The biggest causes of false fire alarms are older technology and systems that are improperly designed and/or not maintained. Modern technology, proper design and regular maintenance can minimize false alarms. Systems over 15 to 20 years old do not have the technical means to handle deceptive phenomena.

Proper planning, design, installation, commissioning and maintenance should be provided by firms certified for such work as defined in the European Standard EN 16763 Services for fire alarm and security systems.

Preventing false alarms

False alarms and counterstrategies must be taken seriously by the planner from the beginning of the planning process in the fire protection plan. The prevention of false alarms is also the responsibility of the operators and site managers. There is still a lot of optimization potential.

These are some of the observations from the Euralarm False Alarm Study (2019), which looks at the situation in Germany, Austria (Vorarlberg), Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. To further the reduction of false fire alarms even more, better data is needed to outline and support any measures defined.To further the reduction of false fire alarms, better data is needed to outline and support any measures defined

The study also shows that, in some regions, approximately 30% of the false alarms are caused by 5% of the sites. “We have to optimize the planning and application processes,” says Dr. Sebastian Festag, who headed up the research.

Euralarm “False Fire Alarms” task group

The Euralarm “False Fire Alarms” task group completed a three-year study in 2018 that aimed to identify the actual state of the false alarm issue of fire detection and alarm systems (FDAS), their conditions, main causes and measurements to reduce them. The result of the work is the False Alarm Study (2019), which was the follow-up to a pre-study that led to an observation of the questionable quality and availability of data.

The lack of common data and terminologies – as seen in the first study – makes further analysis and the development of prevention strategies difficult. Reducing the incidence of false alarms requires an understanding of the phenomenon and the conditions (terms, data, transmission paths, standards and calculations). Differences and similarities among countries could be used to derive measures to influence the issue and its ratio, but the circumstances between countries are too varied to truly compare.

Systems over 15 to 20 years old do not have the technical means to handle deceptive phenomena

Comparisons between countries are not possible

In the countries that were visited, the Fire Services collected the data. “An observation here is that comparisons between countries is not possible; hence gaining a better understanding through this process today has limits,” says Lance Rütimann, Chairman of the Euralarm Fire Section and member of the Task Group.

In the context of fire safety engineering, a false alarm is a fire alarm with no conditions that motivates a fire interventionThe study differentiates between a “real” fire alarm and a false fire alarm. “Real” means that there is a fire alarm with a fire or other conditions that requires an intervention, either by someone in the building or the fire services. “False” alarms are defined as events in which experts establish that there is no real hazard existing. In the context of fire safety engineering, a false alarm is a fire alarm with no conditions that motivates a fire intervention (the alarm is not classified as a real fire alarm; a fire intervention is unjustified).

False Alarm Study Lists Counterstrategies

One chapter of the False Alarm Study lists an overview of counterstrategies. There are many well-known measures (e.g. two-detector dependency), and technical progress provides new opportunities (e. g. multisensory-detectors)

Founded in 1970, Euralarm is an organization representing over 5000 companies within the fire safety and security industry valued at 67 billion Euros. The organization provides leadership and expertise for industry, market, policy makers and standards bodies. Euralarm members make society safer and secure through systems and services for fire detection and extinguishing, intrusion detection, access control, video monitoring, alarm transmission and alarm receiving centers. Euralarm members are national associations and individual companies from across Europe.

Not all can be avoided

People get annoyed by false fire alarms, which pull them out of what they are doing and force them to evacuate a building. However, it is a misconception that all false fire alarms can be avoided. A fire detection and fire alarm system is constantly monitoring and evaluating the environment in a building. Sometimes what might be perceived as a false fire alarm is in fact an event that was caught in a very early stage. Clearly it is better to be safe than sorry, and to move people to a safe area whilst intervention forces are in action.It is a misconception that all false fire alarms can be avoided

False alarms should not be seen as purely negative. A lot can be learned from false alarms; for example, in dealing with vulnerabilities in the technical and organizational alerting process.

In general, the number of false alarms is falling, while the number of installed systems is rising, demonstrating that technology works and that false alarm reduction strategies are effective. The number of false fire alarms had declined in all countries in the last years/decades due to optimized technologies. The industry is focusing on the remaining false alarms, some of which are systems that are outdated, no longer meeting site conditions and/or are not professionally maintained.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

Larry Anderson Editor, TheBigRedGuide.com, Notting Hill Media

In case you missed it

In A Busy Wildfire Season, Researchers Seek New Approaches
In A Busy Wildfire Season, Researchers Seek New Approaches

