Does your fire alarm go off suddenly even without an actual fire? Did you know that you could get fined due to these unwanted alarms?

Unwanted alarms or false alarms happen when smoke detectors go off due to non-emergency reasons, such as smoke from cooking or dirt that has accumulated within the device. 

In Sydney, unwanted alarms cost more than $100 million in 2020 because 97% of the 46,232 unwanted false alarms responded to by the Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) are errors  triggered by non-emergencies, including burnt toast and steam.

The estimated $107 million cost only covers the firefighters’ time and resources used per call, and it does not include the time wasted during evacuation. The cost is even higher for commercial buildings. 

Unwanted alarms are dangerous because they may create a sense of complacency towards actual fire alarms, leading to serious injury, damage to property, or loss of life. These events also divert the limited FRNSW resources that would otherwise be available for real emergencies.

How Much Does a False Alarm Cost? 

 Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) systems are an important component in fire protection systems for buildings. AFA systems are required under building legislation and they are designed to alert occupants in case of emergencies and initiate quick responses by FRNSW. 

However, there are several cases where the smoke alarms are triggered when there is no actual emergency and the FRNSW is forced to attend to all these incidents, even if they are false alarms.

Because of this, the fines for building owners that trigger the call-outs now cost $1600 in fines. It might seem steep, but take note that this does not yet cover the full cost of an emergency call, which could balloon to about $3083 for each false alarm.

However, not all false alarms are chargeable. In some instances, such as during storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, unwanted alarms will not be charged since the alarm was beyond the control of the manager or owner.

But building owners and property managers are encouraged to properly manage and maintain their AFA systems to make sure that they are working as they should and to minimize the occurrence of unwanted alarms. 

What Causes False Alarms? 

Here are some of the factors that trigger unwanted alarms that are chargeable: 

  • Dust
  • Dirt 
  • Steam
  • Poor ventilation
  • Burnt toast
  • Cooking fumes
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Smoke from cigarettes and candles
  • Tradespeople and cleaners
  • Damage to manual call points
  • System malfunction
  • Poorly maintained fire alarm systems
  • Insufficient maintenance  
  • Insect infestation

What Can You Do to Prevent Unwanted Alarms? 

The best way to ensure false alarms don’t happen is to have your fire alarm system tested and maintained according to the relevant Australian Standards by fire protection services Sydney experts. 

Here are other tips to keep in mind: 

  1. Do not leave your cooking unattended or the toaster when it is in use.
  2. Do not smoke or use aerosol sprays near smoke detectors.
  3. Educate your occupants, staff, and visitors to let them know about the automatic fire alarm system.
  4. Manage work activities that produce dust, heat, smoke etc. 
  5. Keep steam and fumes away from smoke detectors. 
  6. Make sure your fire alarms are strategically located to avoid unwanted triggers.