average of two CFS units attend each UFA) which are then unavailable for a genuine emergency or could be better deployed in other situations such as fire safety activities.
  3. While all safety precautions are taken, a CFS appliance rushing to any incident places a higher-than-normal level of danger and distraction to members of the public, CFS volunteers/personnel and other drivers. By reducing the number of non-emergency turn-outs we will be creating a safer environment for everyone.

The information provided assists building owners/occupiers to understand the requirements relating to the installation, monitoring and maintenance of fire alarm systems. It also provides reasons why UFAs should be avoided and strategies to reduce their occurrence.

For more information or to arrange an appointment with CFS personnel regarding UFAs contact 8463 4063.

Return To Top

What are UFAs?

UFAs are the activation of a fire alarm system, where following investigation by the CFS it is deemed the situation would not have resulted in any danger to the occupants and premises from fire.

The CFS responds to a significant number fire alarm system activations per year.  Only a very small percentage of these activations are due to a genuine fire.

Return To Top

Why reduce UFAs?

UFAs can have a negative effect on the community and the fire service.  These negative effects include but are not restricted to the following:

  • Disruption to normal business activities through evacuation of buildings, interruption of work and the cost of lost production;
  • The erosion of user and community confidence in the value and reliability of automatic fire alarm systems;
  • Complacency to fire alarm warning tones - "it's just another false alarm!".
  • Unnecessary risk to fire-fighters and the community due to increased numbers of responses under "lights and sirens"; and
  • Better use of resources.

Clearly a situation where people choose to ignore an activated fire alarm due to the feeling its 'just another false alarm' is unacceptable, because it may be placing the lives of fire-fighters and the community in general at risk.

Return To Top

The Importance of Fire Alarms

  • Alarm systems and fire service monitoring of these systems are required in certain types of buildings under legislation such as the Building Code of Australia.
  • Alarm systems are primarily designed to warn occupants of a fire so that they may safely evacuate the premises.
  • Correctly maintained and operating alarm systems are effective and proven life saving devices.
  • Failure to take advantage of this early warning, due to poor performance of an automatic fire alarm system, has cost people their lives.
  • Fire alarm systems are important in providing occupants of buildings prompt warning if a fire occurs.
  • Systems that are not properly installed or maintained may cause unwanted alarm activations. This has a negative effect on occupants' responses to genuine alarms and as a result downgrades their effectiveness.
  • The CFS is concerned about the level of complacency within the community when an automatic fire alarm operates.
  • It is important therefore that unwanted alarm calls to the fire service are reduced, and as such, the CFS has initiated a campaign to reduce UFAs.
  • You need to carefully consider the benefits that you can achieve by reducing the number of UFAs generated at your premises.

Return To Top

What can be done?

The CFS and other fire authorities around the world have found ways of reducing UFAs. These include:

  • Charging for attendance to UFAs;
  • Amendments to legislation to raise the standard of fire alarm systems and their maintenance;
  • Developing partnerships with all the key stakeholders - the CFS, building owners/occupiers and the fire protection industry; and
  • Community education programs and information.

Owners/occupiers of alarmed buildings can help to reduce UFAs by:

  • Ensuring that prescribed automatic fire alarm systems are operating correctly;
  • Providing information to staff, tenants, clients, tradespersons and the general public on how to effectively live and work with installed fire alarm systems;
  • Using the installed public address systems to educate the public, and to advise occupants of the reason for the alarm activation;
  • Involving all stakeholders in how their automatic fire alarm system can be upgraded to perform to expectations;
  • Having plans for alarm systems approved by CFS Building Fire Safety Unit;
  • Developing cooperation between everyone who lives and works with fire detection and fire alarm systems.

Return To Top

Possible Solutions

If the alarm activation was unwanted, seek information on ways to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of it occurring again. Addressing one or more of the following can reduce UFAs:

  • Modifying occupant behaviour
  • Managing malicious calls and manual call points (MCPs)
  • Managing system faults and alarm maintenance
    • Fire Alarms Systems
    • Sprinkler Systems
  • Building design issues
  • Managing building maintenance works - information for dealing with workmen/contractors
  • Modifying the fire alarm system

When organising meetings to discuss the problems and possible solutions the following people should be involved:

  • Your Fire Alarm Contractor;
  • A Representative of the Building Owner;
  • The Building Manager;
  • CFS Building Fire Safety Unit staff; and
  • Any others deemed necessary by either the CFS or building management.

