UFAS - Reducing unwanted fire alarm signals

Learn how to reduce unwanted fire alarm signals (UFAS) and keep your business safe

What are unwanted fire alarm signals

Fire alarm aystems provide an early warning of fire and are one of the most effective ways to keep your business, staff and customers safe in the event of a fire.

Unfortunately, most signals from these systems are not actual fires. They are false alarms often caused by cooking fumes, dust or a lack of maintenance. These unwanted fire alarm signals (UFAS) mean our fire crews are called out unnecessarily.

What's changed?

From 1 July 2023, we no longer attend automatic fire alarm (AFA) call outs to commercial business and workplace premises, such as factories, offices, shops and leisure facilities - unless a fire has been confirmed.

Dutyholders with responsibility for workplace premises should safely investigate a fire alarm before calling 999, as our control room operators will ask for confirmation of an actual fire, or signs of fire, before sending the nearest resource.

SFRS will treat any fire alarm as a sign of fire, other than from a single smoke detector. Other signs of fire include: visual flame/smoke, smell of burning, or any other fire alarm signal. 

Sleeping premises, such as hospitals, care homes, hotels or domestic dwellings will continue to get an emergency response.

This follows our public consultation in 2021. 

This change in response is estimated to greatly reduce unnecessary call outs in order to free up our firefighters to attend real emergencies and to allow them to do more community safety prevention work.

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What do I need to do next?

  • As a dutyholder you must ensure that your premises are safe for staff, visitors and occupants in the event of a fire. You have a responsibility under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 to maintain the facilities and equipment provided. Failure to do this could lead to prosecution.
  • Staff and occupants should be made aware of how to respond safely to AFA activations in each premises. It is recommended that you read the guidance Investigating Fire Alarms prepared by the Fire Industry Association.  Ignoring them or assuming the fire and rescue service has been notified could put people at risk. 
  • You should contact your insurance company to discuss the changes in response to AFA activations, but please note that SFRS will always attend a confirmed fire.
  • If there is a fire you should always call 999 immediately and follow other specific strategies, such as evacuation and assembly points.

How you can help to reduce false or unwanted alarms

As a dutyholder, you have a responsibility under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 to maintain the facilities and equipment provided. Failure to do this could lead to prosecution.
We fully support the installation of automatic fire alarm systems, but these systems must be fully managed and maintained to reduce false alarms and ensure that they activate at the right time and achieve the correct response.
You must work with your fire risk assessor and update your fire risk assessment with any changes.
We have two initiatives in place to assist with reducing instances of UFAS. TAKE 5 and BE AWARE are simple and effective ways of delivering key information to staff and guests, allowing them to consider their actions in buildings.
Other key steps include:

  • Reviewing your Fire Safety Risk Assessment and keeping a log of all false alarms to identify any trends which should be raised with your alarm engineers.
  • Creating an action plan to reduce the chance of any false alarm occurring
  • Check detector types and their locations – would moving detectors or changing the type used reduce activations? Seek advice from your alarm engineer.
  • Upgrading automatic fire detection (AFD) systems that are obsolete with more modern technology e.g. ‘multi-sensing’ detectors
  • Fitting manual call points with protective plastic covers in problem, vulnerable or high traffic areas
  • Ascertaining whether any false alarms are a result of activating the wrong call points such as green emergency door release points
  • Keeping AFD systems appropriately maintained
  • Considering whether a link to an Alarm Receiving Centre is necessary or if it is appropriate to suspend the automatic dialling function whilst buildings are occupied or at certain times of the day
  • Seeking further guidance and advice from their alarm system provider or servicing agent as well as their local legislative fire safety officer

What are the benefits of reducing false alarms?

  • Each false alarm can lead people to become complacent when they hear the fire alarm.
  • There is a cost to you as a business from productive time lost.
  • SFRS will not be diverted from other emergencies, training and other prevention and protection work.
  • Blue light responses lead to road accidents, so any reduction means less risk on our roads.

Further guidance 

Further guidance is available on our business advice and guidance page.

If you require further information or advice in relation to the change in our response to automatic fire alarm actuations from 1 July 2023, then please email SFRS.UFASEnquiries@firescotland.gov.uk

Your local area office can also be contacted.

For specific guidance on eliminating unwanted fire alarm actuations, refer to the Fire Industry Association and the National Fire Chiefs Council