Is Malicious Fire Alarm Data the Biggest Concern to the Fire Industry?

Updated: Apr 21

Despite being relegated to our houses, malicious or false fire alarm activations have remained high, with 216, 206 cases being recorded for the year ending 2020/21 the Home Office reports. With 2% of these (2,226 cases) being malicious activations from the call point or alarm.


However, is this the biggest concern facing malicious or false alarm activation statistics? Or is there more worrying statistics buried in results tables?


Is there other areas more worthy of our consideration, due to the increased number of occurrences?


Logo for the Office for National Statistics

Data collection on behalf of Fire Services, compiled by the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), split the categories of malicious and false alarms into a vast number of subsections, including:

  • malicious activations,

  • false activations with good intent,

  • false activations from carelessness or accidents,

  • and faulty apparatus activations.

From the consolidated data for year ending June 2021 evidence that out of the original 216, 206 cases, malicious fire alarms make up for 2% of the total number of cases, a slight fall from the 2018/19 (3%) and 2019/20 (3%).


False activations with good intent are remaining within the bounds of previous data, with a total of 31% compared to 29% in 2019/20, 32% in 2018/9.


False activations from accidents or carelessness are increasing, however, to 9% in June 2021, from 6% in 2018/19 and 2019/20.[1]


More strikingly, however, is the percentage of false alarm activations from faulty apparatus. This remains at 18% for the year ending June 2021, from 2018/19, 2019/20, and 2020/21. It is important to clarify, the percentage of activations for faulty apparatus does not include ‘poor maintenance,’ which is a separate subsection and is equivalent to 1% of faulty activations from 2018/19, up to June 2021.


So according to the raw data, compiled by the ONS, the biggest causes of false alarm activation in the UK is not malicious actions, but underlying faulty equipment, such as sprinklers, smoke alarms, heat alarms, flame sensors, etc., and accidents or carelessness within the home or workplace.


So, what can we do to address these areas of increasing concern?

False Activations from carelessness or accidents.

Accidental or careless activation is caused in the main for the following reasons,

  • poorly positioned alarms.

  • A lack of clear signage

  • Poor education on the appropriate usage of alarms.

  • Trip and slip hazards in the environment that surrounds call alarms, causing people to reach out to them when falling and accidentally grabbing the alarm.

  • A lack of protective covers.


As most recent data indicates that incidents of careless or accidental activation have been increased by 4%, the application of a few minor steps should create a decrease, and therefore visible improvement for figures yet to be generated for the year ending June 2022. These steps, although very simplistic, can reap large rewards for the taxpayer and Fire Services across the UK.

Move improperly positioned manual call points or utilise clearer signage.

By using clear signage to indicate the difference between buttons and call points or moving improperly positioned Manual Call Points (MCPs) will reduce incidences of mistaken identity, as you can see below, taken in a local hospital.[2]

A fire alarm, button door release, and emergency door release crammed together with a confusing homemade sign

In the above example, a user must reach for the lower button, which is awkwardly sandwiched between two larger call points and is relied upon not to push the green button, which is often associated with moving off or starting to move- particularly for drivers.


As we can see from the signage, there has been an attempt made at distinguishing between exit switches and call points, but a simpler and more effective strategy would be to have the MCPs repositioned further away from the door release switch, removing confusions altogether.

Increasing education on MCPs

Children, young people, and students are often the worst offenders for malicious MCP activation, and as such incidents are commonly attributed to them, however, it could also be due to a lack of education on the wider consequences of the impact of false alarm activation.


Under-developed impulse control and poor decision making due to alcohol or Jack-the-lad behaviours are often associated with pressing MCPs, but often children and young people are not conscious of the impact a false activation can cause, as they often do not consider the cost to the taxpayer and Fire Services, or the inability of the Fire Brigade to answer genuine calls if they are elsewhere.


