Partnership begins ground-breaking research into the cause of false alarms

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Unwanted false alarm signals cost UK businesses and fire and rescue services around £1billion per year.

SFRS name line on appliance

A multi-agency partnership is to study the causes of false alarms from fire alarm systems in buildings and their frequency of occurrence, which will result in proposed solutions being developed to prevent recurrences in the future.
Firefighters throughout the UK are frequently called to attend incidents resulting from alarms generated by fire detection and suppression systems, which are usually installed within commercial premises and are often monitored remotely.
The cost of these unwanted false alarm signals to both businesses and fire and rescue services is estimated to be around £1billion per year.

Beginning this month, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) will team up with partners from the Association of British Insurers (ABI), British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE), the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the CBRE Group, CS Todd & Associates Ltd, the Fire Industry Association (FIA), and Glasgow City Council to undertake this ground breaking research. 

Due to the universal nature of fire alarm systems, the outcomes of this work will have the potential to impact within the UK and across Europe. This includes the possibility of influencing future standards and codes of practice in respect of automatic fire alarm systems.
Assistant Chief Officer (ACO) Lewis Ramsay, the SFRS Director of Prevention and Protection, said: “Unwanted false alarm signals are a significant issue for Fire and Rescue Services so it’s important we join with our partners to see them reduced.
“The scale of the problem is clear. Over the past three years Scotland’s firefighters have been called to in excess of 100,000 of these incidents, which equates to over 40 per cent of all the incidents we attend.
“Not only is there a substantial financial cost but attending needless incidents also means firefighters and resources are taken away from their communities.
“In a real emergency every second counts. The time taken for firefighters to get to a house fire, a road traffic collision or any other incident can be absolutely crucial to saving the lives of people in danger.
“By working together with our partners we can gather information on the common causes of false alarms and identify approaches to reduce the number that occur.”
Each unwanted false alarm signal costs businesses around £2,900 with an estimated £300 also falling on the Fire and Rescue Service.
As well as researching false alarms, the project will also promote the benefits of having automatic fire alarm systems installed in buildings. This will be done by studying fires where systems have detected them and raised the alarm. 

Such occurrences will be used to highlight the benefits of automatic fire alarm systems in alerting people to safely evacuate buildings and summoning assistance from the Fire and Rescue Service, so fires can be tackled in their early stages, thereby reducing the damage caused.  

The project will involve two SFRS Watch Managers seconded from Glasgow’s group of Fire Safety Enforcement Officers who will work alongside a fire alarm industry expert to gather live intelligence on incidents that involve the actuation of fire alarm systems.  In this regard the project is unique, as previous studies have involved the use of historical data.
Glasgow was chosen as the focus area for the project as the city is considered to be geographically suitable and has a sufficient number of incidents to enable data to be captured relatively quickly.
ACO Ramsay continued: “This is a joint project overseen by an executive subgroup of the Business Engagement Forum, bringing us together with Glasgow City Council and other partners, including representatives from the insurance and fire protection industries.
“Our designated officers and the researcher will attend incidents in the city to gather data and gain an accurate understanding of false alarm causes, which is crucial to developing effective strategies to prevent recurrences.
“Where appropriate the team will also attend incidents where fire alarms have detected an actual fire. This will enhance the understanding of potential consequences had the alarm system not been in place, demonstrating where such systems do provide value.”
When the team has completed its research a formal report will be produced by the Business Engagement Forum subgroup.
It is expected to include recommendations useful to businesses, the fire protection industry, SFRS and other Fire and Rescue Services as they develop practical measures to reduce the problem caused by unwanted false alarm signals.
ACO Ramsay added: “The project involves the same partnership that helped develop the new SFRS Unwanted False Alarm Signals Policy, which will replace the eight different policies used by the antecedent services.
“Under this single nationwide approach, firefighters across Scotland will engage with duty-holders and advocate a multi-stage action plan in response to the actuation of a fire alarm system.
“Cutting the number of unwanted false alarm signal incidents will reduce financial costs to ourselves and businesses, and reduce the demand placed on a community’s fire and rescue resources.
“One clear and immediate benefit will be to reduce the number of times our appliances have to travel under blue lights, which will lower the risk to our crews and other road users.
“We want to build on this work and the research project will help Fire and Rescue Services and businesses to tackle the issue.”