Maintenance steps to keep false fire alarms at bay

by FM Media
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Incidences of false fire alarms are a bugbear for facility managers, with several states enforcing fines for them. Building owners and managers are being urged to take a closer look at their fire safety maintenance schedules in a bid to address a rising number of false fire alarms.

The number of false fire alarms each year is staggering. The latest figures from Fire and Rescue New South Wales reveal that of the 46,000 fire alarms that were responded to in 2012, only approximately two percent were genuine fire emergencies. The issue was also so problematic in Victoria, that the Country Fire Authority introduced fees for false alarms, which are supported by state government legislation.

Fines are now in place across the country for businesses found to be responsible for a false fire alarm. For instance, in NSW, a business found to have ‘no reasonable excuse’ for a false fire alarm is fined $1250. In Queensland the fine for triggering a false fire alarm is $1092.95.

Poor maintenance is among the common causes for false fire alarms, along with dirty smoke detectors, cooking incidents such as burning toast and smouldering cigarettes.

For many facility managers, unnecessary fines may be avoided by undertaking regular and rigorous maintenance of fire safety equipment. Building managers are encouraged to work closely with their fire maintenance provider to ensure the appropriate maintenance and testing is being carried out in accordance with Australian Standards. Australian Standard AS1851-2012 Routine Service of Fire Protection Systems and Equipment prescribes routine servicing activities for most fire protection systems and equipment to help ensure systems and equipment are kept in proper working order. This includes inspection, testing, preventative maintenance and survey activities.

A facility manager’s guide to fire protection maintenance standards
As many property managers may know, AS1851-2012 was completed rewritten and released in December 2012 to provide better clarity around what is expected from building managers and their service providers. There is still some confusion around its use, however, and adoption has not been straightforward.

It may be possible that facility managers are unsure about the responsibilities, requirements and procedures associated with applying the standard. While facility managers are not expected to completely understand AS1851-2012, there are some important elements with which they should be familiar:

  • AS1851-2012 is a routine preventative maintenance standard only. The Standard does not require fire protection systems to be upgraded. The focus is on demonstrating that the fire protection equipment and systems installed in the building at the time of approval are still ‘fit for purpose’.
  • The frequency of fire protection equipment inspections has been reduced from weekly to monthly. Requirements relating to passive fire protection have also been substantially revised.
  • The rewritten Standard introduces the requirement for ‘Baseline Data’ to be provided for any installed fire protection systems and equipment. This provides a benchmark performance level, so that subsequent periodic servicing activities results can be compared and determine whether the fire protection systems and equipment still operates to that intended level.

If you do not currently have baseline data for installed fire protection systems and equipment in your building, the Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPAA) recommends that you:

  • obtain the original building documentation
  • contact the original installer and seek commissioning information
  • contact your local council and seek council information/permits, or
  • develop the baseline data through diagnostic testing and expert assessment and advice – this can be costly, but it is likely to be offset in part by advantages of AS1851-2012, such as reduced maintenance frequencies and refined techniques to prevent future failures.

If you’re responsible for building safety, be aware that if defects or failures are reported by maintenance contractors, the property owner or occupier is responsible for rectification to meet the regulatory requirements and maintain system performance.

All primary regulations for maintenance of buildings around Australia place the responsibility of maintaining fire equipment and systems on the owner or occupier.

Implementing a maintenance program
A high level of reliability is essential when it comes to fire protection. Fire protection systems and equipment should always perform to the standard to which they were originally designed and installed.

Fire protection systems are often made up of a number of individual components such as portable fire protection equipment, sprinkler systems and fire detection systems and each component requires a specific approach to testing and servicing. This, in addition to the mandatory fire audits, strict standards and regulations and reporting requirements, may seem overwhelming.

Facility managers are encouraged to contact a fire protection specialist that has relevant expertise in modern alarm technology to provide professional advice and help take the stress out of maintenance and compliance. Working with a fire protection specialist can help facility managers stay on top of things by keeping a schedule of when and how the systems need to be inspected. It can also help ensure all the necessary servicing procedures are undertaken, so that the risk of the fire protection equipment failing is minimised.

In addition to the testing carried out by a fire protection specialist, it is a good idea for facility managers to visually inspect the fire protection equipment regularly to ensure there are no obvious problems or physical damage, and introduce checks and balances to better manage fire equipment maintenance. This may include effectively managing contractors and tradespeople by logging their presence on-site to help ensure they do not put the system at risk by their activities, and ensuring all building tenants, staff and occupants are aware of fire safety guidelines and procedures.

The author, John Lynch, is general manager, Business Support Services at Wormald – a specialist in fire safety, and provides services in areas such as portable fire equipment, service and maintenance, and large-scale fire suppression systems for mining, marine, industrial, commercial and retail use. Go to www.wormald.com.au for more information.

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