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Why Avoiding False Fire Alarms is so Important

London Fire Brigade has named the buildings in the capital that they received the most call outs for false alarms from last year.

Approximately a third of all 96,599 calls to the fire services over the past 12 months were false alarms, which works out at 1 every 15 minutes. Out of the top 10 locations revealed, 9 of these were hospitals, with St George’s Hospital in South London as the worst offender, having had 168 call outs as a result of false alarms in 2014.

Infographic showing LFB statistics on false alarm call outs

Charge for false fire brigade call outs

Since January 2014, London Fire Brigade has been charging for false alarm call outs with £295 fines handed out for the tenth false alarm at the same site and all subsequent timewasting calls after. It’s estimated that this has cost the NHS nearly £200,000 so far and although the number of false alarms resulting in actual call outs has fallen, more must be done to tackle the causes.

Top causes of false alarms

The fire brigade has been working to establish the main reasons behind false alarm activations. Findings show that 36% of incidents are resulting from fire alarm systems that automatically alert the fire services.

Activations can occur from something as trivial as smoke from burnt toast. Other top causes include steam, aerosol sprays, dust from building work and bugs nesting in detectors. Users are often responsible for causing false alarms too, via either accidental or malicious activation of call points.

Faults in the system, water leaks, poor alarm maintenance and even having the wrong type of fire alarm system in place from the start can also be ultimately responsible for unnecessary setting alarms off.

Why are false alarms so dangerous?

Put simply, false alarms can cost lives. Not only do they waste firefighter’s time and delay their attendance to real fires, they can also cause people to become complacent and not react upon hearing the fire alarm sound. Fatalities have been caused by people believing that it was ‘just another false alarm’ and failing to evacuate in the event of actual danger.

In locations, such as hospitals, schools and shopping centres where there are a large number of people on the premises, the threat becomes even greater. When a fire occurs, every second counts and any delay to evacuation can result in tragedy.

How can false fire alarms be prevented?

Reducing the number of false alarms is an important obligation for all organisations. Once the root causes have been established, then you can set about tackling them. Prevention may be as simple as putting plastic covers over fire call points, to stop accidental activation, or installing CCTV as a deterrent to pranksters.

Regular maintenance of fire alarm systems is also essential in fixing faults and stopping a build-up of dust on detectors from triggering the alarm. Your fire risk assessment should cover how often your alarms must be checked over.

Addressable fire alarm systems reduce false alarms

If false alarms are a regular occurrence, then perhaps installing an addressable fire alarm system on your premises would be advisable. The system allows ‘pre fire warnings’ that don’t ‘result in full activation, therefore if air in the detector is contaminated by dust for example, the staged warnings mean that you can investigate the issue before it causes a false alarm.

Need to reduce false fire alarms?

We can provide advice on fire alarm installation and maintenance to help you choose the most appropriate type of alarm system and maintenance plan.

Call us today on 08000 515 199.

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What are Addressable Fire Alarm Systems?

An addressable fire alarm system is made up of a series of fire detectors and devices that are connected back to a central control panel.

With addressable systems, each device has an address or location, enabling the exact detector that was triggered to be quickly identified. This makes addressable alarm systems ideal for large buildings, particularly commercial premises spread over a wide area.

Advantages of addressable fire alarms

  • Quickly determine the location of a fire.
  • Specific actions can be programmed by the user.
  • Reduced likelihood and better handling of false alarms.
  • More reliability, less likely to lose connection.
  • Lower overall cost of wiring.
  • Ability to monitor integrity of the system, with detector health checks.

Fire alarm systems that can be programmed

One of the biggest advantages of addressable fire alarm systems is that they can be configured so that a specific action triggers a specific response.

For example, cause and effect programming can be used to say that a particular ‘cause’ such as activation of a fire detector, has the effect of alarms sounding in a specified area and the system being put on alert mode in another. This means that phased evacuation can take place, with priority areas evacuated first. Each area of a building can then be evacuated one at a time, which allows safer fire evacuation procedures in large buildings.

Reduce false fire alarms

False alarms cause disruption and can be costly, so it’s in any business’s interests to minimise their impact and reduce the likeliness of them occurring in the first place.

One of the advantages of addressable fire alarms is that they can allow air to be monitored through the detectors, so if air is contaminated for example with dust (which can activate some fire alarm systems) then a ‘pre-fire’ warning is triggered. This allows investigation to take place, so any issues can be rectified before a full scale false activation of the system takes place.

Addressable fire alarms are more reliable than conventional

Due to the way that addressable alarm systems are connected, any breaks in the circuit caused by damage are less likely to result in devices being disconnected. Unlike conventional systems, all devices are wired up on a loop and are connected to the panel unit at both ends. Therefore if connection breaks at one end, devices will still be connected.

