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How we respond to automatic fire alarms

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is changing the way it responds to automatic fire alarms.

Why is West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (WSFRS) changing the way it responds to automatic fire alarm (AFA) activations?

Since 2020, we have attended approximately 1,500 automatic fire alarm (AFA) callouts in business premises each year. However, 98.8% of these are false alarms. We mobilise at least one fire engine to every automatic fire alarm callout, which costs approximately £350 per fire engine per hour. It also means that the crew is unable to attend emergencies where lives could be at risk.

This action is being taken to ensure our crews can spend more time undertaking vital community safety work, attending emergencies and training.

This does not apply to residential buildings, such as hotels and hospitals, or domestic dwellings.

This change is outlined in our Community Risk Management Plan and adopted following support from the public and stakeholders.

When does this new arrangement come into operation?

As from December 2022, West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service will no longer automatically respond to fire alarm actuations in low-risk commercial properties, such as factories and shops until a fire has been confirmed at that property. There will be a ‘call challenge’ by control room operators to check whether there is an actual fire before sending the nearest fire engine to the incident.

Does WSFRS have a legal duty to attend AFA activations?

Fire and Rescue Authorities must make provision for extinguishing fires and for protecting life and property in the event of fires. They must also plan for dealing with calls for help when there is a fire. However, there is no legal duty on them to respond to calls originating from AFA systems for the purpose of establishing whether there is a fire.

In non-domestic premises, covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the employer, the owner or someone else who has control of the premises (the designated ‘responsible person’) must ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the premises are safe for its occupants in the event of a fire. These arrangements would include the actions that would be taken if the AFA system was activated.

How have we informed businesses?

We are contacting local business groups across West Sussex to inform them of this change. We will also be using our website and social media channels to reach as many businesses as possible.

Will investigating the cause of the AFA activation put us in danger?

We are not asking anyone to put themselves at any unnecessary risk. Staff and occupants should be made aware of how to respond safely to AFA activations in each premises. Ignoring them or assuming the Fire and Rescue Service has been notified could put people at risk.

If there is a fire you should call 999 immediately and follow other specific strategies, such as evacuation and assembly points. The ‘responsible person’ of the building will need to review the current investigation procedures, in line with the current fire risk assessment.

Following this change to how we respond to AFAs, you may be required to revisit your investigation procedures following actuation of an alarm. This may also need to include staff training.

Who is responsible for giving the all-clear after the AFA actuation has been investigated?

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, you should train staff and incorporate a suitable procedure to be able to investigate the cause of the AFA actuation and confirm if there is a fire or not.

What can be done to prevent or reduce false alarms from AFA systems?

Automatic Fire Alarm systems are designed to actuate when a fire is detected, but other issues can lead to false alarms. You can help prevent this by:

  • having a suitable fire alarm system for the premises
  • servicing and testing your alarm system in accordance with appropriate and current British Standard, such as BS 5839:1
  • closing doors when cooking.

Do I need to inform my current insurers of your change in response to Automatic Fire Alarm activations?

You should contact your insurance company to discuss the changes in response to AFA activations, but please note that West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service will always attend a confirmed fire.

Further information

Further information is available in our Fire safety for advice for business section and our interactive business fire safety awareness tool.

Last updated:
24 June 2024
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