The costly problem with false fire alarms 


In 2019 false fire alarms cost Australian tax payers $100 million. At Form1 our group deal with more than ten unwanted fire alarm service calls each week. According to Sydney Service Manager, David Cox, plenty can be done to reduce false alarms, and save everyone time, money and stress. 

If you’re lucky enough to work for Fire and Rescue NSW around 38% of your responses in the field would be to attend Automatic Fire Alarms. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if so many of them weren’t false ones. In 2019, 97% of calls, made by automatic fire alarm systems, were triggered by non-emergencies, like burnt toast and steam. 

“Apart from general annoyance, nuisance alarms are a complete waste of everybody’s time and effort, and build great complacency towards genuine fire alarms,” says Form1 Service Manager, David Cox. “They also cause distress and disruption to residents, patients, schooling and staff, especially when false alarms are in the middle of the night for residents and patients.” 

“The cost implications are also huge including, disruption to operations in the affected building due to evacuation, Fire Brigade attendance costs, and Service Contractor attendance costs. Every week a huge amount of resources, that should be used on real emergencies, are wasted attending unnecessary callouts.” 

Under the Fire Brigades Act 1989, firefighters are legally required to attend all automatic fire alarm activations. But these false alarms are costly for building owners and warrant $1600 in fines, per call out. Alarms are considered unwanted when FRNSW has attended, in response to an alarm, where there is no actual fire or other emergency. 

Manage your system

Fire Brigade employees union state secretary, Leighton Drury, said some of their biggest jobs came from automatic fire alarms, including the Quakers Hill nursing home blaze that killed 14 elderly residents in 2011, so it’s essential these alarms are respected. 

“Automatic fire alarms (AFA) are in high-risk areas like hospitals, high-rise buildings, apartment blocks and backpacker hostels,” Mr Drury said. 

Expert care must be taken when it comes to automatic fire alarms and according to David there are some common reasons these alarms glitch. 

“Smoke Alarms and detectors are often located without due consideration of the environment, typically too close to cooking facilities and bathrooms,” he says. “Small insect infestation in smoke detector locations can be another issue. Then there are contaminated smoke detectors, which due to dust and dirt, make the detectors “over-sensitive” and more likely to activate than if in a clean condition.” 

Form1 deal with more than 10 unwanted service calls a week and, following a severe weather event, this can multiply by 10. 

“The ingress of water into roofs and ceilings, following heavy rain is definitely an issue,” explains David. “Often it’s due to water tracking down the cabling in the ceiling void, onto the detector base where the electrical terminals are located. This creates a condition of electrical disturbance, that older technology equipment, determines as an “Activation”.” 

The good news is plenty can be done to reduce issues and there are a number of ways building owners and managers can help protect their property. 

“It’s important to be proactive in managing your system and ensure they are properly maintained. Systems that are well maintained reduce the number of false alarms considerably,” says David.  

“Correct location of Smoke Alarms and Detectors, and the use of Heat Alarms and Detectors instead, if required, are a great start. Ensure pest controls are in place, replace old technology Smoke Detectors every 10 years, as per AS1851 requirements and replace old technology systems with a smart type. These monitor the contamination level of Smoke Detectors, raising a “fault” condition when dirty. Additionally these detectors and devices rarely activate with the ingress of water – signalling a fault condition.” 

“At Form1 our aim is to always educate our clients, protect them from unexpected costs and investment, and first and foremost look after their people.”

If you have any enquiries about your building don’t hesitate to contact us. 

Common causes of false fire alarms include:

  • Poor ventilation
  • Burnt toast
  • Cooking fumes
  • Steam
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Cigarettes and candles
  • Tradespeople and cleaners
  • Dust
  • Dirty smoke detectors
  • Damage to ‘break glass alarms’ or ‘manual call points’
  • System malfunction
  • Poorly maintained systems
  • Insufficient maintenance frequency in harsh environments, and
  • Insect infestation.