The new Unwanted False Alarms (UFA) measures are designed to encourage building owners to address fire alarm management responsibilities.
About one-third of all Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) turn-outs are to UFAs. There were 20,199 UFAs in the 2003/4 financial year and 19,154 in 2004/5. A similar number is expected for the 2005/6 financial year. Less than 300 of these turn-outs to alarms were because of a fire.
The safety issues surrounding UFAs include:
- People who hear regular UFAs in their building may become complacent to the sound of the alarm. This can be dangerous when a fire does occur.
- UFAs call in resources (an average of two QFES units attend each UFA) which are then unavailable for a genuine emergency or could be better deployed in other situations such as fire safety activities.
- While all safety precautions are taken, a QFES appliance rushing to any incident places a higher-than-normal level of danger and distraction to members of the public, QFES personnel and other drivers. By reducing the number of non-emergency turn-outs we will be creating a safer environment for everyone.
This information attached refers to the management of Unwanted False Alarms, so that it may lead to reduced numbers of unwanted alarms.
Owner/occupiers can address the problem because they now know the processes and requirements to be addressed by whom. Importantly, owner/occupiers obtain a level of understanding of the objectives, and become more aware of who is responsible for the concerns they have been facing.
For more information or to arrange an appointment with QFES personnel regarding UFAs contact 1300 369 003.
Questions and Answers
Q1. Why does Queensland Fire and Emergency Services charge for attending automatic unwanted alarm activations?
QFES commenced charging for attendance at unwanted alarms due to the increasing number of times QFES attended buildings where it was clear that fire alarm systems were either not performing to Australian Standards, or not being maintained to a performance standard that prevented unnecessary fire alarm system activations.
Q2. What is a chargeable alarm?
The definition of a Chargeable Alarm is: “A chargeable alarm is deemed to be the activation of a fire alarm system, where the situation is such that after investigation by QFES further action by QFES would not have been required. That is, the situation would not have resulted in any danger to the premises and occupants from fire”.
Q3. Under what circumstances does QFES charge for attending Unwanted Fire Activations (UFA) caused by; e.g. cooking fumes, burnt toast, workman activating a fire alarm, and other like unwanted activations?
No charge is made for attendance at fires on prescribed properties within the QFES Urban District Boundary. A charge may be generated following analysis of the reason for the fire alarm activation in light of the definition of a chargeable alarm (refer to Question 2). A charge may be generated as a result of e.g. cooking fumes activating a smoke detector due to people not adequately supervising the cooking activity. There is no need for QFES to expend public funds to attend to burnt toast. This is a matter that can be managed by the occupant, or, building design features that can be utilised to control cooking fumes. If the actual cooking appliance is on fire, and has caused a fire - no charge will be made. However, the fault in the appliance will need to be reported by the attending fire officer, and the appliance manufacturer advised. There will be an investigation of any potential fire risks associated with that device. If necessary a public warning will be issued.
Q4. Why is a fire alarm system installed in a building?
Fire alarm systems are installed to: (1) Give early warning of fire to the occupants; (2) To allow safe and early evacuation from the building; (3) To protect occupants from illness or injury; (4) To provide QFES with early notification of a fire in a building; (5) To reduce loss of life; (6) To allow early QFES response to a fire in a building; (7) To reduce building damage; (8) To reduce the amount of business lost; (9) Minimise risk to the public who attend unfamiliar properties; (10) Required by the Building Code of Australia, or in older buildings – the legislation at the time; (11) As a duty of care in the interest of the public.
Q5. How should owner/occupiers manage contractors working on premises fitted with an automatic fire alarm system?
When a workman is engaged to perform work in a building fitted with an automatic fire alarm system, it is recommended that the complex manager instigate precautions that ensure no unwanted alarms occur as a result of the workman’s activities. Owner/occupiers should only use qualified/reputable maintenance companies. Negotiations with the workman should establish the consequences of causing an unwanted alarm. The manager should establish the expectation upon the contractor to meet any consequential QFES charges invoiced to the property, if that is the policy of the business. QFES does not issue chargeable alarm invoices to the contractor or building occupants.
The fire alarm zones in which work is being undertaken should be isolated while work is being undertaken. It is recommended that a person is tasked as a safety watch while the fire alarm zone is isolated. It is important that all workers are instructed about the consequences of working with fire alarm systems. Managers should establish awareness of the ‘timed delay’ feature of the ‘Premises Protection Unit’ (PPU) to ensure all contractors working in the building understand it.
