Automatic Fire Alarms - false alarms
Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) is committed to reducing the number of unwanted false alarms from Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) systems. Unwanted alarms are when FRNSW has attended in response to an alarm where there is no fire or other emergency. FRNSW has a statutory obligation under the Fire Brigades Act 1989 to attend to all fire alarms.
FRNSW responded to approximately 48,000 AFAs in 2015, with 97% of these alarms being unwanted. Around 38% of all FRNSW responses are to AFAs.
Unwanted alarms create complacency towards genuine alarms that can result in serious injury or loss of life. They also divert FRNSW resources that would otherwise be available for genuine emergencies.
AFA systems are a crucial component in fire detection for buildings and are designed to alert occupants and initiate quick responses by FRNSW in the case of fires. AFA systems are required under building legislation, as prescribed by the National Construction Code, and are administered by Local Government Authorities.
It is important that building owners and managers properly manage and maintain their AFA systems to ensure their correct operation and to reduce the likelihood of unwanted alarms.
The AFA systems that require monitoring are to be connected to an approved Automatic Fire Alarm Service Provider (AFASP). There are three approved AFASPs contracted to FRNSW.
FRNSW has a team of dedicated Alarms Assessment Officers who can give advice on strategies to minimise unwanted alarms. For further information phone the FRNSW Fire Safety Compliance Unit on 02 9742 7400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charges for false alarms
The Fire and Rescue NSW Act 1989, Sect 42 [external link] allows FRNSW to charge for attending false alarm call-outs to monitored AFA systems. This charge is intended to motivate building owners and managers to be continually pro-active in managing their AFA systems and to ensure that they are properly maintained. It has been demonstrated that properly maintained systems assist in reducing the number of false alarms attended by FRNSW allowing them to respond more readily to genuine emergencies.
From 1 December 2016 the false alarm charge will increase to $1,600.
Not all unwanted alarms are chargeable. In certain circumstances, such as for storms and other natural disasters, false alarms will not be charged if the alarm was beyond the control of the owner.
There are additional circumstances (leniencies) resulting in no charge, including:
- One false alarm within a 60 day period will not be charged. Subsequent false alarms that occur within 60 days of the first alarm will be charged.
- A 24 hour leniency period applies in which repeat false alarms will not be charged. Only the first alarm will be charged within the 24 hours. Multiple false alarms within a 24 hour period are considered a one-off event, giving the business owner or manager time to rectify their alarm system.
Billing of charges
FRNSW invoices the AFASP, which in turn invoices building owners or managers.
AFA charges are the responsibility of the person/s who has entered into a contractual agreement with the AFASP.
FRNSW does not support charges being passed on to individual occupants, although exceptions may apply.
Main causes of false alarms
- Poor ventilation
- Burnt toast
- Cooking fumes
- Aerosol sprays
- Cigarettes and candles
- Tradespeople and cleaners
- Dirty smoke detectors
- Damage to ‘break glass alarms’ or ‘manual call points’
- System malfunction
- Poorly maintained systems and poor building maintenance
- Insufficient maintenance frequency in harsh environments, and
- Insect infestations.
Avoiding false alarms
- Ensure any fans, vents and, if possible, windows are open before cooking or showering.
- Some smoke detectors are extremely sensitive and steam from showers, smoke from burning food, even sprays from aerosol cans (such as deodorant and hair-spray) can set them off.
- Be aware of where all alarm detectors are in your home and ensure all reasonable measures are taken to avoid false alarm activation.
For building owners, managers and workers:
Effective maintenance of AFA systems is critical in reducing false alarms. The primary cause of false alarms is poorly maintained systems.
Ensuring a well regulated workplace protocol is in place can also be extremely effective in reducing false alarms. There are a number of ways workers can set off false alarms:
- Cutting wires
- Spraying, and
- Steam cleaning.
All workers on-site must register with the building owner or manager and be inducted into the workplace processes ensuring appropriate isolation of AFA systems and responsible work-site activities.
- Do not leave cooking unattended.
- Do not walk away from a toaster that is in use.
- Do not smoke near smoke detectors.
- Do not use aerosol sprays near smoke detectors.
- Educate your staff and visitors to understand your building is protected by an AFA system.
- Manage work activities that produce dust, heat, smoke etc. to ensure a detector is not activated.
- Ventilate steam and fumes away from smoke detectors - particularly from bathrooms and kitchens.
- Understand your fire alarm system, detector type and location.
Unwanted alarms brochure
A brochure is available for building owners, managers and occupants giving advice on how to reduce unwanted alarms. To request additional copies of this brochure for distribution, contact the FRNSW Alarms Administrators on (02) 9742 7550 during business hours or email email@example.com.
Download the unwanted alarms brochure here (PDF, 2MB)
Applying to waive the false alarm charge
FRNSW can, in certain circumstances, waive all or part of an alarm charge.
A building owner or manager can seek a waiver for the false alarm charge through their AFASP. The AFASP will provide advice on the process and documentation required to request a waiver. The application for waiver must be made not more than 180 calendar days from the FRNSW invoice date.
FRNSW officers attending incidents do not have authority to waive unwanted alarm charges. Pursuant to the Fire and Rescue NSW Act 1989, section 43 [external link], waiver or reduction of unwanted alarm charges is at the discretion of the Commissioner.
More detailed information on the FRNSW waiver process can be found in the Automatic fire alarm service agreement guideline no. 4 Application to Waive AFA False Alarm Charges.
For billing enquiries regarding AFA charges please contact your AFASP.
For any further information or to seek advice on strategies to minimise unwanted alarms, please contact the FRNSW Fire Safety Compliance Unit on 02 9742 7400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.