Preventing False Fire Alarms

Feb 20, 2019 | Fire Safety Tips

Sirens wailing. Lights flashing. Another false fire alarm evacuates a building. An unwanted alarm not only places a burden on the fire department’s resources, but frequent alarms can also lull a building’s occupants into complacency from danger due to a real fire.

Fire alarm systems in facilities, institutions and commercial spaces need constant care to prevent nuisance alarms. The cause of false fire alarms could be many things, such as a malfunctioning alarm system, a broken fire sprinkler pipe, and dust in a smoke detector. Instead of continually resetting your system, it’s important to understand the “why” of the false alarm so changes can be made.

U.S. fire departments respond to more than two million false fire alarms in a year, according to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). That’s one out of every 12 calls. The majority of these calls are unintentional and another large percentage is attributed to system malfunctions. A trusted and experienced fire protection company will be able to assist building managers and owners with strategies to prevent false fire alarms from occurring in the future.

Here are some tips to minimize and prevent false fire alarms:

Check Your System Sensitivity Levels

One way to prevent false fire alarms in your facility is to have your system’s sensitivity levels evaluated. A common cause of the nuisance type of false alarms is hypersensitivity. In hypersensitivity, a detector may be doing its job by sensing smoke or heat, but there is no fire. For example, a student smoking in a dormitory sets off the smoke detector; or a heat detector is set off by a vent in a kitchen; or steam from a shower. Check with your fire protection specialist to see if the sensitivity level of the system can be adjusted and still compliant with code. The system’s program alarms may also be able to send different levels of alerts before fully activating.

Evaluate Misapplication of a Detector or Sensor

Another way to prevent false fire alarms is to check for misapplication of a detector or sensor. False alarms are sometimes caused by devices being used in the wrong application or setting. For example, a smoke detector is installed too close to a heating or air conditioning vent or a cooking appliance. If the space dynamics have changed inside a facility or building after the original fire alarm system was installed, the detectors or sensors may become misapplied. Your fire protection specialist can visually inspect these areas before a false alarm occurs.

Temporarily Cover a Detector during Renovations

Nuisance fire alarms are sometimes caused by renovation work where contractors are working in your facility. Detectors should be temporarily covered in areas where building repairs are occurring.

Keep Up with Regular System Tests and Maintenance

The number one prevention strategy to reduce false fire alarms is regular testing and maintenance of your system. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and local fire codes and standards require that all fire alarm systems, sprinklers systems, and suppression systems be tested and re-certified on an annual basis, or more frequently as required.

Update and Replace Fire Systems

Despite all your work to make sure your systems are maintained, eventually, in heavily used systems, regular maintenance will not be sufficient to alleviate false alarms. Therefore, the system will need to be replaced. Many technology advancements are now available, so you may decide that replacing your fire detection system provides your facility with the best level of protection.

For more than 60 years, Keystone Fire Protection Company has been a single resource provider for your fire protection needs. Unlike other companies, we are uniquely positioned to offer a single piece of the life-safety puzzle when a customer needs multiple solutions like fire sprinklers, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers. We do all of those things and we do them with our own staff – from fire safety design to installation to scheduled inspections and maintenance. Contact Keystone Fire to help you prevent future false alarms.


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Keystone protects all facilities and properties – business, municipal, and industrial – with a full range of fire protection services and life safety solutions. We will work with you to ensure your project is completed – on time and on budget.