Reduction of Unwanted Fire Signals – policy and guidance


Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) recognises the inherent value of automatic fire detection and warning systems and actively encourages their installation for both life and property protection. The priority to reduce the incidence of Unwanted Fire Signals (UwFS) should never compromise the need for a system to provide an early detection and warning of a fire situation which will initiate the immediate evacuation of building occupants and instigate the emergency fire action plan for the premises.

Each year, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service attend around 1100 unwanted fire signals which are generated from automatic fire detection and warning systems.

This guidance has been produced in order to reduce the impact of UwFS on service delivery, business and commerce and the safety of the community and applies to all premises regulated under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The policy is specifically designed to address the following issues:

  • False alarms which may contribute to fire safety issues for example complacency amongst occupiers where alarms activate frequently when there is no fire
  • The impact of UwFS on SFRS resources


False alarm:

any fire alarm signal other than a genuine fire or signal test

Unwanted Fire Signal (UwFS):

any false alarm that is subsequently passed to the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) as a request for assistance

Impact of Unwanted Fire Signals

The following areas of concern highlight the disruption caused to both the FRS and the premises itself following an UwFS:

  • Lost production time and associated costs
  • Disruption of services provided by the affected business
  • Associated costs to businesses of retained firefighters in their employment being released to respond
  • Negative impact on the goodwill of employers who permit retained personnel to respond to automatic fire alarm activations which turn out to be false alarms
  • A loss of confidence in the reliability of the premises fire alarm system causing complacency amongst occupiers on activation of the alarm which could potentially prejudice their safety
  • The diversion of operational crews from emergencies, potentially putting life and property at risk
  • The potential for the safety of both firefighters and the general public to be compromised whilst driving to an UwFS under emergency conditions
  • Disruption to safety critical training being undertaken by FRS personnel
  • Disruption to other FRS activities such as arson reduction, CFS, 72d visits, fire safety audits
  • The environmental impact of unnecessary appliance movements
  • Drain on public finances

Aims and objectives

The aims and objectives of this policy are to:

  • Reduce the number of UwFS by requiring the design, installation, commissioning and testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems to be carried out by competent persons in accordance with the appropriate standards.
  • Reduce the impact on businesses from UwFS.
  • Improve liaison with the Business Fire Safety (BFS) Department to ensure that at audit the ‘Responsible Person’ as defined under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) is made aware of their duty to take overall responsibility for the performance of the fire alarm system.
  • Improve the fire safety management of premises by promoting the appropriate management of automatic fire alarms (AFAs), i.e. call delay, on- site call filtering.
  • Reduce UwFS to increase occupier’s confidence in fire alarm systems and to avoid complacency.
  • Monitor the performance of fire alarm systems.
  • Liaise with Fire Alarm Monitoring Organisations (FAMOs) to improve false alarm filtering.
  • Promote robust 999 call challenging by Fire Control operators.
  • Ensure the most appropriate FRS response in terms of the Pre Determined Attendance (PDA) and follow up by the UwFS Team and/or BFS.
  • Reduce the potential dangers to firefighters and members of the public when responding under emergency conditions.

Management of False Alarms

Every premises should have an emergency fire action plan which describes the arrangements for carrying out a methodical check of the premises on actuation of the fire alarm before contacting the FRS. This plan is covered under the RRO and forms part of the premises’ Fire Risk Assessment; it must consider the safety of persons detailed to carry out these checks. Any measures introduced to try to eliminate UwFS being generated such as ‘call filtering’ or monitored systems being on an appropriate ‘call delay’ or taken ‘off watch’ during hours when the building is fully occupied should be included within this emergency plan. Inspecting Officers are encouraged to promote the adoption of these systems during the audit process as this will provide the premises with the ability to effectively manage events during normal working hours and therefore maximise the benefits of installing AFD.

Role of the Responsible Person

  • The Responsible Person has duties imposed upon them under the RRO to ensure that where applicable fire alarm systems are tested and maintained in accordance with the appropriate British Standard in order to safeguard relevant persons.
  • The Responsible Person must ensure that a suitable emergency action plan is documented within the FRA for the premises which will facilitate the investigation of an alarm actuation before calling the FRS if required.
  • The Responsible Person should arrange for suitable investigation and, if appropriate, action to be taken on every occasion that a false alarm occurs. This may, for example, comprise managerial changes within the building, modifications to the fire alarm system or an investigation by the organisation that maintains the system.

The user should record appropriate details regarding every false alarm that occurs. Information recorded should include the following:

  • date and time;
  • identity and location of device (if known);
  • category of false alarm (if known);
  • reason for false alarm (if known);
  • activity in the area (if the reason for the false alarm is unknown);
  • details of any remedial action taken.

