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Frequently Asked Questions

Emergency Response to Automatic Fire Alarms in Non-Domestic Premises

Why is North Wales Fire and Rescue Service introducing this change?

When correctly installed and managed, Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) systems can provide an effective way of alerting people to a fire in non-domestic premises.  However, false alarms from these systems - particularlyrepeatfalse alarms from the same premises- can cause costly disruption to business and inconvenience and raised levels of risk to people.

Responding to emergency calls initiated by AFA systems costs North Wales Fire and Rescue Service a significant amount of time and money.  At a time when North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority is facing an extremely challenging financial situation it would be hard to justify continuing to send fire engines in response to AFA system calls when we know that over 96% are likely to turn out to be nothing but a false alarm.

Alongside the purely financial considerations, there were other factors, too, that the Authority had to consider.  For example:

  • The reduced availability of operational crews to attend genuine emergencies - particularly those that the Service is expected by law to attend;
  • The unwarranted disruption to training and other work undertaken by Service personnel.
  • The impact on the primary employers of the Service's retained firefighters who would be releasing their staff members to attend incidents that are almost certainly going to turn out to be false alarms;
  • The increased risk for both the public and operational crews of making emergency blue light responses to incidents that are almost certainly going to turn out to be false alarms;
  • The risk that the managers and occupants of premises with unreliable or poorly maintained AFA systems will stop reacting correctly to the alarm because they assume that it will be yet another false alarm;

When does this new arrangement come into operation?

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service will implement this new arrangement from 1st April 2015.

Does North Wales Fire and Rescue Service have a legal duty to attend AFA calls?

According to the law, Fire and Rescue Authorities must make provision for extinguishing fires and for protecting life and property in the event of fires.  They must also make arrangements for dealing with calls for help when there is a fire.   However, there is no legal duty on them to respond to calls originating from AFA systems for the purpose of establishing whether or not there is a fire.

In non-domestic premises covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the employer, the owner or someone else who has control of the premises (the designated 'responsible person')  must ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that the premises are safe for its occupants in the event of a fire.  These arrangements would include the actions that would be taken if the AFA system was activated.

Anyone knowingly giving or causing to be given a false alarm of fire would be committing an offence punishable by a fine or even imprisonment.

Why we were not consulted on this change?

This change is not something that has been generated suddenly.  The problem of wasteful and risk-increasing false alarms from AFA systems has been a concern for UK fire and rescue authorities and the business community for a number of years.

Several different methods and procedures have been considered to try to reduce the number of AFA false alarms whilst retaining good fire precautions.  Gradually, more and more UK fire and rescue authorities have adopted new procedures that would change their response to AFA calls rather than keep on turning out fire crews several times a day to what they strongly suspected would turn out to be nothing.

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service Control staff, as part of their call handling, have already been questioning AFA calls, which has helped to cut out some unnecessary attendances, but we believe we should be taking this further.  This recent decision by North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority is in fact no more than an extension of the existing procedures with a view to mobilising fire appliances to even fewer non-existent events.

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service will publicise the new arrangements through a range of different media including our website and social media sites, business groups and by way of letters to a number of relevant stakeholders.

What if my fire risk assessment does not cover this change?

There is a legal duty for the Responsible Person under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to manage their premises to ensure that the appropriate fire precautions are in place, including fire safety arrangements and staff training, and that suitable and sufficient action is taken in the event of fire.

This piece of legislation came into force on the 1st October 2006 so premises have known for long enough that they must have suitable procedures for ensuring the safety of people when their fire alarm activates.  These fire safety procedures should not place reliance on the attendance of the fire service..

Won't this new arrangement put people in my premises at risk?

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service will always respond to fires.  Not attending false alarms will not put people or the premises at risk, precisely because they are false and there is no fire.  In fact, continuing to respond to these false alarms can put people involved in real emergencies at greater risk as precious resources are diverted elsewhere.

We recognise that many premises carry out important functions within the community in North Wales and this should be recognised in your business continuity plan. Where good fire safety management and an appropriate business continuity plan exist the risk of a fire occurring and not being reported to the Fire and Rescue Service is low.

Why do we have to confirm that there is a fire when we pay for a call monitoring centre?

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service has its own fire control that handles all fire calls in North Wales. The alarm monitoring companies act as a third party to relay notification of an alarm activation from premises to the fire control. The alarm receiving centres do not necessarily check the premises to confirm whether there is actually a fire, or even whether a fire is suspected, before forwarding notification to the Fire and Rescue Service.

We have always been told to call the fire service when the alarm goes off

You should always phone 999 when you have a fire. Our role is to respond to emergencies including fires.

The purpose of a fire alarm is to alert the occupants of a building that that there is a fire so that they can evacuate the premises or take other pre-planned action to ensure everyone's safety.   The purpose of a fire alarm is not to call the fire and rescue service.

Will investigating the cause of the AFA activation put us in danger?

North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority is not asking anyone to put themselves in danger.

People should know beforehand how to respond safely to fire alarm activations - ignoring them or assuming that the fire and rescue service is on its way could very easily put people in danger.

If there are indications that there is a fire - such as a smell of burning or the presence of smoke - then there should be no hesitation in placing a 999 call to the Fire and Rescue Service to report it. Further information on how to investigate fire alarm actuations can be found on our website.

What can be done to prevent or reduce false alarms from AFA systems?

Fire alarms are designed to actuate when a fire is detected but unfortunately AFA systems can actuate for other reasons and that is where good management comes in. By putting in good management procedures and training staff accordingly you can investigate the cause of an AFA actuation and only contact the fire service in the event of a fire. This has the added benefit of reducing your business/ service downtime and allows you to be more productive.

There are many ways you can prevent false alarms including;

  • Having a suitable fire alarm systems for the premises e.g. the correct detector in the correct place
  • Servicing and testing your alarm system in accordance with appropriate British Standard BS5339:1
  • Closing doors when cooking or producing steam

Who is responsible for giving the all clear after the AFA actuation has been investigated?

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 you should have staff trained and a suitable procedure in place to be able to investigate the cause of the AFA actuation and confirm that there is no fire on the premises.

If North Wales Fire and Rescue Service does not attend false alarms, will it affect our insurance policy?

You should contact your insurance company to discuss this but note that the Fire and Rescue Service will attend a confirmed fire.

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