Automatic Fire Alarms and Call Challenge

Automatic fire alarms or AFA’s are usually challenged by our call operators and are not something we necessarily attend unless there is a confirmed emergency. Reducing false alarms and ensuring we only attend genuine incidents means our firefighters are available when you need them.

Read on for more information about how we call challenge and what we do or don’t attend.

False Alarms

Our firefighters can’t be in two places at once, so if they’re attending a false alarm it means they’re not able to respond to our most serious incidents. Although we’ve been working with partners to reduce the number of false alarms – about a third in recent years – there’s still a lot of work to do, especially as the number of resources we have available reduces.

We split false alarms into three types:

‘False alarm – equipment’ is for calls initiated by fire detection or firefighting equipment activating (such as smoke alarms or sprinklers) when there isn’t a fire. In cases like this, our crews are stood down before arriving.
‘False alarm – good intention’ covers instances where a person sees or smells smoke, thinks there’s a fire and sounds the alarm but there turns out to be nothing.
‘False alarm – malicious’ applies where someone purposely breaks the glass at an alarm point or interferes with a detector to get the brigade to attend a non-existent fire.

Business Support Vehicles (BSV's)

We introduced our first BSV in February 2015 as part of efforts to stop fire engines and crews being deployed unnecessarily, and now have three in operation at strategic locations across the West Midlands. Crewed by a specialist Fire Safety Officer, they are deployed to premises where, based on risk, our operators determine an attendance is required but that a fire appliance with a full crew is not necessary.

They attend thousands of alarm activations, giving advice and support to businesses to make them and the people working their safe. In particular, advice is given on the management and suitability of fire alarms, leading to a reduction in Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) calls. Where necessary, this may also involve commencing enforcement of fire safety law.

The vehicles operate a 12 hour day during core times that we’ve identified are more at risk of alarm actuation.

Call Challenge

We’ve worked hard to achieve a policy and procedure that allows a proportional response to AFA calls, based upon risk analysis. One of the best ways that a fire service can establish whether or not to respond in such cases is by speaking to someone at the premises concerned. This enables our fire control operators to ask relevant questions of the responsible person at the premises and, if then necessary, send the appropriate resources to save life and protect property.  This is known as ‘call challenge’ and ‘dynamic mobilising’.

As of 1st June 2015, we challenge all calls from Alarm Receiving Centres on a 24/7 basis, but will automatically respond to hospitals, prisons and care line calls at all times. Similarly, we’ll always attend premises that confirm that there is a fire via the 999 system.

Exceptions List
There are some specific circumstances in which we will still attend AFAs:

  • Lone workers – where we’re informed there’s only 1 member of staff on duty.
  • ‘Break glass’ point broken
  • Actuation of two detector heads (double knock)
  • Report of smoke or fire
  • Site Specific Information (SSI) listed against a premise – this is usually requested by our Fire Safety team requiring an attendance for all calls for a specific reason.

For further information on reducing false alarms, you can view this guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council.