Agreement should be clearly reached about who has responsibility in the event of workers creating an unwanted alarm. Agreement should be clearly reached about who has the responsibility for reinstating the alarm system following the completion of work. Particular care must be taken with workers using grinders and gas cutting equipment, as gases may drift to other non-isolated zones in the area. The establishment of processes for contractor engagement, the isolation of potentially affected detectors, the protection of potentially affected detectors, and the emphases upon all parties of the need to not generate an unwanted alarm is the responsibility of the subject building manager. It is an unacceptable practice to only cover detectors with plastic bags; other actions in combination must be implemented.
Contractors should be met at the entry point and provided with a formal induction briefing per a prepared policy. Emphasis should be made of the importance of noting the time limitation for which the PPU isolates the system.
Q6. As a manager of a building that has numerous occupants and tenants, how do owner/occupiers forward or apportion QFRS chargeable alarm accounts to either the tenant, or person associated with creating the Unwanted Alarm Activations?
QFES have an obligation to forward all chargeable alarm invoices to the person/agent with whom QFES have entered into a fire alarm monitoring agreement. The decision in relation to how a QFES account is disbursed (if any disbursement is to occur) to any particular person or tenant within the complex is the responsibility of the building body corporate/managers. In the case of malicious Unwanted Fire Alarm, the property manager has the recourse of provisions within the law to seek reimbursement from the perpetrator.
Q7. Does a building receive any free unwanted alarms?
QFES currently allows each QFES monitored automatic fire alarm an initial charge free call to an unwanted alarm call in a 60-day period. Should a second or subsequent unwanted alarm occur within 60 days; the second and subsequent unwanted alarm activation will be chargeable. Attendance by QFES at the second and any subsequent chargeable alarm transmitted by a fire alarm system (i.e.) per Fire Communication Alarm (FCA), at any premises within any ‘60 day’ period constitutes attendance at a ‘Chargeable Alarm’. The 60-day period is not based on 60 days from the first of the month. The start of the 60 days commences when a chargeable alarm occurs, and an invoice is created when a second and subsequent chargeable alarm occurs within 60 days of the first chargeable alarm. Currently, the first chargeable alarm is free, and the second and subsequent chargeable alarms are invoiced.
Q8. What is the purpose of a free unwanted alarm in a 60-day period?
The purpose of a free unwanted alarm is to recognise that sometimes accidents may happen, and to provide the owner/occupier with an opportunity to address the cause of the unwanted alarm to ensure that no further unwanted alarms occur in the future. The failure of owner/occupiers to improve poorly performing automatic fire alarm systems will cause QFES to move towards charging for all chargeable alarms.
The provision of one free unwanted alarm is a gesture from QFES to encourage owner/occupiers to recognise that QFES have a desire to prevent unwanted alarms from happening.
Q9. What should an owner/occupier do when a fire alarm activates?
In the event of a fire alarm operating in a building, it is the responsibility of the owner/occupier to ensure that building evacuation plan procedures are implemented upon hearing the automatic fire alarm system operate. The building evacuation plan procedures are to be adopted by managers, staff, and occupants in the event of an emergency.
Various key response functions are required as per the building evacuation plan. The specific tasks conducted by building managers are referred to in the Australian Standards related to evacuation procedures. Due to the comprehensiveness of proper evacuation plans, it is essential that owner/occupiers fully understand formal legal requirements. QFES specialist staff can provide advice and guidance.
As a part of these evacuation procedures, delegated staff members may (as a part of the planned tasks) attend the fire alarm panel, determine the location of the fire alarm activation, investigate the cause of the fire alarm if safe to do so, search the area, evacuate the area, and provide the QFES officer (upon his arrival, or en route) with a situation report about the alarm activation status (do not reset alarm).
Q10. How does QFES decide which alarm activation will be chargeable?
The attending fire officer investigates the cause of the fire alarm activation and notes this information in his fire report. A computerised query of the electronic fire report is compiled to identify all call-outs to monitored automatic fire alarms. The electronic query lists the calls in order showing the reason for the alarm activation.
Q11. What is the purpose of reducing the number of unwanted alarms?
