Q1. What is a chargeable unwanted alarm?
A1. An unwanted alarm means the activation of a fire alarm system where, after investigation by QFES, it is deemed the condition or situation would not have resulted in any danger to the premises and/or occupants from fire.
Currently QFES does not charge for attendance at unwanted alarms when it considers the cause to be beyond the control of the building owner. This is limited to malicious actions, extreme weather conditions or smoke from another location. However where the cause is considered to be avoidable then a charge is levied.
Q2. Why does QFES charge for attendance at unwanted alarm activations?
A2. In recent years, QFES has responded to an increasing number of unwanted alarms. These unwanted alarms are a result of a fire alarm system either not performing to Australian Standards, or not being maintained to a performance standard thus preventing unnecessary fire alarm system activations. If a fire alarm system is designed, installed and maintained correctly it should be able to differentiate between a fire and normal activity in the building. Call-outs to unwanted alarms are having a significant impact on QFES resources.
QFES charges for attendance at unwanted alarm activations to encourage building owners/occupiers to be continually proactive in managing fire alarm systems, thus reducing unwanted alarm activations.
Q3. What are non-chargeable unwanted fire alarms?
A3. The following alarm situations are deemed to be non-chargeable:
- Fires detected by an operating fire alarm system;
- Operation of the alarm system caused by external factors i.e. smoke/heat from another source/incident that is external to the subject premises property boundary and outside the owner/occupiers control;
- Alarms generated by extreme weather conditions.
Q4. Does a building receive any free unwanted alarms?
A4. Code of Practice 1008.0 Queensland Fire and Emergency Services - Charging for Services currently allows each QFES monitored automatic fire alarm an initial free unwanted alarm call in a 60-day period. A second or subsequent unwanted alarm within 60 days will be chargeable.
Q5. What is the purpose of a free unwanted alarm in a 60-day period?
A5. The purpose of a free unwanted alarm recognizes that sometimes accidents may happen. The free unwanted alarm provides the building’s owner/occupier with an opportunity to address the cause of the unwanted alarm (within a 60 day period) to ensure that no further unwanted alarms occur in the future.
Q6. Should body corporates and building owner/occupiers forward the cost of an unwanted alarm to the holiday-maker who burnt their toast?
A6. Some body corporates and building owner/occupiers have in place a policy regarding unwanted alarm activations and subsequent payment of QFES attendance charge. Their policies may advocate the practice of asking a tenant, holidaymaker, or person causing false or malicious fire alarm activation to pay the QFES invoice – this is a practice called ‘on-billing’.
The decision to ‘on-bill’ is that of each building’s adopted management policy. It is not a decision made by QFES. The QFES does not endorse the passing on of these attendance charges to tenants unless they are engaging in reckless or negligent behaviour. It is incorrect of the owner/occupier to attribute the ‘on-billing’ of an unwanted alarm account to QFES.
It is not the role of QFES to advocate to the body corporates or building owner/occupier a particular policy approach, however QFES does recommend the pre-emptive development of an unwanted alarm policy. QFES suggests communicating the policy to guests as they arrive; via display in their room, presentation on the in-house television guest-welcoming segment or announcement over the in-house PA (particularly at strategic times of the day). In addition, QFES recommends body corporates or owner/occupiers advise security, administrative and cleaning staff of the nature of the policy. Brochures in multiple languages depicting appropriate messages about minimising unwanted alarms might be helpful to some holidaymakers.
Above all, QFES recommends body corporates and building owner/ occupiers take steps to address the reason why the unwanted alarm occurred in the first place. Ensuring proper building and fire alarm system design, fit-out, and maintenance programs may assist in avoiding unwanted alarms.
Q7. How does a body corporate or building owner/occupier request the waiving of a QFES account for an unwanted alarm charge?
A7. A body corporate manager or building owner/occupier may write to the QFES Assistant Commissioner responsible for issuing the account and request it to be waived. The correspondence must outline reasons why the QFES account should be cancelled. The Assistant Commissioner will consider the request and if satisfied that the reasons of the request are valid may waive or adjust the account.
Q8. As the body corporate manager or building owner/occupier of a fire alarm system can I telephone Firecom and tell them not to send the fire appliance because it’s an unwanted alarm?
A8. QFES appreciates a telephone call to Firecom with advice about the status of events associated with the fire alarm activation. Firecom can then forward this updated information to the responding fire crew en route. Information about the status of the emergency at the subject building allows the QFES attending officer to more efficiently manage the mobilisation of resources dependent upon the specifics of the information received.
However, responding QFES crews are legally obligated to continue to the scene and investigate the reason for the alarm activation.
Q9. Who can assist with fire alarm system technical advice?
A9. Body corporates and building owner/occupiers can seek advice related to the performance of a prescribed fire alarm system from a number of sources including fire alarm technicians, consulting architects, engineers and experienced builders. Performance advice contacts can be researched through industry technical publications or a number of industry associations.