Role of the UwFS Team

  • Performance monitoring and evaluation of premises
  • Liaise with premises that have generated UwFS and offer appropriate advice to reduce or eliminate these occurrences. This may include:
    • Duties of the responsible person under the RRO
    • Changes to arrangements and procedures in the premises
    • Changes to the design or layout of the fire alarm system
    • Investigation of an alarm actuation before calling the FRS
    • Out of hours procedures, specifically arrangements for the availability of key holders
  • Liaison with BFS if poor performance and other information gathered in relation to a premises indicates that a Fire Safety Audit (FSA) may be warranted.
  • Liaison with Fire Control as appropriate.
  • Liaison with operational crews as appropriate.

Role of BFS

  • Support the reduction of UwFS by increasing the emphasis put on the duties of the Responsible Person in terms of the premises emergency action plan (specifically on site call filtering measures) and testing, maintenance and management of fire alarm systems during the audit process. Also discuss out of hours arrangements for monitored premises, in particular the availability of a key holder to attend within 20 minutes of the time of call.
  • Carry out enforcement action under the RRO as appropriate.
  • Continue to promote awareness of UwFS through the Building Regulations consultation process for new and altered buildings.
  • Promote the awareness of issues surrounding UwFS during Business Education Seminars.

Role of Operational Crews

  • Investigate the causes of UwFS and if appropriate give advice to the Responsible Person as to how to avoid recurrent calls, i.e. closing of doors whilst cooking, relocation of appliances causing false actuations etc. N.B. under no circumstances should crews give advice on making alterations to the design or layout of the fire alarm system.
  • Reiterate the requirements for the Responsible Person to test, maintain and manage the fire alarm system.
  • Complete accurately and as comprehensively as possible the UwFS Investigation Form (FB357) to include the affected detector head’s I.D. number or the exact location of the head if it is not a fully addressable system. Return pink copy to the UwFS team immediately on return to station or as soon as reasonably practicable.
  • Under no circumstances must crews reset fire alarm panels, remove detector heads or replace break glass call points.
  • During out of hours or at unoccupied premises, the Incident Commander should determine the appropriate course of action based on a Dynamic Risk Assessment. Wherever possible, if the decision is made to leave the premises without gaining entry, the FB357 should be completed and either posted through the door or left in a prominent position for the attending key holders attention.
  • Continue to support the UwFS team by reporting any matters arising, e.g. issues with key holder attendance for out of hours access, other evidence of the Responsible Person not carrying out their duties effectively.

Role of Fire Control

  • Mobilise appliances to calls in accordance with this policy (although it is essential that the control operator/supervisor will at all times retain the authority to mobilise at their own discretion based on information available to them on receipt of a call).
  • Adopt a robust ‘call challenge’ procedure.
  • Liaise with the UwFS team as appropriate.

Premises Performance Monitoring Levels

The following recommendations are applicable in accordance with BS 5839-1: 2002 + A2: 2008 for an acceptable rate of false alarms.

In systems that incorporate more than 40 automatic fire detectors, the user should instigate an in-depth investigation by suitable specialists if, in any rolling period of 12 months, either:

  1. the average rate of false alarms exceeds one false alarm per 20 detectors per annum; or
  2. three or more false alarms are initiated by any single manual call point or automatic fire detector (or detector location).

In systems that incorporate fewer than 40 automatic fire detectors, an in-depth investigation should be instigated by the user if, in any rolling 12 month period, three or more false alarms occur.

Should a premises exceed the limitations on an acceptable level of false alarms then a review of this premises should be undertaken by the UwFS team.

If following this review it is apparent that the Responsible Person has not taken the appropriate actions in order to address UwFS from the premises, or that there are fundamental issues with the standard of general fire precautions indicative of poor fire safety management, then this premises should be referred to the BFS department for audit.

Reporting lines

The Fire Safety Technical Officer (UwFS) will report directly to the Station Manager BFS, who has responsibility for monitoring our performance against UwFS targets.

The Station Manager BFS will report progress monthly to the Head of Prevention at the Monthly Prevention Manager’s meeting.

Performance monitoring

The Service has set three Local Indicators for UwFS. These have taken the actual performance achieved in 2011/12 as the baseline. Performance will be measured against these targets and are approximated to a further 5% reduction in each category, for each of the next three years.

Category 2011/12 Actual 2012/13 Target 2013/14 Target 2014/15 Target
Non domestic LI AFA 1 852 810 770 730
Domestic LI AFA 2 283 270 255 240
Total UwFS LI AFA 3 1135 1080 1025 970

Fire and Rescue Service Attendance Levels

SFRS has set the following AFA mobilising policy:

1 pumping appliance mobilised to any AFA plus;

A second pumping appliance is mobilised to life risk premises between 2200 and 0800 hours.

Some special risks generate a specific predetermined attendance which is offered by the Command & Control system; these are not impacted by this policy.

Further Information

Business Fire Safety

Telephone: 01743 260 200