The Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (QFES) responds to around 18,000 unwanted alarm activations per year.
Fales alarms in strata properties can mean residents are required to evacuate at all hours of the day and night and causes a nuisance fire crews who are on standby for real emergencies.
Fire crews can be away from the station for more than an hour as they evacuate a building, check for any smoke or wiring problems before allowing staff or residents to return.
The QFES has the power to charge a Body Corporate $1,351 (2020-21) for attending to false alarms.
The Body Corporate can recover the charges from the responsible person when there is evidence of reckless or negligent behaviour causing the false alarm and where a body corporate has informed owners of how to avoid false alarms.
For tenancies, the lot owner should ensure there is a suitable agreement in place to recover the cost from their tenant – usually overseen by the appointed letting agent.
Alarm Monitoring Agreement
Unwanted alarms are charged to buildings that have an alarm monitoring agreement with the QFES.
the QFES does not charge building owners for any initial unwanted alarm response within a continuous 60-day period but they will be hit for a fee if an unwanted call-out occurs within the following three months.
This has increased considerably each year in an attempt to reduce the number of callouts which puts a drain on the QFES resources and the taxpayer funds.
Request Waiving of a QFES Unwanted Alarm Charge
A body corporate manager or building owner/occupier may write to QFES Specialists in Alarm Services and request the charge be waived.
The correspondence must outline reasons why the QFES account should be cancelled. Specialists in Alarm Services will consider the request and, if satisfied that the reasons of the request are valid, may waive or adjust the account.
Buildings that have particularly sensitive alarms should work on a policy for managing unwanted alarms.
This could include notifying occupants of the consequences of activating the alarm by way of newsletters, when checking in to accommodation, signage within short term units, and corporate committee.
This will help decrease unnecessary call outs and the subsequent expenses to the body corporate.
Another danger with unwanted alarm activations is that they can cause unit occupants to become complacent due to due to repeated exposure to false alarms. This could result in dire consequences should occupants not respond properly to a legitimate alarm.
There will also be additional financial costs for any business within the building that is interrupted.
However, the high cost of false alarms can be ultimately beneficial as an incentive for bodies corporate to ensure their fire system is in order.
What can be done to improve an existing automatic fire alarm system that is creating numerous unwanted alarms?
Options to improve the performance of a fire alarm system may include:
- Installing a quality fire alarm system that is better suited to building design features.
- Undertake a regular, thorough maintenance program; one developed by qualified engineers, architects or fire alarm specialists. QFES reinforces that maintenance also includes regular staff training and a proactive company policy on how to educate clients and the public about living with fire alarm systems. This program must be documented.
- Develop a ‘test and replace’ plan for detectors Faulty detectors are often a cause of unwanted alarms.
- A quality fire alarm system installed in the first instance will, in the long-term, be the most satisfactory outcome for industry, long-term developer, tourist industry, owner/occupier, community and QFES.
Contact the body corporate, building management, fire alarm technician, consulting engineer, and/or certifier requesting an options paper report of your choices
What Activities Can Result in a Chargeable False Alarm?
Chargeable alarms include alarms activated due to:
- Cooking fumes such as burnt toast;
- Activities of workmen / tradesperson;
- Alarm system malfunction such as a fault in the wiring, alarm panel or inadequate maintenance;
- Sprinkler system malfunction such as corrosion, defective equipment or leaking system;
- Detector malfunction such as a defective equipment;
- The fire alarm panel in normal condition on arrival;
- Attending QFES officer unable to locate the detector indicated on the fire alarm panel;
- Building management resetting the fire alarm panel prior to QFES arrival and the cause is unknown;
- Normal weather conditions such as leaving the doors/windows open;
- Failure to notify of a test;
- Incorrect test by service company personnel;
- Poor building maintenance such as dust, cobwebs and insects;
- Simulated fire conditions such as candles, incense, sparklers, cigarettes or smoke machine;
- Aerosols such as hair or smoke machine;
- Accidental operation of alarm;
- Any reason that could have been avoided or foreseen;
- Malicious activation of Manual Call Points.