Are your fire alarms still being answered?

Fire engine - fire response thanks to CCTV

Automatic fire detection systems are increasingly popular in the commercial world – and they have a huge range including a rapid response that can ultimately save lives. An automatic fire detection system will quickly raise an alarm at the sign of a fire, and automatically contact the emergency fire services. However automatic fire detection systems are extremely prone to false alarms, which are a waste upon fire service resources and often result in individuals becoming complacent about alarms.

Because of increasing numbers of false alarms – or unwanted fire signals as they’re also known – some fire services are beginning to enforce the rule that they will not attend commercial sites when an alarm sounds, unless it is visually verified.

Indeed, both Kent and Essex Fire Services (amongst others) have been forced to take this approach in order to save a lot of time and money spent on attending false alarms. Previously, the fire services had stated they would not attend unverified fire alarms sounding at commercial properties during daytime hours. They have now extended that stance through to nighttime hours as well.

The implications for commercial sites are huge – although they do inevitably save the fire services’ valuable time. Kent Fire Services reported that a staggering third of all calls they received were from automatic fire alarms, and 98% of those were deemed false alarms.

If an alarm sounds out of working hours, it could go unreported either initially or for quite some time. Indeed, a fire alarm will alert the key holder of the site who will then have to travel to the site and confirm whether or not there is a fire.

Obviously this process is time consuming and time is of the essence in the case of a fire. In most instances the key holder will be alerted about the alarm, at which point they will have to travel to the site and visually verify a fire before the fire services arrive. In that space of time a huge amount of damage could have been caused.

There are several steps that we would advise commercial property owners to consider, to reduce the risk of the new system being of detriment to their business.

1. Integrate your fire alarm systems with your CCTV operation

Did you know your CCTV system could be used for fire alarm purposes too? With these new rules being introduced you will want fires to be rapidly verified and thus to get the fire services on their way as soon as possible. By integrating your CCTV system with your fire alarm system you can be reassured that a fire will be identified swiftly, at the times when you need it most.

A skilled CCTV operator will be able to connect to your site, as soon as an alarm sounds. They will begin to study your site via CCTV surveillance cameras and look for any signs of a fire. If smoke, flames or suspicious activity are seen then the fire services can be called and a visual verification of a fire can be confirmed. This is a far quicker system than involving a key holder.

2. Alter your fire risk assessment accordingly

Don’t get caught out by these changes! It’s essential that business owners have an up-to-date risk assessment in place and these changes will affect the risk of fire. You will need to accurately assess whether these changes will increase the risk of damage caused by fire and, if it is increased, you will need to show you have taken the necessary precautionary measures.

3. Maintain your fire alarm systems and reduce false alarms

If you take action to reduce false fire alarms in the first instance, then you will have a greater confidence in your fire alarm system whilst also helping the key holder of your site or CCTV operator to effectively identify real threats.

When a false alarm does occur, be sure to track down the cause. With Farsight you will be able to use our Fault Tracker System and track whether an engineer has fixed the issue – so it doesn’t happen again.
You can find out more about the changes to fire services response to commercial properties, here on the Kent Fire Service’s website. We’re predicting that this policy is going to become more and more popular across the UK’s fire services – it’s a way for them to tackle false alarms but it will also shift more responsibility on to the site owner.

Image: “Cambridgeshire fire engine” by Leigh Last. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.