Download PDF version

Paul Pope, Head of System Integration and Technical Support at Apollo Fire Detectors, explains why sophisticated detection technology – coupled with better management of fire detection systems – is key to combatting false alarms. With reports suggesting that incidences of false alarms are reducing year on year, it’s clear that tighter regulation, enhanced detection systems and a more professional approach to systems management have helped to address this age-old challenge.

However, these statistics are no excuse for the sector to rest on collective laurels. Irrespective of where they take place, repeated false alarms cause significant problems and, ultimately, can lead to occupants ignoring a genuine alarm, potentially resulting in a loss of life. Improving the management of fire detection systems by site owners and maintenance contractors is vital if we are to further reduce false alarm incidents.

detection and response strategy requirements 

By routinely checking that systems are operating properly and addressing any subsequent maintenance issues, the risk of false alarm incidents can be reduced. Hand-in-hand with this is the crucial issue of replacing detectors and devices when they have reached the end of their manufacturer-recommended lifespan; this will undoubtedly increase a system’s reliability.

System designers need to take into account the detection and response strategy requirements for buildings

System designers also need to take into account the differing detection and response strategy requirements for both occupied and unoccupied buildings. Both have unique demands which means a ‘one size fits all’ approach simply won’t work. An occupied building has the potential for life to be endangered by real fires and, while it is more susceptible to false alarms caused by human actions, it also supposes the possibility that early warning (pre-alarm) conditions can be acted on.

fire detection system

Occupied buildings may also have personnel on-hand to make an assessment about the validity of an activation deal, with and/or assess an emergency and act on fault and maintenance conditions as they occur. An unoccupied building, on the other hand, does not risk human casualties directly and has potentially fewer false alarm phenomena, but may not include any on-site verification of abnormal conditions such as faults and fires; the main purpose of the fire system is the protection of property.

These differing factors will, depending on the nature of the premises, impose different strategies when designing, specifying and installing a fire detection system. Having the correct verification/response strategy and detection system in place will lead to fewer false alarms by ensuring that a system is fit for purpose in regard to the appropriate detection sensitivity settings, correct detector type and detector siting.

Advances in detection technology

We believe that the best solution to combat false alarms is the use of innovative technology

The design and manufacture of reliable, effective and innovative fire detection devices is critical to reducing false alarms. It is believed that the best solution to combat false alarms is the use of innovative technology to ‘design out’ the variety of issues that can cause them. There will always be contributing factors which will never be eradicated by any manufacturer, eg. malicious manual call point activations, but there are certainly recurring causes which can be addressed.

Developing technology that addresses the main causes of false alarms is a core area of focus and investment for Apollo. A great example of this is the company’s SOTERIA fire detectors, which incorporate an optical sensing technology called PureLight. PureLight detects smoke particles entering its chambers. A cone sensing chamber allows light from the LED to be entirely absorbed, reducing reflections in the chamber.

fine mesh barrier

SOTERIA detectors also incorporate an advanced chip sensor which significantly improves the detection of smoke and enhances reliability of the detection process. The sleek low profile design of the detectors means that less dust penetrates the outer casing. They have also been designed to be less sensitive to any dust that accumulates over long periods of time.

Finally, a fine mesh barrier provides protection from insects – another common cause of false alarms – making it harder for them to enter the device. Careful design of the optical chamber also ensures that any insect small enough to penetrate the mesh barrier has fewer opportunities to interrupt the operation of the smoke detector.

activate unwanted alarms

Earlier this year, SOTERIA detectors were specified for Canada Court, a purpose-built student and NHS key worker accommodation site located in Surrey, England, which has over 450 residences across 12 buildings. The site is operated by the housing association A2Dominion. Prior to installing the new detection system, between five and ten false alarms were taking place every week, which was clearly unacceptable for residents, maintenance teams and the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service.

A recognized problem within HMOs is repeated false alarms caused by shower spray/steam

Known as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), these premises require specialist attention when it comes to designing and specifying a fire detection system. A recognized problem within HMOs is repeated false alarms caused by shower spray/steam, hairspray/deodorant aerosols, candles, burnt food and steam from communal kitchens, and dust build-up. But not all false alarms are caused by tenant activities – insects, high humidity, water ingress and external smoke sources can also activate unwanted alarms.

new fire detection system

At Canada Court, false alarms were also being caused by contamination on the heads of the old detectors. Unsurprisingly, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service put the housing association on notice that the fire detection system needed to be replaced or the association would be charged for future call-outs. Millwood Servicing Ltd was appointed as the installer, service and maintenance contractor at the site for the installation of the new fire detection system.

