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Look after your business’s fire alarm system

Commercial premises need to be adequately protected too

With the start of a new year, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service is issuing a timely reminder to ensure not only domestic property, but also commercial premises are adequately protected from fire by the appropriate, maintained and tested fire alarm system.

Group Commander Phill Mould, Head of Protection, who leads our Business Fire Safety team, said:

“We have attended many incidents in commercial premises over the years that have led to devastating effects for the business that operate from them. Sadly, many businesses are unable to recover from the effects left by a significant fire and therefore never reopen.  

“We understand that business owners currently have lots to consider to ensure business continuity, and we ask that fire safety is at the forefront of their minds.”

“A maintained and tested fire alarm system gives an early audible warning to anyone inside the premises to escape in the event of a fire. With current restrictions meaning many businesses are empty or having to close temporarily, a maintained fire alarm system that is connected to an alarm receiving centre (ARC) can provide the early warning necessary for the fire service to attend the premises and tackle the fire and mitigate the damage.”

Under Article 8 of The Regulatory Reform Order 2005 (The Order), Duty to take general fire precautions, commercial premises must have an allocated responsible person. The responsible person should ensure the fire alarm system is tested weekly by using an alternative manual call point every time. 

The results from the test should be recorded. British Standard BS 5839 states that a fire alarm system should be maintained twice yearly by a competent fire alarm engineer.

How to test your fire alarm system in commercial premises

  • If you have an alarm receiving centre that receives any activation signals for your fire alarm system, be sure to notify it first before the test. Sometimes you may need a password. This will reduce the likelihood of the test leading to the fire and rescue service being called. 
  • Remember to notify the alarm receiving centre once the test is complete. We have found that a notice on the fire alarm panel is useful to remind people.
  • Place your fire alarm system into ‘test mode’ on the panel if this is available. Using a predetermined programme to ensure a different manual call point is tested each week, place the test key into the manual call point to activate the alarm. Check that the correct zone in relation to the manual call point location is shown on the fire alarm panel (it is good practice to have a zone map placed next to your fire alarm panel).
  • An audible alarm must be heard throughout all parts of the premises covered by the alarm. Using other staff including fire wardens is helpful for this.
  • Any associated systems such as door hold-open devices should operate correctly.
  • A check of the fire alarm panel should not show any faults or inconsistencies. Any faults should be reported to the maintenance provider for immediate investigation.
  • The fire alarm panel should be returned to its ‘normal operating mode’.
  • Any results from the test must be recorded. Once the alarm receiving centre has been notified, the fire alarm test is now complete.

How to reduce false alarms

  • Ensure the responsible person for the premises completes the required weekly fire alarm test or allocates a competent person to complete it.
  • Contact the alarm receiving centre before and on completion of any fire alarm tests being carried out.
  • Your fire risk assessment should review your fire alarm system including its types, components and coverage. We recommend that should you need help with your fire risk assessment, you select someone that is third-party credited. More advice can be found here: https://www.nationalfirechiefs.org.uk/Finding-fire-risk-assessor
      
  • Maintain clean and dust-free premises.
  • Consider seeking guidance from your fire alarm system provider if contractors are carrying out work on site that produces fumes, particles, or dust.
  • Ensure staff have an awareness of the fire alarm system and actions that can trigger a false alarm.
  • Consult with the fire alarm provider if there is any change in use with the premises.

A fully maintained fire alarm system will help to reduce the likelihood of false alarm activations within commercial premises. 

Group Commander Mould added:

“Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service is one of the few fire and rescue services that continues to respond to all automatic fire alarm signals.

“When we attend, the officer in charge will investigate and check that there is no fire situation and give appropriate advice.

“Where there is no fire situation, these alarm signals are deemed as false alarms, resulting in what we term as Unwanted Fire Signals. This places an unnecessary demand on a fire and rescue service’s resources and has the potential that a fire appliance will be unable to attend a real emergency.”

It is understandable from time to time that a fire alarm may produce a false alarm activation. However, if false alarms become a frequent occurrence with your fire alarm system, people may become complacent and not take the appropriate action when a genuine activation occurs.

“Through work carried out by our Business Fire Safety Team, we have seen the number of false alarms and unwanted fire signals reduce. However, we would encourage businesses to continue to support us and ensure that their fire alarm system is maintained and serviced twice yearly by a competent fire alarm engineer.”

For further information and FAQs on fire alarm systems, please follow the links below:

Video: How to carry out a fire alarm test

Fire alarm FAQ video – English voice-over

Fire alarm FAQ video – Polish voice-over

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service Safety Advice Hub

National Fire Chiefs Council: The Causes of False Fire Alarms in Buildings


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