The job of a fire alarm is straightforward: To increase emergency preparedness by alerting inhabitants that a fire is occurring in order to begin an evacuation process and ultimately save lives. However, fire alarms have gotten a “boy who cried wolf” reputation since they tend to go off in non-emergency situations, falsely alerting people to a fire that is not actually taking place. These alarm system cries can, understandably, cause people to distrust the fire alarm and perhaps not take future alerts as seriously — even when they aren’t false.
Fire alarms “cry wolf” more often than one might think, and it happens for various reasons. Obviously, there are intentional events, like when someone pulls the fire alarm or a fire drill or maintenance check is scheduled. But most times are unintentional — and are often due to system failures, which are caused by a range of simple things (like excessive dirt or dust in a smoke detector) or more severe issues like control system panel malfunction. If a fire alarm system hasn’t been properly maintained, that can also serve as the root cause of a total system failure.
So, the question becomes what do I do when the fire alarm goes off and how do I know if it’s a false alarm? The best answer is to treat each and every fire alarm alert as if it is real because you just never truly know. There could well be a fire in a different part of the building or home than the area you’re in, and it’s nearly impossible to tell for sure if a fire could logically be occurring. Small house or building fires likely won’t create enough smoke to reach remote areas of the structure. Overall, it is always better to follow the procedures that are in place to save lives and property.
We all learn in grade school – when the fire alarm goes off, you should be sure to evacuate the structure immediately and safely. When you hear the alarm, you should think a fire is happening, not I bet this is a false alarm. Half of ensuring you respond to a fire alarm appropriately is in your mentality when you hear the alarm. We tend to take emergency preparedness for granted, but remember that fire alarms often mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation. Try to take them seriously, no matter how many false alarms you’ve experienced in the recent past.
Once you’ve evacuated the building, wait until the local fire department responds to the scene. If the fire alarm is indeed false they will let inhabitants know. If you notice these false alarms are occurring often, it could be caused by any of the problems listed above. If you are a homeowner and this is happening where you live, it is worthwhile (and might save you some future aggravation) to have your fire alarm system inspected for maintenance issues. If the system failures are taking place in the building you work at or another structure you spend time in but don’t own, you should bring up the false alarms with a member of the building maintenance personnel. They can call in a fire alarm inspector and help ensure false alarms occur less often.
Again, we cannot stress enough how important it is to treat every fire alarm alert like a “real emergency.” While it may be annoying to evacuate your desk or home and the fire alarm ends up being false, it is only a minor inconvenience – whereas the alternative is a major tragedy. As always, it is better safe than sorry.