Visits from local Fire Officers, books, and posters for older children or students can explain the consequences in an age-appropriate way, and the recent implementation of fines from the London Fire Brigade to ‘buildings like hospitals, airports and student halls with a poor false alarm record,’[3] will likely soon decrease the numbers recorded.

Removing trip and slip hazards near MCPs

More often found in Canada and the US, pull style fire alarms[4] can often result in accidental activation due to their design.


Person activating a pull-style fire alarm

Activated by pushing down on the interior switch, which can be activated if users’ trip and slip near the call point and reach out for stability.

Utilise protective covers.

‘All MCPs should be fitted with a protective cover.’ BS 5839-1 2017

Protective covers can be fitted on MCPs to stop accidental activations.

The British Standard Institute recommends in section 20.2b that

‘All MCPs should be fitted with a protective cover, which is moved to gain access to the frangible element.’

If we consider the earlier example at the hospital, if the cost or relocating MCPs was too large, fitting a protective cover to the green emergency door release, as they have done with the red fire alarm that is adjacent, would go some way to stopping accidental activations as visitors try to leave.


As with all the situations outlined above, however, the installation of protective covers can remove, or significantly lower the number of accidental alarm activations, and is a relatively inexpensive and effective fix for these more minor issues.

Manual call point cover


Activations from Faulty Equipment.

The much larger, and therefore more impactful, statistic is the number of activations that stem from faulty equipment. 18% false alarms came from equipment regarded as ‘faulty,’ and therefore not fit for purpose, including:

  • sprinklers,

  • smoke alarms,

  • heat alarms, and

  • flame sensors.


It is not unreasonable to prioritise the largest proportion of faulty alarms when looking to reduce faulty or malicious activations. Over the coming months, we are expecting finalisation of the documents to be included in the updated Building Safety Bill, which enacts Dame Judith Hackitt’s Golden thread requirement, which will inevitably assist with ensuring buildings fire safety systems continue to work as anticipated, and should in theory, remove faulty equipment from high rise buildings.


Similarly, faulty equipment leaves building owners or managers non-compliant with The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and British Standard 5839, which outlines installation and maintenance requirements of fire alarm, and detection systems.


Regardless of the parameters of the Building Safety Act 2021, to solve the issues related to ‘faulty equipment,’ first, we must successfully determine why the equipment was faulty, instead of ‘poorly maintained,’ ‘damaged,’ or merely deemed ‘unsuitable.’ Currently, we are still waiting to hear back from the Home Office, and Office for National Statistics, so are limited to a working definition only.


Once we can successfully ascertain the reason for faulty equipment, building management and homeowners can work to correct the fault, and therefore prevent 18%, nearly 1/5 of the total faulty activations per year, from happening, saving the Fire brigade, and the tax-payer thousands of pounds, and leaving the emergencies free to deal with genuine emergencies.


Surely the real takeaway from fire statistics such as this?

Let us know in the comments, which statistics shocked you the most?

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[1] All data from Fire and rescue incident statistics in England, year ending June 2021: data tables, ‘Table 0104,’ published by The Home Office and Office for National Statistics on 11.11.2021.

[2] Image from Imaginationfactory.co.uk, ‘Sign of the times’ blog entry from 20.02.2017, published by Mark Hester, <https://www.imaginationfactory.co.uk/blog/post/3865/Sign-of-the-times/>

[3] FSM issue 23, December 2021, ‘Malicious false fire alarms persist despite COVID-19 restrictions,’ page. 22.

[4] Image from blog.Koorsen.com, ‘WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR A FIRE ALARM PULL STATION?’ published 31.07.2020 by Koorsen Fire and Security, <https://blog.koorsen.com/what-are-the-requirements-for-a-fire-alarm-pull-station>

ONS image from ONS.gov.uk, 15.02.2022

Manual call point cover image from SafetyMedia.com, 15.02.2022

Cover image from Pexels.com, courtesy of Pixabay

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