Fire alarms

The type of alarm or alarm system you use for your business will depend on your type of premises. It is likely that the larger or more complicated your premises, the more sophisticated the alarm and warning system will be needed.

The Government Fire Safety Risk Assessment Guide for your type of premises will contain information about the alarm system you may need. Please see our Assessment pages for further information and links to the appropriate guidance.

Types of alarm systems

Manually operated alarm system

In small or straightforward premises where a fire starting may be immediately visible or obvious to occupants, a manually operated alarm, shouting ‘fire’, a whistle, or horn, that all occupants can hear, may be adequate.

Electrically operated fire warning system

If your premises are larger, have more than one floor, are more complex, or are fully occupied simultaneously, it is probable you will require an electrical fire warning system that can be heard throughout the building,  Such a system will include ‘sounders’ through which an alarm can be heard, and ‘call points’ such as breakglass boxes.

Automatic fire detection system

If your premises handle flammable or hazardous materials, or have unoccupied or common areas including multi-occupation premises, you may require automatic fire detection.

Automatic Fire Alarms – information and policy

The early warning that automatic fire alarms and fire detection systems can provide can help to save lives and property, and their use has increased in recent years. However, false alarms from such systems can represent as much as 98% of the false alarms received by KFRS.

These false alarms could divert firefighters away from real emergencies. We therefore have a policy in place to manage calls from automatic systems. KFRS also provide useful information on what you can do as a business premises owner or responsible person, to reduce the risk of this happening. Please note there has been a temporary change to Kent Fire and Rescue Service Automatic Fire Alarm Policy - please see below.

Temporary change to Kent Fire and Rescue Service's Automatic Fire Alarm Policy

In 2012 Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) introduced a call handling filtering system for Automatic Fire Alarms (AFA) incidents. Thereafter, KFRS only responded to the activation of fire alarms if there was an additional notification of a confirmed fire. This included all regulated CQC care facilities including hospitals, hospices and care homes.

The recent changes to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 require care home employees to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. This may have led to some staffing issues which could potentially delay our attendance in the event of a fire. Further temporary staffing shortages could also arise as a result of the current government consultation on the requirement to be fully vaccinated across the wider health and social care sector. 

KFRS have therefore taken the decision to temporarily reinstate responding to automatic fire alarm incidents without requiring confirmation of a fire in the following types of premises: 

  •  hospitals 
  •  hospices 
  •  care homes

This is a temporary measure which will be regularly reviewed. 

If you have any questions or require additional information please refer to our website  , call us on: 01622 212 442 (lines open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday) or email us on:

Reducing the number of false fire alarms

We have seen a rapid growth of installed automatic fire detection (AFD) and automatic fire alarm (AFA) systems due to their success in providing an early warning in the event of a fire, saving lives and limiting property damage.

The issue

While the fire service is dealing with a false alarm they are not available to tackle real fires, they waste essential resources (putting lives at risk) and they disrupt other activities such as training and community fire safety work.

However, the problem is not exclusive to the fire service as false calls (referred to as unwanted fire signals) also erode your confidence in the value and reliability of your AFD systems and can cause costly interruptions to manufacturing work procedures.

What is an "unwanted fire signal"?

Any fire alarm or fire signal other than a genuine fire or test signal.

What can cause the "unwanted fire signal"?

An “unwanted fire signal” can be caused by a variety of reasons, most of which can be eliminated by careful planning. Typical sources of false alarms are:

  • activation of a smoke detector by airborne pollutants
  • vandalism/malicious action
  • human error (generally due to unfamiliarity with the system)
  • faulty or non-maintained equipment

What can you do to reduce the “unwanted fire signals”?