Cost of wiring up alarm system is cheaper

Addressable fire alarms are wired on a loop, which is basically a circuit that connects the system to other devices such as sprinkler systems, call points and detectors. With conventional fire systems each zone and sounder circuit has its own wire, so the cost of wiring can potentially be higher, depending on how many devices need connecting up.

Monitoring and checking all individual fire detectors for faults

Fire alarms are arguably one of the most critical aspects of fire safety on your premises. Another benefit of addressable fire alarm systems is that all devices can be individually monitored and checked for faults, which makes maintenance easier. If an issue is found with a particular detector for example, then a notification will be received by the central control panel.

Having an addressable system therefore means that any problems can be discovered immediately so that they can be rectified, ensuring that everything is in good working order should an incident occur.

Do you need an addressable fire alarm?

This will depend on the requirements of your premises. Usually addressable fire alarms are more suited to larger commercial premises, as they provide accurate and detailed information as to the location of a fire, which isn’t necessary in smaller buildings.

These systems provide sophisticated fire protection, so therefore they do tend to be more expensive than conventional alarms overall. However if having a reliable method of alerting you to danger, that cuts down false alarms and allows for smooth evacuation is critical to your business, then it’s a worthwhile investment.

Of course, the type of fire alarm system installed is important to get right and we’d strongly advise talking to a fire protection expert before making a decision.

Further advice and information

For advice on whether addressable fire alarms are the most appropriate choice to protect your business, contact Euro Fire Protection. We supply and install fire alarm systems across the UK.

Call us today on 08000 515 199.

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What Types of Fire Alarm Systems Are There?

Installing a fire alarm system in your premises is absolutely essential to protect your company and your staff against fire. There are of course many different types of fire alarm systems available, from basic conventional non-addressable fire alarms and detectors to fully programmable fire alarm systems. You must think very carefully when deciding which type of fire alarm system you choose, to ensure that the system you pick best suits your fire safety requirements and follows current fire safety legislation. The system you choose will vary greatly depending on several factors the foremost of which arises from your fire risk assessment and then includes your budget, the size of your premises and the needs of the people present.

By law all fire alarm systems should conform to British Fire Safety Standards, so if you’re not sure, get a qualified fire alarm specialist to check that your system complies.

Conventional Non-addressable fire alarms

These systems serve their purpose of detecting fire and then sounding an alarm to warn the occupants of a building about the danger. Conventional fire alarms systems work by having automatic detectors wired on separate circuits (each referred to as a zone) to a central control panel. In multi-story buildings the design will depend on the grade and/or category of a system. Ideally there should be detectors placed throughout each floor, though where a lesser specification exists then the design should pay particular attention to areas where there is a greater fire risk such as kitchens or where flammable materials are stored.

When a fire is detected the alarm should sound and the control panel indicates the zone. This should help detect the location of the fire so that it can be isolated quickly. Conventional fire alarms are best suited to smaller premises.

Analogue addressable fire alarm systems

For protecting larger buildings against the threat of fire, analogue fire alarm systems would be more effective than a conventional alarm system. These systems are wired up to a central control unit that can pinpoint more accurately the exact location of the fire as they display a specific text location description for each detector or alarm device. They also reduce the risk of false alarms as there is more control possible over monitoring systems.

Wireless fire alarms

These can be either addressable or non-addressable system. As the name suggests wireless fire alarms do not require wiring up so are perfect for situations where it may not be possible to install cabling, such as listed buildings or museums where this may appear unsightly. These alarm systems are easy to set up so can be installed on a temporary basis if a short term solution is required. They can have a range of up to 1.5km so are suitable for all size buildings. This is particularly useful for example; in building sites as construction progresses – the alarm system can be moved if necessary. The advantage of these alarm systems is that you are not tied down to one physical location.

Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus (VESDA)

In situations where it’s critical to know immediately when a fire occurs, VESDA systems are essential. These systems monitor air and can detect smoke before it is even visible. This gives valuable extra time which can saves lives and minimise the impact that fire has on property.

Special fire alarms for deaf and voice alarm systems

Some fire alarm systems are designed specifically for people with hearing difficulties. They allow the alarm system to be connected up to a pager, which will automatically vibrate and send a message in the event that the fire alarm is activated. These have a range of 10,000sq/ft and are suitable for both commercial and industrial use.

Large, busy areas that have several exits may require specific fire evacuation instructions can have voice alarm systems installed, with either live or pre-recorded announcements to provide safety information in the event of a fire. These would be highly recommended for public places such as shopping centres, hospitals or prisons.

Testing and maintaining your fire alarm system

Fire alarms are designed to save lives, so it’s incredibly important to ensure that they are working properly at all times. All systems should be tested on a weekly basis and regular inspections must be carried out by a professional fire alarm technician.

For all your fire alarm system installation, maintenance and servicing needs – contact Euro Fire Protection today on 08000 515 199.

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