Maintenance of false alarm systems
Modern day fire alarm systems are complex in design, and need to be maintained by a reputable fire maintenance company that has expertise in this field.
As a minimum requirement, an automatic fire alarm system should be designed, installed and maintained in accordance with the requirements of the relevant Australian Standards.
- AS1670 - Fire detection, warning control and intercom systems – system design installation and commissioning.
- ASI851.8- Maintenance of fire protection equipment – Automatic fire detection and alarm systems.
- AS2118- Automatic fire sprinkler systems
- AS1851.3- Maintenance of fire protection equipment – Automatic fire sprinkler systems
Australian Standards can be purchased online via www.standards.org.au or www.sai-global.com
Additional maintenance is often necessary to prevent unwanted false alarms.
What owners or occupiers should do
Nominate and train a Responsible Person. Their areas of responsibility should include the following.
- Supervision of all matters pertaining to the fire alarm system.
- Knowledge of the legal responsibilities in maintaining essential services including, but not limited to:
- display of annual essential services report
- display of essential services records of maintenance checks, service and repair work
- permit requirements for disconnection of automatic fire alarm systems, isolation of system or part thereof, and/or alterations to approved fire alarm system.
- Closely liaise with the fire maintenance company and monitoring provider to ensure that appropriate maintenance and servicing is being carried out. Australian Standards set a minimum criterion – your system may require more than the Standard to mitigate false alarms.
- Ensure the fire alarm system is checked at least daily to ascertain whether there are any faults on the system or maintenance required.
- Immediately report and act upon faults on the fire alarm system
- Ensure no one resets the fire alarm before the arrival of the fire service
- Ensure the log book is kept up to date and is available for inspection.
- Ensure fire detectors and fire exits are not obstructed.
- Organise a representative from the company to meet the fire service on arrival whenever practicable. This will greatly assist the fire service in investigating the fire alarm activation in a timely manner.
- Ensure appropriate isolation methods are implemented choosing the minimum method available. Train sufficient personnel in this area for your organisation’s needs.
- Ensure procedures are in place for managing contractors, maintenance workers and other visitors. They should be aware that the building has an automatic fire alarm system and who is responsible for managing the system during works. A log book should be kept, signing-in the workers and detailing such matters as fire alarm circuits that have been isolated, hot work activities, total fire ban permits and the time circuits are reset to normal.
- Ensure all occupants of the protected premises are aware of the fire alarm system and are educated in ways to mitigate false alarms.
- Monitor and control standard daily activities in the premises to ensure that these activities do not cause unwanted false alarms.
- Investigate the incidence of all alarms given by the system to identify the causes of such alarms and take action to eliminate their occurrence.
- Closely liaise with the MFB’s Alarm Assessment Services on matters pertaining to false alarm charges and false alarm prevention measures.
Establish clear procedures for managing your false alarm system
Items to consider ensuring maximum fire protection:
Do not reset your system prior to arrival of the fire service.
- The resetting of the fire alarm system will not prevent the MFB from responding to the call. It may also influence any decision on charges for false alarms, and will certainly result in increased cost should the charge proceed as the attending fire fighters will need additional time to establish the premises are not at risk from fire.
- Only fire service members attending an ‘alarm of fire’ have the authorisation to deal with the emergency under the MFB Act 1958 and the owner or occupier has a duty of care to ensure that firefighters are not hindered in any way in the performance of their statutory duties. In the past, site managers have incorrectly misread the details on the fire alarm panel and investigated the wrong area. This is an important public safety issue.
Ensure faults are investigated and quickly fixed.
- Should there be a period where the system is not correctly functioning, ensure alternative fire safety measures are instigated. Actions to consider are included in managing an isolated alarm.
- Attending to fire alarm system faults in a timely and efficient manner will ensure the installed fire alarm system is in complete readiness in case of an emergency.
Undetermined malfunctions – eg. system returns to ‘normal’ status after alarm activates.
MFB attends many false alarms each year where the automatic fire alarm system returns to a ‘normal’ status before the brigade has arrived on scene. In these situations there is usually no indication on the fire alarm panel of which circuit/zone has activated. There are a number of reasons why this can occur:
- a voltage change has occurred in the fire alarm panel
- the wiring in the fire alarm panel could be old or corroded
- a valve monitor alarm could have dirty contacts
- a sprinkler pressure switch is not seating correctly
- there is corrosive wiring on components of a sprinkler system.
Each year MFB responds to approximately 2000 unwanted false alarms caused by ‘undetermined malfunctions’ in fire alarm systems. It is advisable to seek assistance from a fire maintenance company. This will greatly assist in minimising unwanted false
A maintenance log book must be kept on site and be available to the fire services 24 hours a day
Understand and manage your fire maintenance company
There are a number of fire maintenance companies operating in Victoria that can assist with managing and maintaining fire alarm systems. They play a pivotal role in assisting owners/occupiers in the prevention of unwanted false alarms.
The following information can assist you when dealing with fire maintenance companies and particularly when addressing the issue of preventing unwanted false alarms. The Building Commission’s publication Essential Services Maintenance Manual is also a good source of information to inform discussions with fire maintenance companies. It explains in plain English the purpose, requirements, maintenance and records required for fire detection and suppression equipment. (It also provides information on other essential services.)
- Only a reputable fire maintenance contractor should be employed to maintain your system.
- Modern fire alarm systems are complex in design; therefore you need a fire maintenance company that has particular knowledge about the components, configuration and performance specifications of your fire alarm system.
- Many owners/occupiers do not know what is involved in the maintenance schedule of an automatic fire alarm system or how to manage their system effectively. It is important for you to take time to source this information and to discuss this matter with your fire maintenance company.
- There is a need for a structured fire alarm system maintenance schedule to ensure optimum functionality. An owner/occupier has a duty of care to ensure its automatic fire alarm system is operating effectively at all times.
- Australian Standards will provide a minimum maintenance requirement. Be aware that additional maintenance of your fire alarm system may be required. This particularly relates to fire alarm systems that are exposed to dust and grime or other conditions such as salt air or continual water pressure fluctuations.
- Establish a procedure to be adopted for dealing with faults on your fire alarm system.
- Immediate attention to faults will greatly assist in minimising unwanted false alarms and your maintenance company has the technical expertise to assist. Don’t forget to inform your monitoring provider of your contact details relative to faults.
- Check your maintenance log book regularly to ensure tests are being carried out as per the contract you have with your fire maintenance company.
- Only allow minimum isolation methods and provide your maintenance company with the necessary permits for modifications to your automatic fire alarm system.
- Request your maintenance company to explain the functions of your fire indicator panel to enable nominated occupants to isolate zones or circuits of your fire alarm system.
- Before buying or leasing a building with an automatic fire alarm system, ensure that it complies with all Building Regulations and Standards. When buildings are left vacant for a period of time, the maintenance may have been neglected, thus causing problems for the new owner. The first indication that something is wrong is when a false alarm occurs. Be proactive, not reactive, and contact a reputable fire maintenance company before you lease or buy. The Building Commission's Essential Services Maintenance Manual is available to assist site managers understand their legal obligations in this area.