It is important to emphasise the need to clearly identify the REAL cause(s) before initiating any remedial action.

Return To Top

Modifying Occupant Behaviour

UFAs can occur for a variety of reasons due to everyday occupant activities. These may be caused by:

  • Fumes and vapours from cooking;
  • Smoke from toasters, ovens and stoves;
  • Steam from showers, hot water systems and kettles - particularly in building layouts where there is poor ventilation;
  • Cigarettes, lighters, matches, candles or incense; and
  • Aerosol hair spray or insect spray.

Whereas the most modern automatic fire alarm systems have the 'intelligence' to determine the difference between smoke from a toaster and a fire, older systems do not.

It is important to identify what the REAL causes of the alarm activating before adopting any "quick fix" solution. Questions to ask before adopting any solution or strategy include:

  • Is there adequate air extraction and ventilation?
  • Is the air current or ventilation direction managed?
  • Does the ventilation system draw smoke from the toaster past the smoke detector?
  • Does the exhaust fan discharge to open air?
  • Is there adequate make-up air supply?
  • What happens to airflow with the opening of a window or a door?
  • Do the air conditioning and/or kitchen exhaust discharge directly on to detectors?
  • Are the door heads in the bathroom too small?
  • Are smoke detectors too close to bathroom or steam outlets?
  • Are stove and toast utilities in the correct location?
  • Could relocating the kettle to a position further from the detector help?
  • Will fitting self-closing door mechanisms on bathroom doors help?

Solutions include:

  • Reviewing work practices such as the deodorising of rooms and the control of insects by aerosol sprays;
  • Relocating mirrors from areas beneath detectors to reduce activations due to hair sprays and dryers;
  • Ensuring proper multi-language signage is located throughout the premises warning occupants that sensitive fire detection equipment has been installed for their safety, and that these systems can be inadvertently activated by contaminants such as smoking, steam, cooking, aerosols, insects and hairdryers, etc;
  • Hardwiring toasters so that they cannot operate outside the scope of the kitchen exhaust hood (switching the toaster on also turns on the exhaust hood);
  • Turn the toaster control knob down and fix into position;
  • Removing cooking facilities (hotels); and
  • Installing a bulkhead between the kitchen and the location of the detectors (distance between a detector and a bulkhead must be in accordance with Australian Standards). Note: Ventilation control is preferred to the provision of bulkheads since bulkheads may also delay the detection of a real fire.

Return To Top

Legislative Requirements

  1. The fire alarm system must be maintained to the relevant Australian Standards by a certified maintenance technician.
  2. A maintenance logbook with the company's name and contact details should be kept adjacent to the Fire Indicator Panel (FIP) to sequentially record all known alarms, faults, disconnections, maintenance, and inspection procedures. (Clause 4.2 of AS1851.8 -1987) Further maintenance recording requirements are legislated under the SA Development Act 1993, Ministers Specification SA76
  3. A Certificate of Maintenance must to be completed annually by the owners/occupiers and sent to your relevant council's Building Inspector. Your maintenance company should be able to provide this for you.
  4. All fire alarm zones must be in operational condition unless specifically isolated for the purposes of maintenance of the system or other acceptable reason, (e.g. workman are in the area, smoke machine operating). These isolated sections must be restored to operational effectiveness as soon as possible. It is the owners/occupiers responsibility to take any additional fire precautions and to advise the building's occupants about the isolated sections of the fire alarm system.
  5. The owners/occupiers must 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.
  6. The owners/occupiers must give all persons permanently working or residing in the building instruction on what to do in the event of a fire.
  7. The owners/occupiers must keep records of the training given and produce them if required by an authorised Fire Officer.
  8. The owners/occupiers must not silence the alarm system or Early Warning & 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.