QFES Community Safety Operations staff can provide advice on the existing systems operating standard and the suitability of any proposed fire alarm system variation. QFES staff are not equipped to provide advice of a technical nature other than interpretation and application of the Building Code of Australia Part E2 – Smoke Hazard Management. QFES staff are however well equipped to provide practical advice about the effects of the building design, and the subsequent potential of the installed fire alarm system, i.e. in terms of its potential to incur unwanted alarms or not.
It is essential to recognise that the success of any installed fire alarm system is dependent upon its relationship to the subject building’s holistic design features.
Q10. What can be done to improve an existing automatic fire alarm system that is creating numerous unwanted alarms?
A10. The building owner/occupier should contact the body corporate, building senior management, automatic fire alarm technician, consulting engineer, and/or certifier requesting an options paper report of the choices about how to improve the performance of the fire alarm system. Options may include:
- Installing a quality fire alarm system that is better suited to building design features.
- Undertake a regular, thorough maintenance program; one developed by qualified engineers, architects or fire alarm specialists. QFES reinforces that maintenance also includes regular staff training and a proactive company policy on how to educate clients and the public about living with fire alarm systems. This program must be documented.
- Develop a ‘test and replace’ plan for detectors Faulty detectors are often a cause of unwanted alarms.
- A quality fire alarm system installed in the first instance will, in the long-term, be the most satisfactory outcome for industry, long-term developer, tourist industry, owner/occupier, community and QFES.
Q11. What should a developer/builder/architect consider at the conceptual stage of construction?
A11. Firstly, the QFES Fire Alarm and Building Design Guidelines for the Reduction of Unwanted Alarms (UA Guidelines) must be addressed in any Application to QFES for Assessment of a Fire Detection and Alarm System that is a Special Fire Service, and
To ensure alarm systems best suited to building design features are installed, QFES highly recommends that the developer of a project:
- establish, evaluate, and document the proposed building demographic – i.e. the people who will live, work, visit or use the facility;
- conduct an analysis of the buildings internal/external design in light of the environment (eg. prevailing wind, air-borne matter, landscaping, humidity, rainfall etc.), and evaluate the effects upon a range of prescribed integrated fire safety equipment components;
- review the internal design features that may generate an effect on the automatic fire alarm system as a result of how people interact with the facility components;
- review specific internal design features for each room (e.g. bathroom - steam from shower, heat from clothes dryer, overflow from bath water, kitchen - cooking appliances etc.), together with proximity of smoke detectors and ventilation/ extraction systems;
- evaluate the building air management system, and the prevailing natural air flow (accentuated by doors opening to strong breeze) does not take cooking fumes across smoke detectors;
- uses the most up-to-date appropriate range of approved components incorporating specifications that have been professionally considered for installation;
- develop a brief for the consulting engineer and architect that includes a directive about the outcomes expected to be delivered in terms of the performance of the prescribed automatic fire alarm system in the short, medium, and long-term;
- build in contingencies for change of building use. etc.
Q12. How should body corporates or building owner/occupiers manage contractors working on premises fitted with an automatic fire alarm system?
A12. When a workman is engaged to perform work in a building fitted with an automatic fire alarm system, it is recommended that precautions are instigated to ensure no unwanted alarms occur as a result of the workman’s activities. Management of workmen on a particular building site is the responsibility of the nominated / identified building manager. Suggested precautions include:
- Isolation of the fire alarm zones in which work is being undertaken. It is recommended that a person is tasked as a safety watch whilst the fire alarm zone is isolated, as procedures equal to or greater than what the system being isolated provides must be in place to cover the isolation.
- Using only qualified/reputable maintenance companies.
- Meeting contractors at the entry point and provide a formal induction briefing as per a prepared policy.
- Establishing the consequences of causing an unwanted alarm with workmen including responsibility for payment in the event of an unwanted alarm. If the unwanted alarm management policy states that the expectation that a contractor will meet any consequential QFES charges invoiced to the property – this should be clearly advised. QFES does not issue chargeable alarm invoices to contractors or building occupants.
- Taking particular care with workers using grinders and gas cutting equipment, as gases may drift to other non-isolated zones in the area.
- Clearly allocating the responsibility for reinstating the alarm system following the completion of work.
- All contractors to sign in/out at Centre Management/ Security Office/ Reception.
- The type of work that the contractor is to undertake is clearly identified.
- Complete Works Permit or Hot Works Permit ( If both works are being undertaken then only the Hot Works Permit needs to be completed)
- Security/ Centre Management/ Staff to inspect the area before any work commences.
- Identify Hazards and develop prevention measures for those hazards.
- Install detector covers when work that may produce products that can contaminate smoke detectors is undertaken.
- Security/ Staff to conduct random inspections to ensure compliance to procedures.
- Centre Management/ Security/ Staff to inspect area prior to contractor leaving.
- If area is deemed OK, remove covers from devices de isolate zone/area (allow time for detector to clear before de isolating.
- Centre Management/ Security/ Staff to undergo specific training to isolate and de-isolate alarm system as accidental activations have occurred during isolating and de-isolating.
Please note – QFES advises that detectors that are located in a work area where they may be contaminated by dust etc. must be protected by properly designed covers for the duration of the works.