Buildings That Cry Wolf

By Tatenda Makurumidze, Building Surveyor

It’s an all too familiar scene, NSW Fire and Rescue trucks lining up along a curb, as building occupants congregate in front of a building anxiously waiting for an ear-piercing false alarm to be turned off.

NSW Fire and Rescue (FRNSW) responded to an average of 48,000 call outs in 2015, with 97%, stemming from false alarms. This wastes FRNSW’s valuable resources, precious time, and possibly hinders response to a real emergency. As a result, FRNSW adopted a $1,600 charge for attending to false alarm callouts to monitored AFA systems, leaving owners financially burned when there is a false alarm.

The main cause for false alarms ranges from several different factors, these include:

  • Poor maintained systems
  • Poor ventilation
  • Cooking fumes
  • Steam
  • Dirty smoke detector
  • System malfunctions

The triggers for a false alarm may not stem from the building’s functionality during post occupation but rather from a poorly designed automatic fire alarm system or other issue.

When dealing with a building with high occurrence of false alarms it is worthwhile troubleshooting from the current requirements of the BCA and carryout a brief assessment of whether the building’s current smoke detection system have been installed in accordance with the requirements.

Under the Deemed to Satisfy Provisions of the BCA there are concessions that allow the installation of different type of detector in accordance AS 1670.1 if a smoke detector is likely to cause spurious alarms.

This ultimately provides the design and installation of alternative detectors such as a heat detector, which relies on a rising temperature to activate the buildings occupant warning system.

This provides building owners with an opportunity rectify issues associated with their poorly installed smoke detection system. However, the rectification will still need the appropriate approvals.

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