It makes perfect sense that a horrific wildfire season would come in the year 2020 on the heels of a pandemic. Dozens of major fires burned across North America in September, including 85 large uncontained fires and six contained fires across 12 states. Active fires have burned more than 3 million acres already, and 41,417 fires have burned almost 5 million acres year-to-date. The severity of the wildfire season is on track to surpass the 10-year average. Better understanding wildfires Global warming is often mentioned as a contributor to the wildfires, but there are other factors, too. Increasingly, researchers are looking to apply new approaches in address the risk of wildfires. They include tools such as deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to better understand wildfires and to control their intensity. The model could be used to reveal areas of greatest risk for wildfires A new deep learning model uses remote sensing and satellite data to trace fuel moisture levels across 12 Western states, in effect tracking the amount of easily burnable plant material and how dry it is. After additional testing is complete, the model could be used to reveal areas of greatest risk for wildfires and to plan the best areas for prescribed burns. Led by a Stanford University ecohydrologist, the research was published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment. Recurrent neural network The model uses data from the U.S. Forest Service’s National Fuel Moisture Database, which amasses plant water content information from thousands of samples. Using a ‘recurrent neural network,’ the system leverages the fuel moisture data to corroborate measurements of visible light and microwave radar signals from spaceborne sensors that are tasked with estimating fuel moisture measurements. Newer satellites with longer wavelengths allow sensitive observations about moisture content deeper into the forest canopy. Estimates from the model are used to generate interactive maps that fire agencies may one day use to identify patterns and prioritize wildfire control estimates. Researchers are also working to analyze the impact of better and more efficient firefighting on the size and frequency of wildfires. The theory goes: When firefighters extinguish smaller vegetation fires, a consequence is the creation of an environment where wildfires are larger and/or more frequent. Natural cycle of regeneration Older woods will naturally catch fire from the sun’s heat to make way for fresh growth The theory is based on the premise that wildfires play an essential role in the periodic regeneration of forests. Older woods will naturally catch fire from the sun’s heat to make way for fresh growth. However, more efficient firefighting can disrupt the natural cycle and, along with global warming, aggravate the broader likelihood of larger and more frequent fires. Researchers at the WiFire Lab in California and the University of Alberta in Canada are using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the environment and provide recommendations for prescribed burns that can save some parts of the forest without interfering with the natural cycle of regeneration. Providing early warning of wildfires Equipment operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) caused 2018’s Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history. Because of the threat of sparking a wildfire, PG&E this year shut off power to 172,000 customers in Northern California on Labor Day weekend, for example. A concern is the threat of winds tearing down power line or hurling debris into them. Southern California Edison (SCE), another utility, warned that about 55,000 customer accounts could lose power. California utilities SCE, PG&E and San Diego Gas and Electric are helping to fund a network of ALERTWildfire video cameras in California that will help to provide early warning of wildfires. Video cameras keep watch throughout five Western United States to provide early warning, and the number of cameras is growing fast.

Should Firefighters And First Responders Use Face Masks?
Should Firefighters And First Responders Use Face Masks?

Should firefighters and other first responders be exempt from requirements that they wear face masks to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)? The City Council of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, seems to think so. They are proposing an amendment to exempt first responders from complying with the city’s face mask ordinance. Amendment to Exempt first responders from face mask rule Specifically, the proposed amendment states, “Exempted from the requirements of the ordinance requiring wearing of face coverings include law enforcement personnel, first responders or other workers, who are actively engaged in their tasks, if wearing a face covering may hinder their performance.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear masks in public settings The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear masks in public settings, especially when social distancing cannot be maintained. The CDC does not specify a need to exempt first responders. However, there is a possibility that a mask could interfere with the work of firefighters or first responders, especially when they are performing tasks that require physical exertion. Face masks can inhibit communication among first responders Face masks, covering the mouth and nose, could also inhibit communication by muffling sound and obstructing facial expressions. Obviously, communication is of paramount importance for firemen working as a team in an emergency, or when a first responder is seeking to give clear directions to the public. The issue of face masks has been inexorably entwined with the well-being of first responders, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on during the infection spread, health officials dismissed face masks as a tool to avoid spread of the disease. They said that the masks were ineffective at preventing community spread and that, supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to be conserved for health professionals and first responders. Importance of face masks in controlling spread of COVID-19 However, the early advice was completely reversed in late March 2020 and masks have been advocated ever since. A mask, worn by an infected individual, reduces the dispersion of virus-laden droplets that spread the disease. Now, experts contend that any type of mask, including cloth or paper, can help to reduce spread of the COVID-19 virus. Expanding the use of masks to include those that are not conformant with the N-95 classification effectively eliminated any concerns about supply and helped to make the widespread use of masks the norm. To some extent, however, mask usage in the United States has been politicized and some see the requirements as an affront to liberty. Need for wearing face masks in public Masks are a useful preventative measure for firefighters working together in a communal area Fire and emergency departments face the same challenges as other businesses and institutions, as they seek to remain safe in a communal workspace. Masks are a useful preventative measure for firefighters working together in a communal area or when training or resting. Wearing masks in public also allows departments to model best practices and promote a positive perception of the department to the public. Disciplined use of face masks demonstrates unselfishness and respect for others. It communicates professionalism and concern for the greater good. Masks go a long way in saving lives of first responders Perception may also be an issue when it comes to the choice of masks, which become a de facto part of a uniform. Masks with political statements should be avoided, for example. Considering that dozens of American fire and EMS members have died of COVID-19 infection, since March 2020, the use of masks is another way that firefighters can work to save lives. However, sufficient flexibility is needed so that the use of masks does not interfere with other lifesaving duties.

What Are the New Trends in Firefighting Equipment?
What Are the New Trends in Firefighting Equipment?

Equipment is an important element in fighting fires, and in keeping firefighters safe. But what new needs are driving the development of equipment? How can equipment expand its role in fighting fires, or in managing building occupancy and traffic flow for that matter? We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What are the new trends and opportunities in firefighting equipment?

vfd