Automatic Fire Alarms (AFA's)

Automatic fire alarms (AFA's) help to keep building occupants safe by providing early warning in the event of fire.

Fire Detection

When an AFA actuates for any reason other than a fire condition, this is referred to as a false alarm. The point at which the Fire and Rescue Service is requested and responds to a false alarm is referred to as an Unwanted Fire Signal (UwFS). This means that fire crews are not available to attend genuine emergencies where people’s lives may be at risk, or to carry out training or community safety work to help prevent fires from happening in the first place.


Fire and Rescue Services have no statutory responsibility to respond to calls originating from an AFA system in order to investigate if there is a fire. Under the Fire Safety Order the Responsible Person or Duty Holder must ensure there is an Emergency Plan for dealing with any fire situation.

The purpose of an Emergency Plan is to ensure that the people in your premises know what to do if there is a fire and that the premises can be safely evacuated. Your emergency plan should be based on the outcome of your Fire Risk Assessment and be available for your employees, their representatives (where appointed) and the enforcing authority.

Check your fire safety responsibilities under the Fire Safety Order.


From 2020/21 to 2022/23 County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) responded to 1,943 AFA calls from non-residential premises with 98.5% of these being UwFS. Only four of these calls in this three-year period required the use of a portable extinguisher, hose reel or greater means to extinguish a fire. 

A reduction in the number of UwFS will have a positive effect on the business community and will support frontline appliances being immediately available for life risk incidents, provide further capacity and opportunity for crews to carry out prevention and protection activities in the community to help prevent fires from happening in the first place. Furthermore, a reduction in the number of responses CDDFRS make to UwFS will reduce the road risk and environmental impact by minimising blue light journeys.