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FAQs on Automatic Fire Alarms

Q. Why is Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) changing the way it responds to Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) activations?

A. We attended 1,946 AFAs during 2022/23 – responding to these can cause unnecessary risk to fire crews and the public, take up crucial time, and may delay a response to a genuine emergency. In addition, every AFA activation can cost your business money through lost production and disrupt the routine of your organisation.

When correctly installed and managed, Automatic Fire Alarm systems can provide an effective way of alerting people to a fire in non-domestic premises.

Q. When does this new arrangement come into operation?

A. This new arrangement will come into effect from 1 April 2024.

Q. Does this affect my building?

A. We have not changed the way we respond to automatic fire alarm systems in higher risk premises at any time of day or night. Where calls are received from AFA activations, we will adopt a call challenge process. This will start by asking if the source of the sounding alarm has been investigated.

We will always respond to 999 calls from a person reporting a fire, or sign of fire, in any type of premises at any time.

Our definition of risk in a building is influenced by a number of factors such as, how the building is used and who may be affected if there was a fire. Buildings where people sleep or are receiving care would be considered higher risk.

Buildings where occupants are awake and familiar and can escape quickly in the event of a fire would generally be considered as lower risk. In most cases staff will be trained and appropriate measures will be in place to ensure people are kept safe from fire.

Q. What should I do?

A. You should:

· Ensure your fire risk assessment is reviewed regularly to reduce the impact of a fire in your premises. This should include the management of your processes and storage of hazardous materials.

· Ensure you have a suitable emergency plan and evacuation procedure when the building is occupied.

· Ensure you have procedures in place to safely investigate the source of a fire alarm activation, both in the hours your business operates and out of hours.

· Ensure your staff are aware of the procedures and trained to safely investigate the source of an alarm and make a back-up 999 call if necessary.

· Ensure that you provide your alarm monitoring company with relevant keyholder information, for out of hours responses to your premises.

For further information please refer to our website https://www.dwfire.org.uk/business-fire-safety/ or contact us at [email protected].

Q. Does DWFRS have a legal duty to attend AFA activations?

A. According to the law, Fire and Rescue Authorities must make provision for extinguishing fires, and for protecting life and property in the event of fires. They must also make arrangements for dealing with calls for help when there is a fire. However, there is no legal duty on them to respond to calls originating from AFA systems for the purpose of establishing whether there is a fire.

In non-domestic premises covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the employer, the owner or someone else who has control of the premises (the designated ‘Responsible Person’) must ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that the premises are safe for its occupants in the event of a fire. These arrangements would include the actions that would be taken if the AFA system was activated.

This change in arrangement aligns our working to that of other Fire and Rescue Services across the UK. This action is being taken for several reasons, including:

Q. How have we informed businesses?

A. Our Business Support Advisors have liaised with both Dorset and Wiltshire Chambers of Commerce and the relevant Local Enterprise Partnerships. Our Business Fire Safety teams and operational crews have been engaging with businesses during our risk-based and proactive work, giving advice and guidance to support these changes. We will also be working with our media team to reach out to as many businesses as possible, using our website and social media platforms.

Q. How does this change my fire safety arrangements?

A. There is a legal duty placed on the Responsible Person under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to manage their premises to ensure that the appropriate fire precautions are in place, which includes fire safety arrangements and staff training, and also that suitable and sufficient action is taken in the event of a fire or activation of an alarm. Any deviation from the British Standard that has been risk assessed must be documented.

In light of our policy change, you may be required to revisit your investigation procedures following actuation of an alarm. Further detail can be found here:

We recognise that many premises carry out important functions within the community across Dorset and Wiltshire, and this should be recognised in your business continuity plan. Where good fire safety management is in place, and an appropriate business continuity plan exists, the risk of a fire can be reduced.

Q. Why do we have to confirm that there is a fire when we pay for a call monitoring centre?

A. Alarm Receiving Centres act as a third-party, relaying notification of an alarm activation from the premises they monitor to the relevant Fire Control and designated keyholders. The Alarm Receiving Centres do not necessarily check the premises to confirm if there is a fire, or even whether a fire is suspected, before forwarding notification to the Fire and Rescue Service. We have also been contacting Alarm Receiving Centres to inform them of our change in response to Automatic Fire Alarm activations.

Q. We have always been told to call the fire service when the alarm goes off, why has this changed?

A. You should always phone 999 if you have a fire. We will always respond to emergencies, including fires. The purpose of an AFA is to alert occupants that there is a fire so that they can investigate/evacuate the premises or take other pre-planned action without compromising safety. The purpose of a fire alarm is not to call the Fire and Rescue Service. Following this change to how we respond to AFAs, you may be required to revisit your investigation procedures following actuation of an alarm.

Q. Will investigating the cause of the AFA activation put us in danger?

A. We are not asking anyone to put themselves at any unnecessary risk. Staff and occupants should be made aware of how to respond safely to AFA activations in each premises. Ignoring them or assuming the Fire and Rescue Service has been notified could put people at risk. If there are indications that there is a fire – such as a smell of burning or the presence of smoke – then there should be no hesitation in placing a 999 call to report it immediately, and to follow other specific strategies, such as evacuation and assembly points.

The Responsible Person of the building will need to review the current investigation procedures, in line with the current fire risk assessment. This may also need to include staff training.

Q. What can be done to prevent or reduce false alarms from AFA systems?

A. Automatic Fire Alarm systems are designed to actuate when a fire is detected, but other issues can lead to false alarms. Safety management and good maintenance procedures in accordance with current British Standards can help reduce these unnecessary impacts on our local and business communities, enabling economic growth and prosperity.

There are many ways you can prevent false alarms, including:

Q. Who is responsible for giving the all clear after the AFA actuation has been investigated?

A. Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, you should train staff and incorporate a suitable procedure to be able to investigate the cause of the AFA actuation, and confirm that there is no fire.

Q. Do I need to inform my current insurers of your change in response to AFA activations?

A. You should contact your insurance company to discuss this but please note that Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service will always attend a confirmed fire.

Q. How can I find out more information, or who do I contact if I have a query?

A. Take a look at our AFA information leaflet or email us on [email protected] 

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