QFES is most concerned about the level of complacency occurring in the whole community when an automatic fire alarm operates. The fire alarm is an early warning device that is being ignored too often. It is often being regarded as just another unwanted alarm. This cultural view represents the potential for people, who choose not to egress the building when the alarm is raised, to become overcome by smoke and place their lives and the lives of others at risk. Too many people have died as a result of poorly performing fire safety systems. One of the responsibilities of QFES is to educate all sections of the community in best practice safety procedures.
Q12. What are non-chargeable automatic fire alarm system activations?
The following alarm situations are deemed to be non-chargeable:
- Fires detected by a properly 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 significant storm conditions.
Q13. Why are building managers responsible for the maintenance of the alarm system when they personally did not install the original system?
Section 104D (1) of the Fire & Rescue Service Act 1990 in brief states that: The occupier of a building must maintain at all times every prescribed fire safety installation (which includes fire alarm systems) to a standard of safety and reliability in the event of fire. This Act also has a definition for ‘occupier’, used with reference to any premises, means the person in actual occupation or, if there is no such person, the owner. This definition includes building managers.
Q14. Why should owner/occupiers take responsibility to ensure that the fire alarm system operates correctly?
Apart from the moral responsibility to occupants of the building, there is a legislative responsibility within the Building Fire Safety Regulation 1991 Section 15. ‘Testing of special fire services’ This section broadly outlines testing procedures for special fire services (which includes fire alarm systems) and possible fines that can be imposed for non-compliance.
As responsible Corporate citizens, as a duty of care, and in recognition of the actual consequences of a non-operable business due to a fire (that occurred because poor fire alarm system performance led to the isolation of various sections), owner/occupiers have formal and ethical responsibility to ensure the auto fire alarm system is compliant to required standards.
Q15. Has a fire appliance rushing to an unwanted alarm ever been involved in an accident where a citizen has died or has been injured?
It is sad but true, fire appliances responding to emergency calls from automatic fire alarm system activation have been involved in motor vehicle accidents. This includes calls that subsequently proved to be unwanted alarms. QFES is very concerned at this unnecessary loss, and is committed to implementing strategies designed to eliminate future like occurrences.
Correctly operating fire alarm systems are an intrinsic part of preventing unnecessary losses of life within the community. This includes responsibility for not only the events occurring in a particular building, but additionally, responsibility for relative duty of care associated with managing events generated as a result of the fire alarm activation.
Q16. Why does QFES want to reduce the number of unwanted alarms?
QFES is committed to an objective of significantly reducing complacency among the community when a fire alarm operates. The negative impact upon staff and the community when a fire appliance is responding to a call-out that causes death or injury is not acceptable, particularly when the death or injury was avoidable.
The time consumed by QFES attending unwanted alarms can be better-utilised undertaking tasks that are more important to achieving fire safety in the community.
Responding to a faulty fire alarm system because the fire alarm system was not performing appropriately is unacceptable when responsible parties could have managed the performance of the automatic fire alarm system.
Q17. Why does QFES forward owner/occupiers an account for attending automatic fire alarm activations that upon investigation show no sign or reason for the activation?
A correctly operating fire alarm system is installed to provide early warning of a fire. In the event of a fire, generally tell-tale signs of the combustion process are evident in some form. The occurrence of an actual fire does not result in an invoice for a chargeable alarm being generated.
Where the fire alarm system has facilitated a fault or spike of some kind that causes an alarm activation (i.e. for a technical reason, and in the absence of clear evidence of a fire triggering the alarm), it is evident that the some part of the automatic fire alarm system is not functioning correctly. Electrical spike absorption devices are available to prevent these.
A fire alarm panel that is not operating correctly is the responsibility of the owner/occupier to manage. Therefore, where the reason for the false activation is an improperly operating fire alarm system, and there was no need for QFES to attend, an account may be generated.
Accordingly, where there is no need for QFES to be in attendance, an invoice may be generated.
Q18. What can be done to improve an existing automatic fire alarm system that is creating numerous unwanted alarms?
The building owner/occupier should contact the body corporate, 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.
Maintenance is always the obvious area that can be addressed. A comprehensive maintenance program involves every part of the fire alarm system’s operating equipment and interacting environmental factors that affect that equipment.
Maintenance is not just using a vacuum cleaner once a month. It starts with extensive discussions with the engineer/architect and fire alarm specialists to agree that the installed prescribed fire alarm system is of an adequate design standard in consideration of the total environment impacting factors.
