False Alarm Prevention Guides

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FALSE ALARM PREVENTION

 

Every year, Bend Fire Department responds to hundreds of false alarms caused by everything from malfunctioning alarm systems to broken fire sprinkler pipes to dust in smoke detectors. Every time we respond to a false alarm, it takes emergency responders out of place for emergency incidents. Luckily, most of these alarm activation's are preventable. 

A false alarm is defined as the initiation or transmission of a signal, message or other notification of an event of fire when no such danger exists. These alarm activations caused the Fire Department to respond to your home or business when a situation that required an emergency response did not exist.

Here are some guides and pointers to prevent future false alarms at your places of business and home. Click on the topic below for a downloadable PDF or scroll down for all the information:

Residential fire alarm systems - prevention guide
Commercial fire alarm systems - prevention guide
Fire sprinkler system - prevention guide
Renters guide for smoke alarms
City of Bend False Alarm Ordinance 7.08

CLICK HERE Request a FREE fire department consultation to discuss false alarms and preventing future alarms. 

Listed below are all the tips and guides that are found on the PDF's linked above:


FALSE ALARMS - Residential and Commercial

Activations by particulates in the air (steam, dust, fake smoke, etc)

– Smoke detectors are checking for particulates in the air. Steam, dust and theatrical smoke or dry ice are all particulates. Any of these in the air can cause the fire alarm system to activate.

Prevention: Regular maintenance and cleaning by qualified personnel will help prevent many of these. Maintenance schedules are based on the type of system (alarms, sprinklers, kitchen hoods) and all are based on national standards (NFPA). Equipment operators should be aware of the fire alarm system and work to keep steam, dust or particulates from their operation from getting to the detectors. If a detector is near a steam, dust or fake smoke producing appliance that alarm could be covered to prevent the accidental activations. You can also contact your fire alarm company to have the system put into a “test mode” so that any accidental activation does not transmit to the fire department but still provides protection to the buildings occupants.

Equipment failure – Alarm system components fail from time to time. Sometimes they fail and cause the alarm system to send a signal to the alarm monitoring company even when the bells and strobes don’t activate.

Prevention: Regular maintenance and cleaning by qualified personnel will help prevent many of these. Maintenance schedules are based on the type of system (alarms, sprinklers, kitchen hoods) and all are based on national standards (NFPA). Pay attention to abnormal conditions at your alarm panel. A beeping panel usually means something has failed and needs to be repaired. Indicator lights or messages indicating “trouble” or “supervisory” also need to be investigated and corrected. Annual maintenance by qualified personnel will help prevent many failures. But in the event it happens at your building, have your fire alarm service company out as soon as possible to find the problem and correct it to prevent future false alarms and to be assured that your system functions properly in an actual emergency.

Improper alarm type – Alarm systems sound 3 different alarm types: Trouble, Supervisory and Fire alarm. The only one that should come to the fire department is the Fire Alarm. The rest should go to the building owner or manager. If the alarm is not set up correctly or the monitoring company has it programmed incorrectly, trouble or supervisory alarms can come through to the fire department, causing a false alarm.

Prevention: Correct initial set up and good continued annual maintenance will help prevent this most of the time. But in the event it happens at your building, get with your alarm company to correct the programming to ensure the alarms go to the right place. Also be sure you alarm monitoring company has at least two up-to-date after-hours emergency contacts for your facility.

Pull station activation – Fire alarm pull stations are there to allow a quick activation of the fire alarm system in the event of an emergency. They also can be a great temptation for young children to pull out of curiosity or others to pull maliciously. There are also times that these can be bumped, broken or fail causing the alarm to sound.

Prevention: Regular maintenance and cleaning by qualified personnel will help prevent many of these. Maintenance schedules are based on the type of system (alarms, sprinklers, kitchen hoods) and all are based on national standards (NFPA). For accidental or intentional activations, protective covers can be installed over the pull stations to prevent or deter these activations. If they are needed in an emergency the cover can be quickly removed and the alarm pulled. The cover usually has a small buzzer in it to alert people nearby that the cover has been removed, preventing many accidental or intentional activations.

Smoke from burnt food activating a smoke detector – Burnt food such as toast and popcorn produce smoke, just what a smoke alarm and detector are looking for.

Prevention: Never leave cooking unattended, including your microwave, in order to prevent food from overcooking and starting to smoke. Many times the cooking appliance is just too close to the smoke detector. Moving the appliance further away can help. In break rooms and food bar areas, replacing the detector with a heat detector can reduce the false alarm chances and still provide the needed protection.

System not in Test Mode – When servicing a fire alarm or sprinkler system, an alarm system can be triggered unintentionally and cause a response one when is not warranted.

Prevention: Whenever any work is to be done on the buildings fire alarm, fire sprinkler, hood suppression or special extinguishing systems, the fire alarm system monitoring company should be contacted prior to the work to place the system into what is considered “test mode”. This allows the alarm system to still work in the building but will not transmit an alarm ot the fire department right away. Instead the alarm company will verify with the servicing company that the activation was not caused by their actions before having us respond. Other times when test mode can be used: when painting is occurring in fire alarm protected areas, after water damage that includes the fire alarm system or whenever an alarm could be caused accidentally by servicing or maintenance operations.

Unknown fire alarm causes – Fire alarm systems that activate due to unknown reasons can be very difficult to diagnose and fix. 

Prevention: Regular maintenance and cleaning by qualified personnel will help prevent many of these. Maintenance schedules are based on the type of system (alarms, sprinklers, kitchen hoods) and all are based on national standards (NFPA). Having a fire alarm service tech examine the system as soon as possible after the unknown activation can increase the chances that the cause can be determined. Also, due to the unknown circumstances of the alarm activation, it is not known if the alarm system is actually working until a service person examines the system. 

