How can schools avoid false alarms?

October 29, 2019

It is estimated that the education of 90,000 children is disrupted by school fires each year. This can have economic, educational, social and emotional impact on staff and pupils alike. It can also cause negative publicity on the school itself and lower morale.

However disruption can occur even before a fire is started. Continued false alarms can play havoc with the school routine including:

  • Interruption of lessons and added stress for pupils and staff
  • Loss of teaching or preparation time
  • Disruption to exams and other critical events

False alarms place a huge strain on the fire and rescue service. Building evacuations and call outs consume valuable resources, as well as presenting potential dangers to students, staff, fire service staff and others. This is a serious concern – in one 30 month period, in West Yorkshire, the fire and rescue service responded to an incredible 18,375 call outs to non-domestic premises.

The fire brigade service now charges £375 to premises which have more than three call-outs over 12 months. This has resulted in half a million pounds in false alarm charges in West Yorkshire alone.

The cost of false alarms to the fire service is staggering. Yorkshire’s four Fire Services responded to 23,000 false alarms over an 18 month period, prompted by automatic alarms at schools, hospitals and private businesses. False alarm call outs now cost the service up to £8million per year.

“The practical cost is in the loss of this lifesaving resource,” said David Williams, chairman of the Yorkshire Fire Brigade’s Union. “We don’t want to be at a school looking for a fire alarm when just around the corner someone is hanging out of their window because their house is on fire. That’s time you can’t get back. That’s when it’s critical.”

What causes false alarms and how can we reduce them?

  1. Fire detectors activating due to smoke from benign sources such as toast burning, or steam from a shower or kettle can be avoided by the correct detector being installed. There are a variety of detector types that may be used instead of smoke detectors in problem areas; an approved fire service provider can give further guidance.
  2. Good faith mistakes made by staff believing there is a fire when in reality there isn’t, for example because of a perceived smell of burning. A good practice is to verify any suspicions before raising the alarm.
  3. Equipment faults, especially when old equipment is in use. To avoid this speak to your approved fire safety provider for solutions such as upgrades and replacements.
  4. Malicious activity – There could be some simple solutions to reduce this problem such as fitting covers to fire alarms or adding audible alarms to covers to scare any prospective vandals.
  5. Failure to notify any monitoring station (the ARC) of testing taking place, weekly or otherwise. This is easily resolved by scheduling a regular test time with the ARC.

While schools are normally great proponents of fire safety, keeping a paper based fire log book up to date can be difficult and time consuming. Correctly used, though, the Fire Log Book can be a powerful tool in the fight to reduce the incidence of false alarms.

Tio is a fire safety management tool which allows users to log activations as they happen, using their chosen device, whether that be mobile, PC or tablet. These records helps schools and fire safety professionals understand the causes of activations, including false alarms.

Using Tio Fire Safety the responsible member of staff can log the activation in seconds. The relevant fire professionals can simply be notified of this or any other fire safety issue immediately, allowing remedial action to be initiated straight away. Others, such as the Head teacher or the responsible person can be updated on the situation promptly, and all follow-up actions can receive the correct governance, cutting down on future false alarms.

A cloud service, Tio allows Fire Brigades and other professional fire bodies to understand anonymised activation statistics, helping them create new processes and procedures to reduce false and unwanted alarms, supporting better practice. Ultimately for schools, as well as businesses and other organisations, this will mean fewer building evacuations due to the understanding and implementation of positive actions to combat the causes of false alarms.

Tio enables and powers this collaborative culture and can help reduce time spent on repeated unnecessary evacuations. Schools can reduce lost classroom time and help the emergency services concentrate on what is really important – saving lives.

To learn how to simplify fire safety in your school visit and start your free trial of our fire safety management tool.

Keely Moseley