If there is definitely no fire:

  • silence the fire alarm but do not reset the control panel as this will cancel the indications required for investigation purposes
  • check the indications on the control panel and establish the area (zone) of the building where the fire alarm originated from. Your system may also indicate the precise location of the actuated device
  • as soon as possible after the unwanted alarm occurred, visit the area and locate the break glass call point, heat or smoke detector that has been actuated
  • attempt to establish the reason why the call point or detector was actuated. It is also useful to talk to people who were in the vicinity of the actuated device when the alarm occurred. Ask them if they know what happened and why. However it may be necessary to investigate further to determine the real cause e.g. vandalism or accidental damage to a break glass call point or insects entering a smoke detector
  • if the actuated detector cannot be readily located, it may be that it is fitted in a duct or above a false ceiling. Check to establish if the detector location drawings are available and if so, use these to help locate the detector. Break glass call points should be easier to locate as they should be mounted in clearly visible positions
  • if the control panel does not indicate the location of the fire alarm or if there is no actuated detector, call in the maintenance company as the problem may be due to an equipment fault
  • the occupier should accurately record all the information relating to the fire alarm incident in the system log book irrespective of whether it was a genuine or unwanted alarm. This is very important as the information may be needed at a future date
  • if unwanted alarms continue and the cause is not evident or remedial actions are unsuccessful, then it is useful to analyse the times at which unwanted alarms occur and the locations from which they originate. This will help to establish if there is any pattern that may help to identify the cause e.g. cooking prior to meal times or a boiler switching on early in the morning.
  • The investigations and the analysis should lead to a conclusion that the unwanted alarms are the result of one or more of the following causes:
  • Human error. It is likely that the problem can be overcome by a change of existing practices e.g. the issuing of 'permits to work' or the training of building occupiers Examples of this type of problems are:
  • smoke caused by building contractors undertaking 'hot work' close to smoke or heat detectors
  • alterations to the fire alarm system wiring without isolating the system
  • Process induced alarms. Many unwanted alarms result from processes undertaken adjacent to fire detectors, particularly smoke detectors. A well known example being the result of burning toast in a toaster. Such unwanted alarms can be remedied by either changing the location of the offending process, changing the detector type or its location or by changing the way the fire alarm system is configured
  • Equipment faults. If there are equipment faults, these will need to be discussed with the fire alarm system maintainer and appropriate action taken to remedy them. Effective, regular maintenance, which includes the internal and external cleaning of smoke detectors, will minimise such faults occurring in the first instance
  • Malicious actuation. This cause can be the most difficult to determine and often requires careful analysis of the occurrences. Examples include:
  • the malicious operation of break glass call points
  • the illicit ownership and use of call point test keys e.g. by school pupils
  • the intentional directing of smoke, e.g. from a cigarette into a smoke detector
  • actuation of an unsecured control panel usually as a result of the control enable key being left in the panel.
  • You should consider all these factors in relation to your building and develop a plan to avoid unwanted alarms.

For free advice on how to reduce unnecessary fire calls caused by false alarms please contact our business safety team.

View or download 'Guidance for Responsible Persons on False Alarm Management of Fire Detection and Alarm Systems' from the Fire Industry Association.

Changing how we respond to automatic fire alarms (AFA)s


  • From 2 April 2013, any premises reporting an automatic fire alarm sounding will be required to confirm to 999 staff that there is a fire, or signs of fire, before any fire fighting response is sent.
  • This policy will apply during the day and at night, and whether a call is received directly from the affected building, through a call handling organisation or some other method.
  • This is an extension of the policy KFRS introduced in April 2012, which affected daytime calls (6am to 6pm).
  • For callers from sheltered accommodation KFRS will be asking for confirmation if the call is a known false alarm, if they are unable to do this then we will send an emergency response. However we will expect these organisations to investigate false alarms and take any actions necessary to reduce them in future.


