Reducing False Alarms

What is an Unwanted Fire Signal (UFS)?

A UFS is a fire signal resulting from a cause other than a fire.  In other words, any Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) that the fire and rescue service (FRS) attends that is not actually a fire is considered to be an Unwanted Fire Signal.

Why are they a nuisance for the fire service?

Unwanted fire signals place a large burden on our resources by unnecessarily tying up our fire engines and firefighters at false alarms, when they may be needed at a real emergency such as a fire or road traffic collision (RTC).  They impact on vital firefighter training as well as disrupting important community safety work. They also cause firefighters who work the retained duty system to be needlessly called away from their normal place of work.

Why are they a nuisance for businesses?

Every time the alarm sounds, staff have to down tools and evacuate the building. This may prove to be very costly not only in financial terms, but also because staff will become complacent and will lose faith in the fire alarm system if they are constantly required to leave the building due to a false alarm.  They also impact on employers who allow their employees on the retained duty system to leave work and attend fire calls and in the case of UFSs, the call out turns out to be unnecessary.

What are the main causes of UFSs?

There are many causes of UFSs, but the more common ones include:

  • Fumes from cooking or burnt food
  • Steam from showers
  • Dust from building work
  • Insects
  • Poorly trained users
  • Lack of maintenance
  • Incorrect or poorly designed systems.
  • Of course, this list is not exhaustive.

What can businesses do to reduce the number of UFSs at their premises?

It will obviously depend on the specific UFS problem, but some general good practices should include:

  • Appoint a responsible person, as per the requirements of the Fire Safety Order 2005, to ensure all matters relating to fire safety within the premises, including the fire alarm system, are adhered to
  • Maintain the fire alarm system in good working order
  • Ensure the alarm is appropriate to the risk;
  • Consider upgrading older systems.  Money spent now could save money on lost business due to constant UFSs
  • Ensure all relevant persons are made aware of the impact of UFSs both on the business and on the fire and rescue service
  • Consider implementing a delay in the system to allow for investigation.  It's important you seek advice from your local Fire Safety department before you implement this though 
  • During the summer months consider fixing flea collars to specific detector heads that are known to be vulnerable to insect infiltration (see photo above).

What is the fire service doing to reduce the number of UFSs they attend?

We are committed to providing the best possible service to the people who are most at need, whether that is attending emergency incidents or providing community safety advice to our most vulnerable communities.  By limiting the amount of time spent dealing with unnecessary calls to false alarms, we can only improve our performance in these very important areas.


We closely monitor the level of UFSs from all premises and will contact or visit those premises which create a large number of UFSs.  Where possible, by working in partnership with the premises, action plans to reduce the level of UFSs will be discussed, but where a premises shows little interest or improvement in reducing UFSs, it may be appropriate to instigate enforcement activities against the premises, under the current legislation. 
Firefighters also give advice to premises owners if they are called to an automatic fire alarm and it is a false alarm.

A good case study

To illustrate how working in partnership with premises can have a positive effect, the following may prove useful.
Addenbrookes Hospital had for many years been responsible for between 250 and 300 UFSs per year. The on-site fire safety team were in the process of considering a review of the way that calls were passed from the premises to the fire service in an effort to reduce this number.  It was agreed that an investigation time was appropriate as well as a grading of response from the fire service.  For example, if one automatic smoke detector activated, the fire service would not be called immediately (the on site fire safety team would first investigate).  However, if two detectors activated or a manual break-glass call point was activated, this would instigate an immediate response. Since the implementation of the new policy, calls to the fire service have been reduced to around 70 per year.

Where can I go for help?

If your premises has a problem with repeat false fire alarm activations or you would like to discuss the issue of UFSs in general, please contact us.