It is essential that a fully programmed building specific maintenance plan be documented. This involves business decisions to ensure the practical viability of the proposal. In some cases, the evaluation may identify that a total upgrade to a much more effective system is warranted.
Often detectors are not replaced or tested regularly enough, in a planned way, and this may result in a manager not knowing which detectors have been replaced in the last couple of years. This is often very ineffective, particularly if the replacement plan has not included an upgrade to higher quality detectors.
The sensitivity of detectors alters over time and environmental exposure. The older the detector the greater the chance of a systems fault occurring.
QFES staff often report that a faulty detector was attributed to the cause of the unwanted alarm. Careful consideration of the particular type of detectors being located in particular locations does greatly assist in reducing UFAs. In many cases, this scenario could have avoided an unwanted alarm from occurring.
Maintenance on its own will not always be enough; some automatic fire alarm systems will need to be upgraded in order to adequately address unsatisfactory performance.
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.
Q19. Has there been any demonstrated improvement in fire alarm system performance from buildings that have upgraded their fire alarm system; i.e. the upgrade has produced nil or minimal chargeable alarms?
The answer is yes. However, any building owner/occupier who does not adopt a holistic approach or seriously commit to reducing unwanted alarms may not quite achieve the desired result. QFRS has many examples of significant improvements in automatic fire alarm performance where owner/occupiers have acted upon QFRS advice. Those outcomes make for extremely happy owner/occupiers.
Q20. What should an owner/occupier do to gain the co-operation of tenants and guests to ensure the number of unwanted alarms is minimised?
Firstly, the body corporate, owner/occupier should develop a policy of how any unwanted alarms are to be managed within the complex. This policy can be communicated with tenants and guests as they arrive, it can be displayed in their room, it can be presented on the in-house television guest-welcoming segment, in-house PA announcements can be made on a regular basis (particularly at strategic times of the day), security staff can intercept and advise people about their behaviours potential to cause a unwanted alarm.
Additionally, brochures in multiple languages depicting desired messages can be communicated.
Less unwanted alarms equates to happier guests, and creates an opportunity for safe evacuations when a fire alarm activates for the right reasons, therein lessening the complacency amongst the community. Appropriate alarm activations can lead to lives saved, whereas inappropriate automatic fire alarm system activations can lead to significant loss of life.
It is generally accepted that it is important to avoid the loss of life due to improperly operating fire alarm systems. This includes ensuring that complacency does not cause any additional disasters.
Q21. Should building owner/occupiers forward the cost of a chargeable alarm to the holiday-maker who burnt their toast?
The decision to forward QFES chargeable alarm accounts to a holiday-maker is a business choice of the body corporate or owner/occupier. QFES does not support that practice.
It is not the role of QFES to advocate to the body corporate or owner/occupier a particular policy approach. It seems appropriate and business-like to pre-emptively consider a policy position in the event of this scenario developing.
This policy can be communicated with guests as they arrive, it can be displayed in their room, it can be presented on the in-house television guest-welcoming segment, it can be presented on the in-house PA announcements on a regular basis (particularly at strategic times of the day), security staff, administrative staff, and cleaning staff can advise people about the potential of their behaviour or activities being likely to cause a unwanted alarm and attract a charge.
QFRS would be disappointed to learn that accounts were presented to the holidaymaker before it was determined that an account would even be generated. QFES would be particularly disappointed to learn that the account was presented to the holidaymaker by the owner/occupier stating that it was a QFES charge sent to the holidaymaker because they caused an unwanted alarm.
Any incorrect statements made to the holidaymaker that reflects negatively upon QFES as the organisation that caused the account to be sent to the holidaymaker, will be redressed firmly in an appropriate manner by QFES. Attending QFES staff can assist greatly by clearly communicating QFES expectations to tenants and holidaymakers. Importantly, where QFES crews identify this scenario, communication of the facts to allay any concerns should be promoted while in attendance.
Q22. Can a building owner/occupier alter or change any prescribed fire alarm system equipment?
QFES has continuously recommended that owner/occupiers review the operation of the fire alarm system to ensure optimum results. The review may identify that certain changes or upgrade of the fire alarm system is recommended.
It is essential to remember that the prescribed fire alarm system has been installed in accordance with Local Authority/Certifier approval permits. Any proposed variation to the installed prescribed fire alarm system must be documented, and approval for any variations sought from the Local Authority/Certifier.
