By Tracey Wallace
You have a Fire Indicator Panel on site, the alarm has sounded, and you go to investigate. Your Fire Indicator panel is connected directly to the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and now they are on their way to your site. In a matter of minutes, you need to identify the cause to see if this is something that you can solve.
You can’t work out why the alarm was triggered. You have been to the location to investigate further but there appears to be no obvious sign of the cause of the alarm.
I’m sure that many of you have been through this experience and feel exhausted by the whole process. But having the responsibility of ensuring the lives of many people in the complex is something to be taken seriously and regardless of the number of unwanted alarms it is important to be prepared for the emergency.
Queensland Fire Emergency crew are now on site and they have not identified any cause of the fire either. You shake hands and thank them for their time, and they are gone again.
But wait. Its not really over yet. When was the last time you had an unwanted alarm? Was it in the last 60 days? Was it more than 60 days? Was there an open flame to determine an emergency situation?So many questions but it does matter when it comes down to whether you are going to receive an infringement notice.
The Next Steps
A report is provided by the Station officers to QFES Management. Management check to see the reason for the alarm. Was there a “flame” of any type called an emergency situation or just burnt toast with the smoke setting off the alarm. Are you going to get the infringement notice? There is no clear
smoke setting off the alarm. Are you going to get the infringement notice? There is no clear indication if you will receive an infringement. I was recently asked how Queensland Fire and Emergency Services differentiate between charging infringements for unwanted alarm call outs which led to a lot of reading and several phone calls.
I was told by one of the Community Safety officers that if you haven’t had an unwanted alarm in the last 60 days then you won’t be charged, however, if you have had several after the initial one in the same period then you will receive an infringement for every unwanted alarm. So be prepared to pay.
I also discovered that each state has a different approach on charging for unwanted alarms and this article is only an overview of the response provided to my client as part of my research for them in the state of Queensland.
QFES advise that they respond to around 18000 unwanted alarm activations from monitored fire alarm systems per year.
When a new construction is looking at the Fire Detection system there is a method called a "Pragmatic cooking and shower Test". [ii] This test is applicable to any Class 2 or 3 building with an automatic Fire Detection system required to comply with AS1670.1
Unfortunately, this only applies to new buildings prior to the issuing of final approval to the satisfaction of QFES.
I have also attached a link to Unwanted Alarms Guidelines https://www.qfes.qld.gov.au/buildingsafety/unwanted/Documents/BFS-UAGuidelines.pdf
The Guidelines address some of the issues that are the main cause of the alarms going off, in particular:
Page 4 - Airflow management discusses the main cause of Unwanted alarms being cooking fumes and steam from showers – the products from activities in these rooms setting off the alarms.
Point 6 - the Human factor which then refers to compensating design features.
There is mention around an alarm Investigation facility where a modification to the existing smoke detection and alarm system which delays the transmission of the fire alarm to provide time for manual acknowledgement but again there is limitation on use and I would recommend that if you are looking at this as an option that you read through all the
documentation provided and also consult with your Fire Maintenance provider, and before adopting any of this you need to consult with the Emergency Fire Services to see if it is appropriate for your building and the occupants of the building.
QFES do provide information on managing an unwanted Fire Alarm identifying the main causes and tips to prevent unwanted alarms. "Managing your Unwanted Fire Alarms" [iii]
- Burnt Toast
- Cooking Fumes
- Aerosols Sprays
- Dirty Smoke Detectors
- 'Break Glass' alarm damage
QFES suggests some tips to prevent unwanted alarms:
- Check toaster setting prior to use
- Stay and observe - Don't leave the toast
- Spraying aerosol cans away from smoke detectors
- Provide the tips in the kitchen for all holiday units/Boarding houses etc to inform of the automatic fire alarm
- Discuss with workmen inf they are doing work around the detection systems what strategies they have to minimise the work dust or heat
- Ensure all ventilation systems are working effectively in bathrooms and kitchens and draw the steam away from any smoke detectors
Replacing Options may not be a possibility due to new equipment costs, but it will be up to your Management or Body Corporate Committee to determine if the number of unwanted alarms over the lifetime of the Fire Detection system is worth the replacement.
Again, best practice is informing your residents on how to minimise the impact and if there is an identified “culprit” whether the charges are passed on to them directly. Do your research and consult with your Fire detection maintenance team to discuss how you can improve your circumstances for unwanted alarms.