Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service

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Automatic Fire Alarms - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1.What are AFAs? An AFA (Automatic Fire Alarm) is an electronic system designed to detect a fire.

2.What are AFAs for? They are intended to alert occupants of a premise of a potential fire situation, to enable the Responsible Person to investigate the cause and to evacuate the premises safely. They are not installed to alert the Fire and Rescue Service.

3.What is an Unwanted Fire Signal (UwFS)? An Unwanted Fire Signal is the point at which the Fire and Rescue Service responds to an Automatic Fire Alarm (we could be turned back prior, to arrival if informed it is a false alarm) which turns out to be a false alarm due to apparatus etc.

 

4.Why are they a problem to the Fire Service? The Service receives thousands of calls each year to premises where there has been an activation of an AFA as a result of an accidental or "unwanted" fire signal (UWFS).

 

Between 1st January 2010 and 31st December 2010 there were a total of 5802 AFA calls received, of which 95% were Unwanted Fire Signals (UwFS).

Within the same time period, 67.6% of the total number of UwFS received were from commercial premises. To these 3,992 calls the Service made a full risk assessed emergency attendance.

UWFS take appliances away from real emergencies, cause unnecessary high speed "blue light" road movements and cost the taxpayer money.

5.If it is a false alarm, surely you won’t know until you get there? From the data analysis and subsequent information, we are able to identify that the chances of there actually being a fire that requires some form of intervention is very minimal. This very slight increase in risk is acceptable when considered alongside the AFA that has actuated, the occupant’s subsequent awareness of the alarm and opportunity to evacuate, and active and passive fire precautions managed under workplace fire safety legislation. Should someone confirm that a fire has occurred, or a second detector or sprinkler actuates (known as a "Double Knock"), then an emergency attendance will be instantly mobilised in the normal way.

 6.What exactly is Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service (MF&RS) planning to do? By analysing data MF&RS will no longer respond to AFA calls at certain types of premises.

When MF&RS receives an AFA call to any premises under the control of a Responsible Person, as designated under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, we will not make an attendance unless a fire is confirmed.

MF&RS will still respond to all calls to single private domestic dwellings, Houses of Multiple Occupation, Sheltered Housing schemes etc, where the onus for raising the alarm is on the residents.

The impact of reducing these types of call-outs will be a reduction of over 9,000 appliance mobilisations to commercial risks, freeing up resources to respond to real emergencies.

7.Surely more people will be injured as a result of us not attending? No. It is very important to note that an AFA (installed for life safety) is a system devised to provide the occupants with an early warning of fire, and thereby saving lives through early detection. The management of the system itself and the safe evacuation from the premises is the responsibility of the owner/occupier (Responsible Person) and this is their legal obligation under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

8.What is MF&RS doing to assist owners of commercial premises in order to reduce their risk? It is not our intention just to implement this new procedure without considering our communities. Prior to implementation the Service will undertake a communication strategy that will focus on the sectors which will be affected. The strategy will provide information on the actions that should be taken in the event of an AFA and remind owners/occupiers of their obligations with regards to Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The strategy will be delivered through the following channels:

  • Prepare for anticipated calls from businesses for advice – Supported by Website and Communication and Media team;
  •  Communicate to businesses in the first instance – using local media channels, Local Authority publications, posters etc. Allowing enough time for them to get equipment checked and maintained and to make contingency plans and seek advice;
  • The Community Protection department will contact any premises known to generate unacceptable levels of UwFS to discus and advise on the new policy.
  •  The UwFS team at Service Headquarters will prepare a mail shot based on queries coming in after the first tranche of announcements.

9. If it is a fire they will be larger when we do attend and as a result this will pose a greater risk to the H&S of firefighters?

On that rare occasion, should it happen, where a fire may have developed within a property, we are confident that the personnel responding are professional firefighters who have the best equipment. They are highly trained and they will operate within clear defined safe systems of work. This is exactly as they have done in the past and will continue to do so in the future; each incident being responded to will be assessed by the Incident Commander and the appropriate level of intervention will be in accordance with the risk.

10. What are the advantages of this, why are we trying to mend something that isn’t broken? The advantages of this Policy are to develop a closer working relationship with the commercial sector and the Fire Alarm Monitoring Organisations leading to:

  •  Assisting local businesses to identify best practice in dealing with False Alarms generated by their Automatic Fire Alarm systems.
  • Assisting local businesses in reducing the economic cost of lost productivity and business disruption due to false alarms generated by actuations of their AFA systems.
  •  A reduction of up to 4,000 "blue light" mobilisations of fire appliances, making the roads of Merseyside safer for the community we serve.
  • Appliances will be available for genuine emergency calls instead of sitting outside factories or offices awaiting key holders;
  •  MF&RS appliances and operational personnel availability will increase, so a greater part of their time can be spent on other community engagement activities and training.

11. Do other Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) do the same? Many other Services have either adopted or are adopting similar policies and the Chief Fire Officers’ Association has produced specific guidance on this.

12. Have there been any problems in these FRSs as a result of non attendance at AFAs? We are aware of some cases where there has been legal discussion regarding this and the opinion is that the AFA is for the owner/occupier to alert them to incidents of fire. The FRS needs to make arrangements to receive a fire call and determine if they should attend. Speed and weight of attack is for local determination under the auspices of the Authority’s IRMP.

13. Will the reduced number of calls influence the fire cover review and result in Fire Station closures or reduced number of appliances on Stations?

  •  The reduction in calls to stations will have a number of effects:
  •  Fire crews will be available for actual calls more often;
  •  Increased time for training;
  •  With regards to the fire cover review it will have no influence over the outcomes other than providing the Service with an understanding of the activity levels at each station and the impact, increasing the availability and potentially reducing the costs of each station against call type;
  •  It must also be kept in mind that we are reducing road risk to crews and the public along with the wear and tear and fuel costs of appliances.

14. Are there any legal implications in what we are doing? Being subject to statute and a public service there are of course legal implications which ought to be considered. However, having done so, the Service does not believe there to be any legal barriers preventing the implementation of the proposals.

15. Have the public been consulted in this process? Again PDAs (Predetermined Attendance for an incident at a certain location) are changed regularly to all types of risk. We are running an extensive communications campaign to inform Responsible Persons of the impact and their responsibilities with regards to the maintenance of AFA systems.

16. Will firefighters' lives be put at risk? Calls to fires will attract the appropriate PDA (Predetermined Attendance) for the fire risk in order for a Safe System of Work to be deployed. In fact risk to firefighters will most likely be reduced through a reduction in road risk, through reduced high speed appliance "blue light" movements.

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