Formal approval is always required to ensure the integrity and purpose of the fire alarm system is maintained.
Owner/occupiers are required to submit their proposed building variation to the Local Authority/Certifier, and request advice about those options or changes to the existing fire alarm system. The request must be forwarded in writing to QFRS Manager Community Safety.
It is not the responsibility of QFES to nominate particular changes to a building’s prescribed fire alarm system. It is the responsibility of the owner/occupier to prepare any desired changes and present these to the Local Authority/Certifier for approval. It may be important for owner/occupiers to be informed that where special fire services are involved, some endorsement by QFES that the variation complies with required regulations may be required.
QFES operational fire crews, are generally not equipped to provide off-the-cuff advice in respect to fire alarm system changes. Any changes to a fire alarm system may only be considered following careful consideration of file notes and building approval permits pertaining to the subject building.
Q23. Who would need to know about any changes to a building fire alarm system?
The people who may need to know about any changes to a prescribed fire alarm system include: Local Authority; Building Certifier; Bodies Corporate; owner/occupiers; building managers, staff; fire alarm technicians; attending fire officers; respective insurance companies; various tenants and occupants, and, where special fire services have been altered – the QFES Manager Community Safety.
Q24. Do all building fire alarm systems need to be monitored?
No, many fire alarm systems installed within buildings are local systems only and do not require monitoring. Section E of the Building Code of Australia lists buildings requiring monitoring. Special circumstances may apply to certain buildings. What is essential is that Unwanted Fire Alarms are eliminated, so that occupant faith in fire alarm systems is developed.
Q25. Can anyone other than QFES monitor my building fire alarm system?
Current building requirements in the Building Code of Australia Specification E2.2A clause 7 require all monitoring to be by the Fire Service.
Q26. How does a building owner/occupier request that the QFES account for Unwanted Fire Alarms/charges be waived?
A building owner/occupier/manager may write to the QFES Commissioner responsible for the particular area who issued the account, and request that the account is waived. The writer must outline the reasons why the QFES account should be cancelled. The Commissioner must consider the request and if satisfied that the reasons of the request are valid may waiver or adjust the account due to QFES.
Q27. Are QFES personnel required to reset/isolate the fire alarm panel while attending building fire alarm activations?
QFES Fire Protection Officers are not required to reset the fire alarm panel. It is the responsibility of the owner/occupier to ensure that the status of the fire alarm panel is operationally ready at all times.
Q28. If QFES staff is not required to reset the fire alarm system, why do some operational QFES personnel attending to fire alarm activations reset the fire alarm panel?
QFES personnel are willing to assist all sections of the community, and welcome the opportunity to assist building owner/occupiers wherever possible. While attending fire alarm activations QFES staff have observed the following:
- On some occasions no on-site managers are in attendance to reset the fire alarm panel;
- On-site building representative staff do not always possess adequate knowledge about how to reset the fire alarm panel;
- QFES staff recognise the benefit of having a fire alarm system operational rather than the fire alarm system not being operational;
- That some managers live out of area, and that by the time the manager is roused and commutes to the building, the QFES could easily perform this task on their behalf;
- QFES staff often reset the fire alarm system in the interest of practicality;
- QFES staff, by their nature, seeks to assist people wherever possible, and also desire to build positive relationships with all sections of the community in order to achieve outcomes that benefit all.
QFES staff may isolate the alarm when the cause of the alarm activation is not identified. QFES will reset the zone/device, if possible, where clear evidence of the cause of the activation is identified.
Q29. As the owner/occupier of a fire alarm system can I telephone QFES and tell them not to send the fire appliance because it’s an unwanted alarm?
QFES staff appreciate a telephone call from the subject-building manager to the QFES communication centre 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 while they are en route. Information about the status of the emergency at the subject building allows the officer to more efficiently manage the mobilisation of resources dependant upon the specifics of the information received.
Responding QFES crew are obligated to continue to the scene and investigate the reason for the alarm activation. QFES is not able to not attend the call solely based on a telephone call. This is due to the potential for maliciousness intended to delay QFES attendance, and the potential for incorrect assessment of the situation by the local manager.
Q30. Does QFRS charge for chargeable fire alarms because it is seeking increased revenue?