With many years of experience of Apollo products, Millwood Servicing recommended our SOTERIA range. As it was impracticable to move hundreds of tenants out of Canada Court for the duration of the installation, it was vital that the Apollo system was easy to install, with as little disruption to everyday life as possible. In just two weeks, 389 SOTERIA optical and heat multisensors and 63 SOTERIA heat detectors (for the kitchens) were installed, along with one Kentec 4 loop panel and eleven Kentec 1 loop panels.

false alarm call-outs

Zarja Elektronika is responsible for the ongoing maintenance across all of RTV's buildings

Since the new SOTERIA system was installed earlier this year, there have been no false alarm call-outs of the emergency services. Eliminating the risk of false alarms was also a key requirement for a recent upgrade of the fire detection system at RTV Slovenia, Slovenia’s public broadcasting institution, which based in the capital city of Ljubljana.

Panel partner and installer, Zarja Elektronika, is responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the fire detection system across all of RTV's buildings, from studios to transmitter centers. As with many multi-faceted buildings, false alarms were a major problem for RTV, causing unnecessary interference with day-to-day activities and requiring the movement of large numbers of people.

optical and heat detectors

However, Zarja Elektronika was able to reassure RTV that the SOTERIA range would not only significantly reduce false alarm incidents, but also satisfy their requirements for absolute reliability and an aesthetically pleasing appearance.

In the latest upgrade, 700 Apollo SOTERIA optical and heat detectors were installed, making a total replacement of around 2000 devices over five years. Zarja Elektronika also installed two addressable Zarja NJP-400A panels, each with four loops. The buildings where the system upgrade took place had to remain open and accessible at all times as RTV broadcasts around the clock. Although false alarms cannot be totally eradicated, as an industry, the installers of detection systems have a collective responsibility to work together and share best practice in those areas which can make a difference.

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

In case you missed it

How Technology Helps London Fire Brigade With Incident Command
How Technology Helps London Fire Brigade With Incident Command

Drones give Incident Commanders an aerial view, increasing their situational awareness of fires and helping them to develop tactics to tackle them. Station Officer Lee Newman details how the technology was implemented by London Fire Brigade and the continued benefits. Identify external risks The Grenfell Tower fire has resulted in revisions to several operational procedures and the introduction of new equipment within the Brigade. A few months after the fire, the Brigade was tasked with setting up a trial to test the feasibility of having a drone capability to identify external risks and assess building stability at incidents, providing essential safety information that could facilitate ongoing internal firefighting operations. Implement the use of drones The Brigade implemented the use of drones and acquired a Matrice 210 V1 and a Phantom 4 Working with partners who had an existing drone capability, as well as drone experts, the Brigade began work to implement the use of drones and acquired a Matrice 210 V1 and a Phantom 4 as a trainer and reserve drone. In the summer of 2018, an Emergency Services bespoke course was run by Essex Police to train the Brigade’s team of drone pilots, who were all PfCO qualified within one week. From start to finish, it took just nine months to get London Fire Brigade’s drone team operational. Working of the drones On its first day of being available for incidents, the team received an order to attend a 15-pump fire at a leisure center, which was under renovation. They were asked to confirm if there were cylinders on the roof of the building and immediately put the drone to use. The team flew and relayed the camera footage onto a large screen that was fitted into a van provided for the trial. The drone footage was able to identify, to the Incident Commander’s satisfaction, that the cylinders were actually rolls of asphalt due to be laid on the roof as part of the renovation. If the drone concept could have proven its use in one job, this was it. The information from the drone allowed the Incident Commander to decide not to make it ‘cylinders confirmed’ and saved a lot of unnecessary extra appliance movements. Applications of drone Since that first callout, the team has been to around 300 incidents of six pumps or more, including persons in the water, fires, and various missing people’s incidents both in London and into other counties, assisting police forces. From start to finish, it took just nine months to get London Fire Brigade’s drone team operational Drone inventory The Brigade’s drone capability inventory includes a Matrice 300 with an H20T dual thermal and optical camera; a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual with multi attachments; a Mavic Air 2 and a Yuneec 520. The Brigade also has a Teradek live streaming device and multiple tablets for receiving the streamed footage. The Brigade operates with two Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVs – plug-in hybrid SUVs – and has split the drone equipment into two, with one vehicle carrying the drone and batteries, and the other carrying all the support kit and ancillaries. Working in dark conditions The drones are permitted to fly up to 400 ft above ground level or higher in an emergency and can fly as fast as 50 mph. They also can act as a loudspeaker to give instructions or reassurance and shine a bright spotlight in dark or low light conditions. 24/7 service The Brigade has eight pilots trained and operates a 24/7 service The Brigade has eight pilots trained and operates a 24/7 service. The team is working closely with its blue light partners, including the: Metropolitan Police Service, several search and rescue teams, and a host of fire services surrounding the capital, as well as giving advice to other upcoming drone teams around the UK. Use of drone in future The Brigade’s drone capability has been molded to how it sees the future and what it holds in the way of drone use. For example, the Brigade has developed a capability to drop water rescue aides to people at water incidents, which helps to keep them afloat long enough to be rescued. The drone can also be used alongside the swift water rescue teams to provide situational awareness of hazards and the resulting risks during the rescue phase. Delivering fire escape tools The Brigade also invested in fire escape hoods in late 2018 and has already demonstrated how one might be delivered via a drone to a balcony above the height of an aerial appliance while using the Mavic Enterprise 2 to relay instructions via the loudspeakers. These possible new uses are pushing the boundaries of the Brigade’s original concept and demonstrate how London Fire Brigade works to stay ahead of the curve. 

