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Addressing accidental activation with Safety Technology International

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Safety Technology International Marketing Manager Liam Hunt discusses the introduction of protective covers contributing to long-term decline in false fire alarms

Recent Home Office research and analysis of ‘trends in fire false alarms and fire alarm policies’ reported a decline in false fire alarms caused by malicious or accidental activation of manual call points due to the introduction of protective covers.

Still every false fire alarm remains costly, disrupting schools and businesses, placing unnecessary strain on our emergency services, and reducing the public’s faith in fire alarms.

Continuing to be the largest incident type, false fire alarms accounted for 42% of the incidents attended by fire and rescue services in England year ending September 2023 – fires accounted for 24%.

Home Office figures show that there was a total of 3,030 false fire alarms caused by the “malicious activation of [a] fire call point/alarm” in England during the 12-month period, surpassing challenged hoax calls as the largest reason for malicious false alarms.

Accidental activation remained a significant contributor, 15,609 false alarms were recorded due to the accidental and careless activation of life safety devices, including manual call points. With similar figures reflected across the UK, over £1 billion is lost every year due to false alarms.

To recoup this cost, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service joined the London Fire Brigade in recovering costs from hospitals, airport and student halls with a poor false alarm record. 

Dangerously, false fire alarms divert fire crews away from real emergencies; creating unnecessary risk as crews travel at high speed to attend ‘emergency’ calls. The ‘crying wolf’ factor caused by frequent false alarms causes staff to become complacent and less willing to act quickly when an alarm activates.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service recently changed the way its firefighters respond to automatic fire alarms in commercial premises to reduce unnecessary call outs from unwanted fire alarm signals.

However, the reduction of unwanted fire alarm signals to fire and rescue services does not necessarily reduce false fire alarms and therefore may leave fire safety issues unaddressed. This may not only lead to disruption for businesses, but also to alarm fatigue for the occupants – conversely, successfully reducing false alarms will also reduce unwanted fire alarm signals.

Repeated false alarms reduce the public’s confidence in fire alarms, contributing to alarm fatigue and a complacent attitude toward evacuations. Alarm fatigue occurs when a person becomes desensitised to an alarm due to repeated false alarms and consequently fails to react appropriately in a real emergency.

As recommended in BS 5839-1:2017, manual call points can be fitted with a protective cover to prevent false fire alarms. The British Standard Institute recommends in section 20.2b, that: “All MCPs should be fitted with a protective cover, which is moved to gain access to the frangible element. It is now recommended that a protective cover is fitted to a Type A manual call point to help prevent false alarms.”

Consequently, Home Office research examining the long-term trends in false fire alarms found that the introduction of protective covers was a contributing factor in the decline of false fire alarms caused by malicious or accidental activation of manual call points.

As the original call point cover manufacturer, Safety Technology International produce a range of protective covers, specifically designed to prevent false alarms whether accidental or malicious.

The STI story began in 1980 with a challenge by a school headteacher who wanted to stop their false fire alarms. Founder, Jack Taylor, used his expertise in security systems to invent the first and original Stopper® polycarbonate protective cover. From low profile covers to outdoor and sounder models, there are variations to suit all applications.

The tamper-proof polycarbonate covers ensure call points are protected without restricting legitimate use in a real emergency, a combination of optional warning alarm, flashing beacon and break seal acts as a deterrent against malicious activation.

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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