  • Your alarm, and the safety of those who use your premises, is your responsibility.
  • A third of the total number of calls the service received were previously from automatic systems and over 98% of these were false alarms triggered by things like dust or poorly maintained systems. This disrupts your building or business and diverts firefighters from genuine emergencies.
  • Since January 2011 we have been supporting building occupiers and 'responsible persons' to make sure they are aware of their legal responsibilities, the actions they can take to reduce unwanted calls from their AFA systems and how to confirm if there is a fire or signs of fire in the building before calling the fire service.
  • The service has seen a significant reduction in the number of false alarms attended since it introduced the first phase of the change.
  • From April 2013, premises with AFA systems will need to ensure their fire risk assessment reflects the full implementation of the change to the policy and that all staff and occupants affected by the changes are aware of what to do when the alarm sounds.

Premises need to consider the following:

  • Make sure you have arrangements in place so that if your alarm does go off everyone in the building knows what to do. This includes how you will check to see if there is a fire or signs of fire and who will call the fire service. These arrangements must work 24 hours a day.
Automatic fire alarms (AFAs) policy


The authority receives a large number of calls as a result of automatic fire alarm systems (AFAs), but over 98% of these calls are known to be false alarms. Unwanted calls from automatic fire alarm systems cause a significant disruption to building users and potentially divert firefighters away from real emergencies. The authority has had call management processes in place for automatic fire alarm calls for some years and has been successful in reducing the number of false alarms. From April 2012 these arrangements were strengthened further and as a result all calls reporting an automatic fire alarm sounding are challenged and filtered by the authority’s control staff. For the majority of premises, the caller is asked to confirm if there is a fire or signs of a fire before the authority will send an emergency response.

This policy is applicable to all members in relation to their role in performance scrutiny and all staff in terms of application of the policy by the authority. 

Legal consequences

Effective management of calls relating to automatic fire alarms relies on clear policy and procedures as well as appropriate training and experience to allow call handlers to make appropriate judgements based on risk.

Service policy

The authority will call manage all emergency calls relating to automatic fire alarm systems. This means that the authority will not automatically respond  to automatic fire alarm systems but will apply a filtering system to reduce the number of false alarms it attends  In the majority of premises callers reporting an automatic fire alarm system  sounding are required to confirm that there is a fire or signs of fire other than the alarm, before control staff will mobilise an emergency response. The authority will continue to provide advice and support to businesses and premises  managers in order that automatic fire alarm systems are well managed so that  the number of false alarms continues to decline. The authority  will continue to respond to automatic fire alarm incidents over its borders passed to it by other fire and rescue authorities where a mutual aid (Sections 13 and 16) agreement is in place.


  • The authority will not normally send any emergency resource to investigate an automatic fire alarm system sounding. If it decides to respond to an automatic fire alarm call it will normally send the same response as it would to a fire.
  • Callers reporting an automatic fire alarm system sounding via a care-line or callers reporting a self-contained (domestic) smoke alarm sounding will be asked if they can confirm that it is a false alarm. If they are unable to confirm a false alarm then the call will be treated as a fire-call and an emergency response will be sent.
  • Where the authority has undertaken an assessment of individual premises which highlights a specific need for a response to automatic fire alarms then callers from that site will be asked if they can confirm that the call is a false alarm. If they are unable to confirm a false alarm then the call will be treated as a fire-call and an emergency response will be sent.
  • In regards the assessment of individual premises the authority will take into consideration technological advancements in fire alarm systems that are proven to have a very low error rate, in addition to life risk. 

Roles and responsibilities

  • All staff working in the authority’s control centre will adhere to the policy set out above and the specific operating procedures relating to their posts.
  • The group manager control will ensure that control staff receive adequate guidance, training and support in order that they can adhere to the automatic fire alarm policy and operating procedures.
  • The automatic fire alarm policy will be regularly reviewed to ensure its effectiveness in reducing false alarms and managing risk. 

Political leadership

  • The authority will review performance against the automatic fire alarm policy to ensure it supports the objectives set out in the Customer Safety Plan.

Guidance for control staff

  • The automatic fire alarm operating procedure provides further guidance for control staff.
  • Have you amended your fire risk assessment to take account of the changes?
  • Is your alarm system properly designed, installed, maintained and tested?
  • Do you investigate the cause of false alarms and take action to make sure they are not repeated?
Further advice