False fire alarm fees have increased as of 1st July 2013, from $750.00 to $1,250!

Automatic Fire Alarms

Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) is committed to reducing the number of unwanted false alarms from Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) systems. Unwanted alarms are when FRNSW has attended in response to an alarm where there is no fire or other emergency. FRNSW has a statutory obligation under the Fire Brigades Act 1989 to attend to all fire alarms.

FRNSW responded to approximately 46,000 AFAs in 2012. 98% of these alarms were unwanted. Around 35% of all FRNSW responses are to AFAs.

Unwanted alarms create complacency towards genuine alarms which can result in serious injury or loss of life. They also divert FRNSW resources that would otherwise be available for genuine emergencies.

AFA systems are a crucial component in fire detection for buildings and are designed to alert occupants and initiate quick responses by FRNSW in the case of fires. AFA systems are required under building legislation, as prescribed by the National Construction Code (NCC), and are administered by Local Government Authorities (LGAs).

It is important that building owners and managers properly manage and maintain their AFA systems to ensure their correct operation and to reduce the likelihood of unwanted alarms.

The AFA systems that require monitoring are to be connected to an approved Automatic Fire Alarm Service Provider (AFASP). There are three AFASPs that are contracted to FRNSW.

For advice or assistance in implementing strategies to minimise unwanted alarms contact the Alarms Administrators at FRNSW. FRNSW Alarms Assessment Officers work directly with AFASP customers in developing strategies to reduce unwanted fire alarms.

Charges for false alarms

The NSW Fire Brigades ACT 1989, Sect 42 allows FRNSW to charge for attending false alarm call-outs to monitored AFA systems. This charge is intended to motivate building owners and managers to be continually pro-active in managing their AFA systems and to ensure that they are properly maintained. It has been demonstrated that properly maintained systems assist in reducing the number of false alarms attended by FRNSW allowing them to respond more readily to genuine emergencies.

From 1 July 2013 the false alarm charge will increase to $1250.

In certain circumstances, such as for storms and other natural disasters, false alarms will not be charged if the alarm was beyond the control of the owner.
There are additional circumstances (leniencies) resulting in no charge, including:

  • One false alarm within a 60 day period will not be charged. Subsequent false alarms which occur within 60 days of the first alarm will be charged.
  • A 24 hour leniency period applies in which repeat false alarms will not be charged. Only the first alarm will be charged within the 24 hours. Multiple false alarms within a 24 hour period are considered a one off event giving the business owner or manager time to rectify their alarm system.

Billing of charges

Building owners or managers are responsible and accountable for the payment of false alarm charges resulting from unwanted false alarms. FRNSW invoices AFASPs, they in turn invoice building owners or managers.
FRNSW is not involved where owners forward false alarm costs on to a third party, such as hotel guests when the activation resulted from normal occupant activities such as cooking and showering.

Main causes of false alarms

Most common causes are listed first:

  • Poor building maintenance
  • AFA System malfunctions
  • Burnt toast
  • Cooking fumes
  • Steam
  • Aerosols sprays
  • Cigarettes/candles
  • Workmen/cleaners
  • Dirty smoke detectors
  • ‘Break Glass’ alarm damage

Avoiding false alarms

For tenants:

  • Ensure any fans, vents, and if possible windows, are open before cooking or showering.
  • Some smoke detectors are extremely sensitive and steam from showers, smoke from burning food, even sprays from aerosol cans such as deodorant and hair-spray can set them off.
  • Be aware of where all alarm detectors are in your home and ensure all reasonable measures are taken to avoid false alarm activation.

For building owners, managers and workers:

Effective maintenance of AFA systems is critical in reducing false alarms. The primary cause of false alarms is poorly maintained systems.

Ensuring a well regulated work place protocol is in place can also be extremely effective in reducing false alarms. There are a number of ways workers can set off false alarms:

  • Dust
  • Cutting wires
  • Spraying
  • Steam cleaning

All workers on-site must register with the building owner or manager and be inducted into the workplace processes ensuring appropriate isolation of AFA systems and responsible work-site activities.

Applying to waive the false alarm charge

A building owner or manager can seek a waiver for the false alarm charge through their AFASP. The AFASP will provide advice on the process and documentation required to request a waiver. The application for waiver must be made not more than 180 calendar days from the FRNSW invoice date.

FRNSW officers attending incidents do not have authority to waive AFA false alarm charges. Pursuant to the Fire Brigades Act 1989, section 43 , waiver or reduction of AFA false alarm charges is at the discretion of the Commissioner.