False alarms in Buildings
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False alarms are when CFA responds to an incident to find there is no emergency and there is no need for CFA firefighting or other expertise.
The majority of false alarms are generated by automatic alarm systems. The Building Code of Australia defines 'automatic' as 'designed to operate when activated by heat, smoke, or fire sensing device'.
Most automatic fire alarm systems are a legal requirement, and have been installed to provide fire safety. It is essential they operate efficiently at all times.
Building design is frequently found to be the cause of unwanted false alarm activations.
Building design strategies for reducing false alarms:
- At the design stage, research what type of system suits your needs. Some options for smoke detectors include aspirated, laser point, beam, filtered point, video and photo optical. The latter option may be attractive as it is often less expensive to install, however in the long term choosing a system that suits your workplace and does not generate false alarms may be the most cost effective.
- At the design stage, discuss tailoring the system design to the occupants needs instead of accepting a maximum coverage design (often chosen due to its ease of complying with all Standards).
- Consider conducting a risk assessment of potential false alarm problems with your fire maintenance company prior to occupancy
- For renovations of existing buildings, consult with the building surveyor or building contractor and make changes to the existing fire alarm system if necessary.
- Check to see if the floor plan layout has changed since the fire alarm system was originally installed.
- Consider upgrading your fire alarm system, including alarm panels to optimum standards.
- Upgrade buildings where poor internal and external plumbing design allows water penetration.
- Upgrade building design and layout where there is inadequate airflow management.
- Ensure that all appropriate signage is in place before the building is commissioned, e.g. Height restriction signs for car parks, no smoking signs and false alarm prevention notices.
Why reduce false alarms?
False alarms have a big impact on both CFA and the community.
Increased risk of accident and injury
- CFA responds to all emergencies under "lights and sirens", including calls that are found to be false alarms. Unnecessary calls increase the risk of accident and injury to fire fighters and the general public.
- It may delay response to a real emergency if a vehicle is tied up attending a false alarm
- Frequent false alarms may cause complacency in occupants who then may not react quickly to a real emergency
- Never attempt to tamper with your alarm system or with the signal sent to the fire services. This is a serious breach of public safety and has legal consequences
- Unnecessary calls impact the efficiency of emergency call takers by delaying the receiving of genuine emergency calls
Waste of time and money
- Evacuations cause unproductive downtime to a business
- Inefficient fire alarm systems can result in additional maintenance work and charges
Waste of brigade resources
- Most of CFA's firefighting personnel are volunteers, who attend calls in their own personal time or during their working day, often detracting from time with their families and friends and taking them away from their place of employment. Unwanted false alarms place an additional strain on CFA’s volunteers
- Time spent at false alarms is less time and resources CFA Brigades can devote towards fundraising, community work, fire prevention, and other proactive practices.
Owners and occupiers may be charged for false alarms.
CFA generally advises of a false alarm attendance by leaving a False Alarm Entry Advice Form (PDF 37k) at the premises. If you have a false alarm at your premises and are concerned you may not have received an Entry Advice, please contact your local brigade or region office.
If CFA determines that a charge is appropriate for an unwanted false alarm, an invoice will be sent to you, along with a letter explaining the reason for the charge, and how the charge has been calculated. In determining whether a charge shall apply, CFA takes into account the following:
- Any submission by the owner/occupier
- Whether prevention of the false alarm was in control of the owner/occupier
- Whether maintenance books were available and the test history of the fire alarm system
- Information in the False Alarm Entry Advice and the Fire Incident Reporting System report
- Whether the premises has a history of similar false alarms, and what has been done by the owner/occupier to address the issue
If an owner/occupier does not believe they should receive a charge for a false alarm at their premises, they may provide a written submission to CFA, which should outline:
- Any actions taken to address the false alarm activation
- Evidence of maintenance, if the call was generated by an equipment fault
- Whether they provide support to CFA by way of allowing employees whom are volunteers, to attend incidents during working hours (without penalty to the employee). Premises which provide this type of support to volunteers may be eligible for a discount.
Submissions can be made to CFA via your local region office.