As of 1st of July 2023, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will no longer attend automatic fire alarm call outs to non-high-risk premises.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) have undertaken extensive research into Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals (UFAS) which has identified up to 98% of automated fire alarm calls are false alarms. Following consultation, they have taken the decision to implement a new response model which in simple terms requires a confirmed fire before they send a response.

In addition to the time wasted in sending an Appliance to false alarms, there is also the increased road safety risk when Appliances attend under blue lights. Each false alarm has been estimated to cause 27 minutes of business disruption. This would seem to be a modest estimation of the disruption and many large buildings will incur significantly higher disruption costs as well as other issues such as loss of reputation or loss of customers. SFRS are also likely to charge for calls to repeated false alarms.

This article is in relation to the SFRS requirements in Scotland, however it is likely that other Fire & Rescue services across the UK may employ a similar approach, either currently or in the future.

Our staff are being briefed on these changes, considerations on operational impact and how they will affect designs and processes.

There has been an SFRS campaign to raise awareness, but it is not clear that there has been significant penetration with building owners, building operators, duty holders, or the wider fire alarm industry. There are no “ready-made” design solutions although there are some products that are better than others in avoiding unwanted alarms. We are readying ourselves to provide solutions.

So what happens when an alarm goes off?

SFRS will “Call Challenge” any calls received from Alarm Receiving Centres (ARC) or from direct calls. This means that they will ask if it is a confirmed sign of fire, which will then determine the SFRS response.

Premises which are exempt from the Call Challenge are those considered high risk. This can be simplified as premises which include a sleeping risk, including:

  • Residential / Nursing / Care homes
  • Sheltered housing
  • Residential (Generally)
  • Hospitals (Only in sleeping areas, such as wards)
  • Hotels

Therefore, if the building is not exempt it will be Call Challenged. This includes offices, retail, education, industrial etc. and at all times of the day. It also includes areas of non-sleeping risk in large sites such as hospitals or retail premises on the ground floor of residential buildings.

Although some small premises may use a conventional fire alarm system, in general most will make use of an addressable fire alarm system. This will allow identification of a particular device, its type and location. SFRS will not consider a single smoke detector going into alarm as a confirmed fire.

However, they will consider some automatic devices as sufficiently low risk of false alarm to be considered as an indication that there is a confirmed fire.

The simplest form of confirming a fire condition is by human intervention, however that could have obvious safety risks. It may also introduce a delay if the fire condition occurs when the building is not staffed. Using technology to confirm a fire condition is possible but requires careful consideration in conjunction with other aspects of the fire safety plan.

There is a balance to be had between the disruption and cost of unwanted alarms, against the delay in attending to real fires. The implications of a delayed response could be significant hence the need to define the strategy considering all aspects.

At Wallace Whittle, we ensure our Engineers are ready to tackle change. If you would like to discuss the Call Challenge further, please get in touch with our Director of Engineering, Stephen Phimister – [email protected]

Stephen Phimister, Glasgow

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