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Causes of false fire alarms in buildings (BRE Trust briefing paper)

The purpose of this project was to collate information about the causes of false alarms observed in buildings and to identify approaches that could be developed and used to reduce their occurrence.

Identifying contributors and obtaining false alarm data proved to be a difficult exercise, however, two different contributors were identified- Kings College London and Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Fire Authority.

Kings College London provided data from 699 false alarm incidents and following a thorough review of the data 6 physical interventions were identified to address all of the valid false alarms reported. Replacement of existing detectors with intelligent multi-sensor detectors (that detect more than one fire phenomena) was the solution that could reduce false alarms by the greatest amount (69%).

The data supplied provides a snapshot of the types of false alarms that are observed but is not comprehensive account of what might be the most common causes in the UK.

Discussions with the Unwanted Fire Signals Officer of Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority and analysis of their false alarm trends revealed that the use of a technical and experienced individual dedicated to investigating false alarms and engaging directly with regular offenders is a very effective means for Fire and Rescue Service Authorities to reduce false alarms.

Reducing the number of false alarms from domestic premises remains a challenge despite the fact that the vast majority are reportedly related to cooking incidents. Educating homeowners on effective installation and use of detectors in and around kitchens is likely to lead to the greatest reduction in false alarms from the domestic environment.

The Incident Recording System, used by Fire Officers to report on all callouts attended, lacks sufficient detail to accurately classify false alarm causes.

It has been identified that changes in standards or codes of practice are not necessary as the technology already exists and the codes provide adequate guidance. However educating building owners, responsible persons and the general public could contribute significantly to reducing false alarms as simple measures can often cause notable reductions. Also the increased use of multi-sensor detectors may avert false alarms from common causes such as cooking fumes, steam etc.

     

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