NOTE ABOUT PERMITS: Changes made to a fire alarm system, such as replacing smoke detectors with heat detectors, or relocating detectors or other alarm components, may require the permission of the building or fire department. Consult with the building or fire department prior to making any changes. 

 

FIRE SPRINKLERS - Residential and Commercial 

Fire sprinkler systems activate accidentally for many different reasons. When they activate accidentally they can become a nuisance, can cause damage to the buildings and contents, desensitize people to the alarms and ultimately lead to a less effective suppression and warning system. They also tie up fire department resources, preventing them from responding to actual emergencies. Preventing these accidental activations is as varied as the different types of activations there are. Here are some of the common ways to help prevent them:

Broken sprinkler heads and pipes – Sprinkler heads can be broken by various objects or operations. Ladders, doors, forklifts, footballs and vehicles have all been known to damager sprinkler heads and piping and cause water to leak.

Prevention: Regular maintenance and cleaning by qualified personnel will help prevent many of these. Maintenance schedules are based on the type of system (alarms, sprinklers, kitchen hoods) and all are based on national standards (NFPA). Look for areas that may be prone to impact damage and look for ways to protect the piping and heads. This could be done by concealing the piping behind sheet rock, putting protective cages around sprinkler heads or moving piping out of harm’s way. All of these remedies should be done with the assistance of the fire sprinkler company to ensure no damage or obstruction to the system is done.

Dry system activations due to air compressor not working properly – A dry system works by keeping the piping throughout the system filled with air instead of water to prevent frozen sprinkler pipes. An air compressor is attached to all dry systems to keep the pipes filled with air at all times. The air compressor automatically fills the system with air when the air pressure drops.

Prevention: Regular maintenance and cleaning by qualified personnel will help prevent many of these. Maintenance schedules are based on the type of system (alarms, sprinklers, kitchen hoods) and all are based on national standards (NFPA). If the air compressor is not working properly or is broken, the air pressure can dropped too low and allow the system to activate. Proper maintenance and checking of the air compressor will help ensure it works properly and not cause other problems in the sprinkler system.

Dry system activations by high water pressure – A dry system works by keeping the piping throughout the system filled with air instead of water to prevent frozen sprinkler pipes. The valve that keeps the water back can be overrun if the water pressure gets too high for some reason.

Prevention: Regular maintenance and cleaning by qualified personnel will help prevent many of these. Maintenance schedules are based on the type of system (alarms, sprinklers, kitchen hoods) and all are based on national standards (NFPA). The air pressure in the dry system is set at a certain level depending on the water pressure in the system. If the water pressure changes, the air pressure may need to be adjusted. Rapid increases in water pressure due to water pumps or other natural causes can overrun the air pressure and cause the system to activate. If this happens to your system, work with your fire sprinkler service company to determine the cause and determine a way to prevent future activations. Over pressure gauges on the water side of the system or increasing the air pressure in the dry system are ways to protect against this.

Equipment failure – Sprinkler system components fail from time to time. Sometimes they fail and cause the system to activate and sometimes they fail in a manner that keeps the sprinkler system from working properly when needed.

Prevention: Pay attention to abnormal conditions with your fire sprinkler system. Leaking water or air can be a sign of something wrong. If pressure gauges show zero (0) pressure that is a sign the system is not active. Annual maintenance by qualified personnel will help prevent many failures. But in the event it happens at your building, have your fire sprinkler system service company out as soon as possible to find the problem and correct it to ensure it is working properly.

Frozen sprinkler pipes – Wet fire sprinkler systems have water in the piping at all times. If the air temperature around the sprinkler piping gets too cold, the water inside can freeze. Freezing water expands and can damage the piping, leading to water leaks when the ice melts. This not only can damage the building but leave your sprinkler system out of service.

Prevention: Regular maintenance and cleaning by qualified personnel will help prevent many of these. Maintenance schedules are based on the type of system (alarms, sprinklers, kitchen hoods) and all are based on national standards (NFPA). All areas that have wet fire sprinkler piping in them shall be kept above 40 degrees (F) at all times. This can be done with the building HVAC system, local heaters or insulation. Heat tape is not recommended for sprinkler piping. If there are areas of concern, temperature monitors should be installed to monitor the area and react before any pipes freeze.

Lack of low air alarm or alarm not working on dry sprinkler systems – A dry system works by keeping the piping throughout the system filled with air instead of water to prevent frozen sprinkler pipes. The air pressure is about a 4 to 1 ratio to the water pressure below. The air pressure is usually set at least 10 PSI higher than the pressure at which it will let water past. Having a low air alarm that will warn you before the air pressure get close to the operation level will help stop accidental activations.

Prevention: Regular maintenance and cleaning by qualified personnel will help prevent many of these. Maintenance schedules are based on the type of system (alarms, sprinklers, kitchen hoods) and all are based on national standards (NFPA). The sprinkler company can determine the operation pressure of the valve and then set the normal air pressure that the system stays at. Once those are determined, the low air alarm switch is set between those two pressures. This way a warning will be sent to the alarm system if the pressure drops too low, but before it activates. Then if the air pressure drop is caused by something other than a fire, the system can be fixed prior to filling the system with water and causing expensive resetting after the unneeded activation.

NOTE ABOUT PERMITS: Changes made to a fire sprinkler system, such as adding sprinkler heads, moving piping, or changing the designed occupancy may require the permission of the building or fire department. Consult with the building or fire department prior to making any changes.