Fire alarm systems.

This technology has the power to provide early warning and save lives – learn how to use, test and manage fire alarms.

Fire alarm systems explained

Fire alarms save lives. They're a vital part of your prevention and detection strategy, and one of the best ways to keep people safe in your premises. On this page you can learn about fire alarm best practice for businesses and places that aren't homes, and how to avoid false alarms.

If you're looking for information about how to choose a fire alarm, you can find it here:

Did you know?

London Fire Brigade attended around 38,000 false alarms in 2017. That’s around 104 every day in London alone. We may soon charge for these visits.

Fire alarm must-knows

Fire alarm best practice

Our fire safety team are experts in helping organisations from small businesses to charities to football teams stay fire safe. Here are their suggestions when it comes to installing and maintaining a fire alarm system. 

  1. If you are responsible for managing the property, make sure you have the right fire alarm system in places. Make sure the fire alarm system is the best fit for your premises and the occupancy. Not all areas require the same level of protection. Don’t complicate things unnecessarily – find lots more information on the fire alarms for property managers page.
  2. Make sure you use a 'competent person' to design, install, maintain and manage your fire alarm system. Use third party accreditation to check competency - you can find out more about accreditation here, and there's guidance on choosing a competent person at the bottom of the page.
  3. Make maintenance top priority – it’s very important that a maintenance arrangements are effective, with a comprehensive structure. Liaison with the 'Responsible Person' (if that's not you) is essential to understand how to resolve false alarm issues and maintain an effective and reliable system that supports the risk assessment emergency plan.
  4. Make sure responsibilities are clearly defined and known.
  5. If you have a false alarm, identify the reason for it, then take action to minimise the chance of it happening again – you  alarm maintainer can help with this.
  6. Introduce an appropriate filtering measures to prevent any false alarms from being unnecessarily passed to the London Fire Brigade – it's important to focus our firefighters on real emergencies.
  7. Make sure your Fire Risk Assessment and Emergency Plan is current and fit for purpose – and that the alarm system supports the strategy in place.
  8. Regularly review and refresh the alarm system, procedures and staff training as necessary.
  9. Be organised and keep appropriate records.
  10. Always make sure your Emergency Plan includes a call to emergency services that confirms a real fire.

More on management and maintenance

It's really important to keep your fire alarm system properly maintained – if you don't looked after it properly, it might fail to warn of a fire.

How to keep your fire alarm well maintained

A regular maintenance schedule and effective local management will ensure the alarm can do its job. Make sure the maintainer is competent (and accredited) and that the schedule, combined with local alarm management practices is effective.

Considering your fire alarm system (and its on-going management) is an important part of your Fire Risk Assessment – is generally required under fire safety law. It will also play a role in your Emergency Plan.

Training your team

There's a people element to all this, too. Be sure to test the system regularly, run suitable fire drills, train the staff according to needs and resolve system faults as soon as possible, ensuring interim measures are applied if the system is compromised.

If you have a stay-put strategy or a phased evacuation, make sure this is supported by your risk assessment process to make sure it isn’t compromised by any ongoing building maintenance/works. If the fire alarm system may be isolated in areas of works, make sure you have put in place alternative means of a fire alert.

What about false alarms?

Preventing false alarms

Did you know that the vast majority of signals from automatic fire alarms are not actual fires?  Fire alarm and detection systems react to an increase in heat or the presence of smoke. Unfortunately, they can also react to things such as steam, cigarette smoke, aerosol sprays, and light smoke from cooking.

We understand that false alarms happen – but you should take care to reduce the likelihood, and if there is a false alarm, take appropriate action.

Tragically, people have died thinking a real fire was ‘just another false alarm’. Most false alarms are the result of an activity such as cooking, smoking or hot works or sometimes simply because the system was not taken off-line when being tested.

It’s important to minimize the false alarms to prevent complacency. If false alarms occur, it’s important not to unnecessarily transmit them to London Fire Brigade. 

Why are false alarms dangerous?

  • Fire crews should be at real emergencies – where they could be saving lives.
  • The 'crying wolf' factor – frequent false alarms in a building cause staff to become complacent and less willing to act quickly when the alarm activates.
  • Unnecessary risk – we travel at high speed to attend ‘emergency’ calls and accidents can happen. False alarms put the public and our crews at unnecessary risk.

Reducing false alarms

Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to reduce false alarms. Much of it is simple common sense – and part of your legal responsibilities already. 

  1. Make sure the fire alarm design suits the premises design and use.

  2. Make sure the alarm system is properly and regularly maintained

  3. Investigate false alarms and work with maintainers to build in measures that prevent unnecessary recurrence.

  4. Introduce a suitable filtering process – a means to safely investigate why the fire alarm went off BEFORE calling for the fire brigade.

  5. Consult with suitable professionals for relevant advice.

  6. Don’t forget you can talk to us if you’re struggling to resolve the problem and need guidance.


Life-saving technology

New detectors have improved technology and can measure a range of conditions to potentially be more effective at detecting a fire condition (if it's a real fire or not). Make sure your maintainer uses these in appropriate conditions to help reduce false alarms.

Another great idea is the pre-alarm. This is a staff alert to investigate before the general alarm sounds. This reduces the disruptive impact of false alarms on you organisation, and can save lives by preventing the unnecessary attendance of our firefighters.

Did you know?

Some fire brigades now require a confirmed fire before they send a response. We don't do this, but can understand this decision given the number of false alarms we receive every year. Find out more about responding to automatic fire alarms – and repeated false alarms 

Have you completed your Fire Risk Assessment?

Find out more about your responsibilities – and find help and advice.

Fire Risk Assessments

You might also be interested in...