Management, use and maintenance of fire alarm and detection systems
The Fire Protection Association (FPA)
Fire alarm and detection systems form a valuable part of a property’s fire protection strategy. Nonetheless, when FPA fire risk assessors visit properties it is all too common to find systems that are poorly managed and/or maintained. Such cases leave people and assets badly exposed, can invalidate insurance policies and in many cases fall foul of the law.
The FPA would always recommend appropriate training, from a recognised provider for key members of staff. Still, this article may provide a useful starting point or refresher for those tasked with managing fire alarm systems.
In any premises subject to the requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 or equivalent legislation, a responsible person or duty holder must carry out a fire risk assessment that considers the safety in case of fire of all ‘relevant persons’. A relevant person is any person who is or may be lawfully on the premises or any person in the immediate vicinity who is at risk from a fire on the premises. Particular attention needs to be paid to those at special risk, such as disabled people and those with special support needs, and must include consideration of any dangerous substance likely to be on the premises. The person with day-to-day responsibility for the system, not necessarily a competent person, is now termed ‘premises management’ to remove the confusion with the former title of ‘responsible person’ which had been used in the previous edition of BS and is used in overarching legislation in England and Wales as described above.
This person may be the first point of contact on fire alarm problems for any staff or service contractors. They may also keep the log book up to date, including false alarm entries. The evacuation arrangements and warnings will have been determined from the building’s fire risk assessment.
Evacuation arrangements and warnings
A single stage of evacuation (one out, all out) is the most reliable signal to give in a building, as no confusion should arise in the response procedure.
In some cases, a general evacuation warning – that is, a warning for everyone immediately to leave the building – may be inappropriate and a delayed or staged evacuation, perhaps by floor or defined area, may be adopted. In places where a general audible alarm is not thought immediately desirable (such as hospitals, department stores and places of entertainment), the alarm may be transmitted to a permanently staffed control point or discretely to pagers held by key staff where trained people can assess the warning required and then pass on the instruction to staff or the control room as appropriate.
In taller commercial buildings, which have been designed with reduced stair capacity, the evacuation signal may be ‘phased’. This requires the fire alarm system to give a clear message to individual floors in sequence, to avoid overloading the staircases. A voice message system is the preferred arrangement in such cases, as an ordinary sounder tone may ‘bleed’ into additional areas causing confusion as to when to evacuate.
BS 5839-1 provides the current guidelines for a servicing and maintenance regime of automatic fire detection and alarm systems, which has been in place since the 2002 edition. Many organisations continue to service systems to the previous guidelines which do not guarantee compliance with the current standard.
A maintenance regime may include the following:
- Weekly test
- Monthly user requirements (where generators are used as a form of standby power)
- Quarterly inspection of vented batteries
- Periodic inspection and test of the system (not exceeding 6 months)
- Annual service (which may be undertaken across two six monthly services (or any other pattern) that assures not more than 12 months passes since any device receives attention)
Further guidance on the completion of these tasks can be found via the FPA training or publications departments. The FPA also hold a monthly webinar series which recently covered alarm systems, role and responsibilities. All webinars are recorded and are available in the member’s area of the FPA’s website www.thefpa.co.uk
The FPA provide two and five-day training courses covering these subjects at our headquarters in Moreton-in-Marsh. To discuss these and other training opportunities please feel free to contact the training department on 01608 812503/528 or email email@example.com
The FPA also publish an 87-page handbook on fire alarm and detection systems, which is available free to download as a PDF for FPA members or otherwise to purchase via our website www.thefpa.co.uk/shop. The handbook includes more information on the management and maintenance of systems, as well as information on system selection, design and operation.
For more information on the subject of alarm systems and maintenance needs, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mike Floyd, James Morelli-Green and Jimmy Phillips