Scottish Fire & Rescue Service Introduces New ‘Call Challenge’ Policy to Combat False Alarms

Scottish Fire & Rescue Service Introduces New ‘Call Challenge’ Policy to Combat False Alarms

From 1 July 2023 the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service is adopting a new ‘Call Challenge’ policy whereby it will stop attending automatic fire alarm (AFA) call outs to commercial premises, such as factories, offices, shops and leisure facilities, unless a fire has been confirmed. This policy step-change is to reduce unwanted false fire alarms.

Fire alarm systems provide an early warning of fire and are one of the most effective ways to keep people and property safe from fire. But unfortunately, many fire alarm signals are false – triggered by cooking fumes, dust or lack of maintenance. This means fire crews are called out unnecessarily for unwanted fire alarm signals (UFAS). This policy change has now become necessary, as 98% of alarm activations which the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) is currently summoned to are false alarms.

As a result of the change, dutyholders with responsibility for commercial premises will need to safely investigate a fire alarm before calling 999, as control room operators will ask for confirmation of an actual fire, or signs of fire, prior to sending the nearest resource. This change however does not apply to sleeping premises, such as hospitals, care homes, hotels or domestic dwellings. Currently the ‘Call Challenge’ only affects Scotland, but with the heavy cost of false alarms on emergency services’ time being widespread, other areas of the UK may follow suit.

To accompany these changes, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) has published ‘Guidance on Safe Investigation of Fire Alarm Signals in the Absence of the Fire and Rescue Service’ to assist dutyholders investigating fire alarm signals at premises prior to summoning the SFRS. On page 15 of the guidance, it states that given the new policy “… dutyholders for premises in which people do not sleep should discuss, with their alarm system provider or maintainer and/or any company monitoring their fire alarm system at an ARC, more technologically advanced arrangements.” Fortunately, there are now advanced addressable fire panels available that offer investigation and verification solutions to help combat false alarms.

Neil Parkin, Regional Sales Manager (North and Ireland) at Advanced, said: “In the UK, false alarms cost 1 billion pounds a year, with, annual false alarms in Scotland representing approximately 57,000 unnecessary blue-light journeys for the SFRS alone. These unnecessary callouts have an impact on resources available to attend real fires and the time available for fire crews to undertake other valuable work. False alarms have other detrimental effects too by affecting business continuity and causing alarm complacency which can put lives at risk in real fire situations.”

“However, there are technologically advanced solutions available to help. The latest addressable fire panels feature false alarm management capability such as our AlarmCalm software, available as standard on our MxPro 5 and Go ranges of addressable panels. AlarmCalm delivers unprecedented control of verification and investigation delays – substantially reducing the risk of false alarms and giving dutyholders peace of mind.”

The design and planning of effective false alarm management starts with the fire risk assessment and the specification of a fire system that can cope with the demands that will be placed upon it. Advanced’s own technology, AlarmCalm, allows total control and configurability of the false alarm strategy across any site.

Fire systems offer two lines of defence against the false alarm issue. The first is based around detector technology, which functions by screening false signals in the detector heads themselves. The second focuses on the fire panel, analysing the signals received from sensors and interpreting this information to determine if the fire signal is real before taking further action. Many forward-looking manufacturers, including Advanced, are bringing these approaches together to combat false alarms from multiple directions.

Advanced provides ultimate flexibility in false alarm management, thanks to its unique approach to programming cause and effect. By dividing sites up into virtual false alarm ‘building areas’ independent of fire zones, users gain more precise control of false alarm management and reduction strategies that exactly fit the needs of each part of a building. Virtual building areas can cover multiple zones, partial zones or even single points for precise application of false alarm strategies based on risk per area.

AlarmCalm comes with both alarm verification and alarm investigation options, often referred to as Type A, B or C dependencies in line with EN54-2, section 7.12. Alarm verification is used to automatically check if an activated device is genuine before a fire condition is displayed on the panel. This is ideal for when the designated responsible person is not available on site. Here the system will work independently and can verify the alarm without human input. The system is flexible, accommodating many timing options and scenarios. This reduces false alarms since the verification delays check whether there is genuine reason for the alarm to activate before the signal is latched onto the fire panel.

AlarmCalm also features investigation delays which allow an occupant to physically check if an activated device is genuine after a fire condition is displayed on the panel. This option is ideal when there is a responsible person on site. Human input brings certainty in identifying the cause of the alarm.

As a world leader in the development and manufacture of intelligent fire systems, Advanced is committed to creating a safer future. A reputation for performance, quality and ease of use see Advanced products specified in locations around the world, from single-panel installations to large, multi-site networks. The Advanced product portfolio includes complete fire detection systems, multiprotocol fire panels, extinguishing control, fire paging, false alarm management and reduction solutions as well as emergency lighting.

Advanced is owned by FTSE 100 company Halma PLC – a global group of life-saving technology companies with a clear purpose to grow a safer, cleaner, healthier future for everyone, every day.

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