QFES is currently attending more than 19,000 unwanted fire alarms throughout Queensland, in a 12-month period, at a cost of approximately $40 million to provide all resources required to attend those unwanted alarms. The income received as a result of QFES charging for attendance at chargeable alarms was approximately $4.8 million. Clearly this is not a ‘money making’ initiative.
QFES commenced charging for attendance at unwanted alarms due to the number of times QFES attended buildings where it was clear that fire alarm systems were not being maintained.
If QFES were solely operating from a revenue-seeking viewpoint, would QFES be advocating to owner/occupiers to do all in their power to reduce unwanted alarms? If QFES were solely operating from a revenue-seeking viewpoint, would QFES be providing information to assist owner/occupiers to reduce their potential chargeable alarm costs?
If QFES were solely operating from a revenue-seeking viewpoint, would QFES be pro-actively working with owner/occupiers to upgrade their automatic fire alarm systems?
Q31. Why do I pay for chargeable alarms when I already pay a fire levy?
All property owners within the Urban District Boundary (UDB) contribute funds via a fire levy. The purpose of the fire levy is to provide a fire service to the people of Queensland. The structured fees are based on a historically based expectation of the level of demand, i.e. if a particular type of property (due to its particular risk factors) were to become involved in fire, then that property would demand a level of QFES resources to be responded to that complex in order to manage the incident.
The dollar amount levied upon individual properties is based on size and type of property use. Clearly, where greater levels of risk demand greater levels of QFES resources, then a proportional fire levy fee is set. These fee structures are provided in legislation.
The fire levy is struck to fund a fire service equipped and ready to respond to emergency calls within the UDB of the community. The fire levy does not fund services to some sections or groups within the community that other sections of the community do not receive.
Special services are provided to some sections of the community where requests are made to QFES to provide special services. These special services are provided on an additional fee for service basis. The wider community does not subsidise those sections of the community who receive services over and above the norm provided to the wider community who pay a common denomination based levy.
Q32. What is a QFES officer looking to achieve while investigating a fire alarm activation?
The QFES Officer in charge of the attending operational fire-fighting crew is authorised to act on behalf of the QFES Commissioner and ensure that the authority vested via the Fire and Rescue Emergency Services 1990 is effected.
The main aim of fire fighting crews responding to an emergency is to save life and property.
It must be remembered that while everyone else is rushing out of the building, fireofficers are preparing themselves to rush in to the building. QFES Officers are trained to gather information and assess that information on a priority basis to ensure their safety, and the safety of building occupants.
The building owner/occupier possesses important information valuable to the QFES Officer during the first moments of the investigation. It is the QFES Officer who is required to be satisfied that the management of the incident is under-control, or else the QFES Officer will implement the necessary steps to manage the incident.
The QFES Officer will progressively investigate the matter and seek evidence of the cause of the call-out.
Q33. Does the QFES provide any information about the cause of the fire alarm activation?
The QFES Officer will seek evidence of the cause of the automatic fire alarm activation. This investigation will involve attending the building fire alarm panel to confirm the location of the area, from which the call emanated, and then inspect the actual location to confirm that people, and property are safe. While at the point of origin of the call, the QFES Officer will seek evidence of the reason for the alarm activation. This investigation will be through observation of available evidence, and by interviewing people in attendance to determine the cause of the activation.
The QFES Officer will discuss with the building owner/occupier’s on-site representative, the reason for the alarm activation. The QFES Officer will also leave a record of attendance in the fire alarm panel maintenance book.
The attending QFES Officer upon his/her return to the station completes an electronic report of the automatic fire alarm activation. This report refers to the available evidence that appears to be the cause of the activation.
Q34. What is the responsibility of the owner/occupier when the fire alarm operates: (1) In relation to building occupants; & (2) the fire alarm panel?
The responsibility of the owner/occupier is to ensure that pre-planned emergency response procedures are enacted. The prime function of these emergency response evacuation procedures is to ensure the safe evacuation of the people in the complex.
The activation of an automatic fire alarm system will involve the person designated on the evacuation plan quickly attending the fire alarm panel to determine the location of the fire alarm activation. Further, the designated building warden closest to the indicated location of the fire will investigate the cause, and report to the building Chief Warden (individual Building Warden roles and functions may vary).
Each building manager has a responsibility to develop evacuation plans that encompass the duties involved in the required roles and functions designated per Australian Standards, Building Fire Safety Regulations, and Schedule 5 of the Fire and Rescue Service Act 1990.
