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Commercial Services
Automatic fire alarms


This section of the Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service (DSFRS) website is provided to alert and remind people of the potential consequences of false alarms/unwanted actuations from Fire Alarm Systems. It aims to provide guidance, relevant information and highlight our approach and guidance.

DSFRS is committed to eradicating false/unwanted alarms and thus reducing the number of unwanted mobilisations. Unfortunately, DSFRS respond to thousands of unwanted / false alarms each year.
False (unwanted) alarms are disruptive to the operation of your organisation and to DSFRS. Any emergency response to an unwanted/false alarm poses a risk to the community, creates environmental pollution and prevents the Fire and Rescue Service from being available for confirmed fires and rescues, as well as disrupting essential training and community safety initiatives.

All organisations are reminded that fire alarm maintenance, false alarm reduction and procedures to identify false alarms are the responsibility of the premises responsible person.
Large proportions of system actuations can easily be identified as false alarms by persons on or in the premises and hence not require a call to the Fire Service. This approach has proven successful where it has been implemented.

Therefore, dependent upon a suitable risk assessment of the premises, false alarm clarification prior to calling the Fire Service should be implemented. This approach should also be incorporated into the premises fire training programme.
National policy and guidance requires all premises with an automatic fire alarm system to have call filtering at the premises to ensure false alarms are identified prior to the Fire Service being called.

Definition of an unwanted fire signal / actuation
The Fire Industry Association defines an unwanted fire signal as "Any fire alarm signal other than a genuine fire or test signal".

The current version of BS 5839: also defines a false alarm as a fire signal resulting from a cause(s) other than a fire, and further sub-divides these into four categories:

• Unwanted alarms,
• Equipment false alarms,
• Malicious false alarms,
• False alarms with good intent.

DSFRS consider a fire detection and warning system/equipment as a 'poor performing premises' if there have:

• two or more unwanted actuations in any period of 4 weeks,
• three or more unwanted actuations in any period of 26 weeks,

Typical Causes
The following typical causes of unwanted/false alarms can usually be avoided by improved awareness and by taking preventative measures.

• Cooking fumes
• Steam (showers or industrial processes)
• Aerosol sprays
• Dust and thrips/insects in detectors
• Occupants or staff smoking
• Controlled processes that produce smoke and fumes
• Water ingress
• Contractors/Workmen activities including hot works
• Mechanical damage/disruption
• Testing or maintenance of fire alarm systems without prior warning to the Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC)

Basic Statistics
Between April 2012 and October 2013 the Service received 8,744 calls relating to unwanted fire signals, attending 6,556 (74%) - an average of 345 attendances per month.
Of these calls 47% (4,082) occurred between the hours of 0800 and 1800 Monday - Friday with the Service attending 2,560 of these.

Non-attendance to specific premises by property type between 0800-1800hrs
DSFRS current arrangement - Non-Domestic /  Non-Residential

Since the 1st November 2013, DSFRS have not routinely attended alarm actuation calls unless the building's occupants can confirm that there signs of a fire. Our non-attendance protocols apply between the hours of 0800 - 1800, Monday - Friday, but only relates to the Non-Residential property types listed below unless a prior risk assessment indicated that other arrangements were necessary:

The property types below are considered low risk with sufficient resources to enable the property to act on their own management procedures and fire risk assessment, to conduct a safe investigation of the building and confirmation of an Unwanted Fire Signal (UFS).

Property types

• Retail
• Offices and call centres
• Industrial manufacturing
• Education
• Entertainment and culture
• Warehouses and bulk storage
• Public administration
• Food and drink
• Sporting venues
• Vehicle repair
• Religious
• Transport buildings

Note - for the purpose of non-attendance these are premises which do not contain any sleeping risk.
The list above is a generic sample and can be added to as applicable.

We have the discretion to increase / decrease the number of fire appliances subject to the information gained, type of property and type of call. i.e. library, historical or listed building.

No adverse changes have been made to the way that fire safety advice and support is provided to any organisation affected by our non-attendance approach.

We do challenge calls and will request that Alarm Monitoring Companies seek confirmation from their customers that there is a fire before they call the Fire Service to attend.


False Alarm

• Confirmed False Alarm - No Appliance mobilisation

Doubts as to Cause

• Doubts as to Activation Cause - Standard alarm actuation attendance - 1 appliance between the hours of 1800 - 0800
• Doubts as to Activation Cause - Risk Assessed attendance
• Doubts as to Activation Cause - Confirmed Domestic/Residential Premises - Standard alarm actuation attendance - 1 appliance

Confirmed Fire

• Confirmed Fire - Fire attendance appropriate to the occupancy risk

If after mobilisation the premises identify and confirm the actuation/call is a false alarm, we can and will stand down the resources attending - by a follow up call on the 999 system, however we have the discretion to continue with the mobilisation.

If there is any doubt on receipt of a call as to the identity or responsibility status of the caller, or the quality of the required information, then an attendance will be made, likewise if there is any doubt about the information received from someone calling us back to stand our response down, the default position is to allow the appropriate Service deployment that has been mobilised to attend.

At all times, if the caller states confirmation or the signs of a fire, a fire attendance (appropriate to the occupancy risk) will be mobilised. If this results in Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue responding to an 'unwanted fire signal' then we will work with the business/property concerned to identify the cause, and advise on steps to take to prevent further unwanted activations which would be bespoke to the specific location and business environment.

DSFRS Policy is based on the national guidance. It aims to highlight to premises with automatic fire alarm systems that the management of their fire alarm system and procedures are their responsibility. DSFRS encourages proactive management to reduce and minimise false alarms at the premises and calls to the fire service. If a premises continues to have consistent false alarms and limited or no actions have been taken to resolve the problem then actions will be taken.
"Don't call the Fire and Rescue Service if an actuation is a confirmed false alarm, any doubts or signs of fire then call us immediately."

The localism Act 2011 introduced, amongst other things, the power to charge for repeated attendance at non-domestic premises where there is a persistent problem with false reports made as a direct or indirect result of warning equipment under common control having malfunctioned or be inappropriately positioned or installed. Devon and Somerset Fire Authority has resolved to exercise this power when necessary in relation to persistent unwanted fire alarm actuation incident attendances.

DSFRS False Alarm Reduction Guidance

Please view the False Alarm Reduction Guidance document for better practice guidance and ideas to reduce false/ unwanted alarms. Please note - Any actions should be subject to the premises Risk Assessment. It is estimated in some establishments over 70% of false alarms are resolvable alarms and due to human action. The premises is therefore aware of the cause of the alarm actuation and that it is false, however in many cases the fire service are still mobilised. DSFRS policy hopes to encourage improved management procedures to negate these calls.

Chief Fire Officers Association - National Guidance

Please see the link to the National Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) Guide for the Reduction of False Alarms & Unwanted Fire Signals, DSFRS Policy is based on the principles of this policy but adapted to fit local requirements, working practise and ethics.

If your alarm is remotely monitored please see the link to the National Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) Best Practice Guide for summoning a fire response via Alarm Monitoring Organisations.


For further guidance, assistance and queries:

Dave Powlesland
Call Reduction Officer
Community Fire Safety (Protection)
Service Headquarters
The Knowle
Clyst St George
Exeter EX3 0NW

Phone: 01392 872172
Mobile: 07968 502781


A guide to reducing the number of false alarms from fire detection and fire alarm systems

All our safety information can be made available in other languages. Please contact 0800 050 2999 to request a copy.

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