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False Alarms

False alarms are a frequent cause of expense, inconvenience and stress for building owners and occupiers alike. Many people consider false alarms simply part of owning a fire detection and alarm system, but it doesn't have to be that way. In this guide we will cover the dangers of false alarms, their common causes and how they can be prevented. Fire and Rescue NSW report that 97% of alarms are "unwanted" or false alarms.

If you have recently been subject to unwanted alarms and are hoping to avoid the charge, read the section immediately below for the situations in which Fire and Rescue NSW will not charge for false alarms. You can discuss a waiver with your monitoring service provider.

In the longer term, the solution is obviously to avoid false alarms altogether. We discuss measures you can undertake to avoid false alarms further down on this page.

What are the dangers of false alarms?

Incurred Fines and Callout Fees

If your facility is monitored by an automatic fire alarm (AFA) then false alarms can attract unwanted expense in the form of fines. The current price for a false alarm in NSW is $1600, although the fire department does have waivers available. The supported instances where FRNSW will not charge for callouts are:

  • False alarms that are considered beyond the control of the building owner/occupier, such as storm damage or from a natural disaster

  • If it is the first false alarm in a 60 day period

  • If it occurs within the same 24 hour period as another alarm, all false alarms within a single 24 hour period are considered a single event.

The purpose of charging for false alarm callouts is to motivate building owners to take a proactive approach to maintaining their fire alarm systems. Its important to note if you own or manage a building that is rented out to tenants that Fire and Rescue NSW does not support passing the callout fee on to tenants, the person liable to pay is the person who requested the fire brigade, in this instance, the owner of the automatic fire alarm system.

Interruption of Business

False alarms causing your business to evacuate and shut down machinery or processes can lead to significant downtime at inopportune moments. These interruptions, while minor, can add up and lead to frustration and mistakes.

Desensitisation to Alarms

Occupants exposed to frequent false alarms will naturally end up desensitising to them, assuming every alarm they hear is "just another false alarm" and significantly slow down the response to a genuine emergency.

In the event of a fire seconds can mean the difference between an effective evacuation where everyone is safe and accounted for and a disaster that claims lives. 

What are the causes of false alarms and how can they be prevented?

There are many potential causes of false or nuisance alarms, identifying why your alarm is activating is the first step in managing the issue.

Poor maintenance

Poor maintenance can lead to detectors getting dirty and more sensitive to alarm conditions. A regular maintenance schedule can mitigate this cause of false alarms by cleaning or replacing detectors before they reach the threshold.

Incorrect detector installation

In many cases fire alarm installations are done to meet the minimum requirements of a buildings Annual Fire Safety Schedule (AFSS). While meeting the minimum standard of performance this can result in suboptimal detector choice or location for the purposes of mitigating nuisance alarms. As an example, heat detectors require a higher density of detectors due to their lower sensitivity so some installations opt to install smoke detectors even in areas prone to dust, steam or smoke in the normal course of business.

Altering the system so detectors are more optimally placed or of a more suitable type may incur an upfront cost but it is worth considering if this would save your business money and interruptions in the long run.

Cooking Fumes/Smoke

Fumes, steam or smoke from cooking can trigger smoke detectors into alarm as the detector recognises intrusion of particulate as the smoke from a fire. For this reason heat detectors are normally a better choice for cooking areas. Combined with proper ventilation this can prevent nuisance alarms from cooking.

Water Intrusion or Cable Damage

Some types of panels use resistance in the cabling to determine the state of the alarm circuit (Normal, Alarm or Fault), any condition that lowers the resistance of the cable will register as an alarm. This commonly occurs during or after storms where water has entered the ceiling spaces of a premises and finds its way into the back of detectors or joins in cabling. This causes a short-circuit which triggers the fire alarm panel into alarm.

In the same way a crushed or cut cable can also trigger a false alarm by shorting the circuit. Solutions for this type of false alarm typically involve finding the location of the water ingress or damaged cable and repairing or replacing components as necessary.

Smoking or Vaping

Most people understand why smoking sets off smoke detectors (its smoke) but many are surprised to learn that vaping can also trigger a smoke detector. The solution to this problem is to enforce non-smoking rules in areas that have detection.

Aerosol Sprays or Deodorants

In addition to smoking or vaping, aerosol sprays such as deodorants are also known to sometimes trigger smoke detectors. Unlike smoking a deodorant ban in workplaces or tenancies is somewhat less popular with occupants, the preferred method of minimising this sort of false alarm is to adjust sensitivity of detection in areas prone to deodorant use or informing occupants about how the smoke detection system works.

Damaged Breakglass or Manual Call Point

Breakglasses or Manual Call Points (MCP) are the red boxes installed in some facilities that allow occupants to manually activate the fire alarm system. These are usually installed adjacent to exit doors and pathways from the building and often subject to high foot traffic. Impacts can activate the MCP and trigger an alarm. False alarms from this source can be prevented by occupant awareness or installing protective covers that prevent accidental activation.

Candles or Incense

Candles an incense also produce smoke which can activate a fire alarm system. These types of false alarms can be reduced by informing occupants about the fire detection in the building. Notwithstanding the potential for false alarms candles are also inadvisable due to the fire risk they pose.


Dust can trigger smoke alarms both by build up on the detectors making them dirty, as well as circulating dust pushed into the detector by wind or air currents. Mitigating this sort of nuisance alarm is generally done by selecting more appropriate detectors for high dust areas, adjusting sensitivity levels and dust management procedures.

Can Futura Fire assist in managing our false alarms?

Yes, Futura Fire has significant experience dealing with problem-sites that are prone to false or nuisance alarms. We can work with your business to identify your issues and undertake alterations to solve them. You can start the process by getting in touch with one of our representatives.