These evacuation plans should be communicated, displayed, and practiced on a regular basis. Australian Standards specifies these requirements.
A duty of care for the people within a complex is expected of the owner/occupier.
Regular staff training in the roles and function of the designated roles and functions required to effectively conduct a building evacuation in an emergency is required by Australian Standards.
Some buildings require formal written evacuation plans, others do not. It is highly recommended that all owner/occupiers develop and implement evacuation plan procedures that can be exercised in the event of a range of emergencies.
Q35. Who should a building owner/occupier consult about improving the performance of a fire alarm system?
The first point of contact would be the fire alarm technician who regularly provides fire alarm system maintenance. Industry publications can indicate other suppliers who can provide advice.
The people who may need to know about any changes to a prescribed fire alarm system include: Local Authority; Building Certifier; Bodies Corporate; owner/occupiers; building managers, staff; fire alarm technicians; attending fire officers; respective insurance companies; various tenants and occupants, and, where special fire services are involved – the QFES Manager Community Safety.
NOTE: In general attending operational firefighters are not to discuss any changes to an installed automatic fire alarm systems or its related components. All questions associated with that topic must be referred to the QFES Manager Community Safety.
Q36. Who can approve the changes made to a fire alarm system?
The people who may need to know about any changes to a prescribed fire alarm system include: Local Authority; Building Certifier; Bodies Corporate; owner/occupiers; building managers, staff; fire alarm technicians; attending fire officers; respective insurance companies; various tenants and occupants, and, where special fire services have been altered, specifically – the QFES Manager Community Safety. It will depend upon exactly what changes are to be made as to who will be required to approve proposed variations. Generally, it will be the Local Authority and/or Private Certifier who can approve proposed changes after advice from QFES Building Approval Officers.
Q37. Can I make changes to the fire alarm system?
Changes can be made to a prescribed automatic fire alarm system; however, any changes must be in accordance with relevant legislation. It is highly recommended that, in order to avoid unnecessary angst, relevant industry consultants are engaged to provide key advice in order to ensure compliance.
The people who may need to know about any changes to a prescribed fire alarm system include: Local Authority; Building Certifier; Bodies Corporate; owner/occupiers; building managers, staff; fire alarm technicians; attending fire officers; respective insurance companies; various tenants and occupants, and, where special fire services have been altered – the QFES Manager Community Safety. It will depend upon exactly what changes are to be made as to whom will be required to approve proposed variations. Generally, it will be the Local Authority and/or Private Certifier who can approve proposed changes after advice from QFES Building Approval Officers.
Q38. Isn’t a smoke detector that operates as a result of sensing burnt toast just doing its job as designed?
The role of a smoke detector is certainly to recognise the incipient stages of a fire in order to give early warning of an emergency. In those terms, it is recognised that the smoke detector has ‘done its job’.
However, in order for that thought to convert to subsequently mean that it is not a chargeable alarm, is not focusing on either the definition of a ‘Chargeable Alarm’, or:
- the objective of reducing unnecessary unwanted alarms (in the mutual interest of all stakeholders);
- the basis of why a fire alarm system was designed and installed;
- the unnecessary attendance of QFES;
- addressing the unnecessary response cost effects upon QFES, while solely focusing upon waivering chargeable alarm fees;
- the effects, including death and injury to fire-officers and members of the community as a result of un-necessary QFES response to call-outs believed to be emergency incidents;
- finding the motivation to actually address the fundamental reason for the alarm falsely activating in the first place, and fixing the problem; and
- the growing level of complacency that has already cost lives.
Clearly, the reason for developing an automatic fire alarm system was with the following objectives:
- To provide early warning of fire to the occupants;
- To allow safe and early evacuation of the building;
- To protect occupants from illness or injury;
- To provide QFES with early notification of a fire in a building;
- To reduce loss of life;
- To allow early QFES response to a fire in a building;
- To reduce the amount of business lost;
- To reduce building damage;
- To minimise risk to the public who attend unfamiliar properties;
- Required by the Building Code of Australia, or in older buildings – the legislation at the time;
- As a duty of care in the interest of the public.
A fire alarm system is not installed as an expensive signal to the occupant that their toast is over-cooked; individuals are responsible for the management of cooking processes.
Last updated 7 June 2006