Chicago Bans Dogs From Firehouses, Despite Long-Held Tradition
Chicago Bans Dogs From Firehouses, Despite Long-Held Tradition

There is a long tradition of canines in the fire service, from Dalmatians riding shotgun in the fire truck to mixed breeds rescued from fires that later become the fire company mascot. The tradition has taken a hit recently in Chicago, where dogs are no longer allowed at firehouses after one station dog killed a smaller breed canine near a firehouse in the Englewood neighborhood. The incident The firehouse dog in Chicago, named Bones, was a mixed breed stray rescued off the street that was living at Engine 116 at 60th Street and Ashland Avenue. A neighbor was walking her smaller breed dog past the firehouse and watched in horror as Bones attacked and killed her small dog. After the incident, Chicago’s Acting Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt issued a department memo: “Any and all prior permissions for dogs in the fire stations or on fire apparatuses are hereby revoked … effective immediately.” Chicago Firehouse dogs Most of Chicago’s firehouse dogs are strays that were picked up and brought to firefighters by the public. Fire crews and paramedics care for the dogs, train them, feed them and get them inoculated and spayed or neutered, then ask formal permission to keep the dogs on site. Historically, permission has been granted, in effect saving the dogs from being euthanized. Breed of choice The tradition of dogs and the fire service goes back centuries, to the 1700s, when carriage dogs first trotted alongside horse-drawn fire carriages. Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses, and grace under pressure. The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) began utilizing Dalmatians as early as the 1870s. Dalmatians as firehouse ambassadors When motorized vehicles came on the scene, Dalmatians were already associated with firefighters, who continued to keep them on-site as firehouse residents and mascots. Increasingly, Dalmatians and other dogs became public ambassadors for firehouses and were involved in public education about fire safety and emergency preparedness for school and community groups. For example, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, a Dalmatian from Clarksville, Ark., was a character in her own set of children’s books about fire safety and traveled around the country teaching children about fire tips. reduce stress, provide comfort Currently, firehouse dogs are other breeds, too, many rescued from house fires or other tragedies. Firehouses often adopt dogs, who become symbols of resiliency, bravery, fortitude – and provide comfort and companionship for firefighters who face high levels of stress on the job. After the 9/11 attacks, two firefighters from Rochester, N.Y., gifted the FDNY Ladder 20 company a Dalmatian puppy, appropriately named Twenty. The dog served as a source of comfort to the firefighters, who lost seven members of the company in 9/11. Dogs recognize signals Taken in as a stray in 1929, a dog named Nip served 10 years with New York’s Engine Company No. 203. During his service, the dog was injured by broken glass, falling debris, scalding burns, and bruises from falling off the fire engine. Nip could recognize all bells and signals. On fire scenes, Nip could alert firefighters if he knew something was wrong and sometimes run into burning buildings to look for victims. Unfortunately, Nip was killed by a hit-and-run driver in front of the firehouse in 1939 (and was stuffed by a taxidermist and displayed at the firehouse until 1974). Dogs promote fire safety Dogs promote fire safety outside the firehouse Dogs also promote fire safety outside the firehouse. For example, accelerant-sniffing dogs are trained to detect minute traces of accelerants that may be used to start a fire, according to the State Farm Arson Dog Program. The special bond between firefighters and dogs is the stuff of legend, despite the recent unfortunate events in Chicago – an ignoble scar on a long, colorful history of dogs in the fire service. Hopes remain that the decision can somehow be reversed, based on social media postings. “This is the first tragedy I have heard of in … 25 years,” said the administrator of the Firehouse Pups group.

What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?
What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had ramifications for almost every industry, some more than others. With the pandemic stretching well into a second year, the non-medical consequences continue, and many are wondering about which of the required changes might become permanent. As regards the fire sector, we asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What impact has COVID-19 had on the fire industry?