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