by Essex County Fire and Rescue Service
Jul 14th, 2021
8 mins
Many of you reading this will be sitting in an office either in a purpose-built office block or within a factory unit and may well have extensive fire alarm systems around you, but what are the bare minimum requirements and how are they interpreted.

Fire alarm systems fall into three categories as laid down in B.S. 5839:2017 Pt 1.

M, These are manual systems and, therefore, incorporate no automatic fire detectors. This would normally be manual call points.

L, Systems that are automatic fire detection and alarm systems intended for the protection of life. Systems are sub-divided to allow varying amounts of cover with the building.

P, These are detection and alarm systems intended for the protection of property. These are also sub-divided for the amount of coverage.

So what is the bare minimum?…..5839 states that common places of work such as offices, shops factories and warehouses should have a category M or P2/M system fitted….Category M systems normally satisfies the requirements of legislation. It is however, often combined with a Category P system to satisfy the requirements of insurers, as company policy for the protection of assets, or to protect against business interruption.
          So let’s break this down further, the standard states that when a ‘M’ system is utilised, manual call points need to be prominently sited, readily distinguishable and be distributed such that from any point in the building, it is impossible to leave the storey or building without passing one. Furthermore no one should need travel more than between 30 & 45 metres before they reach a call point. This can be reduced further for high-risk processes.

This system relies on someone discovering a fire and raising the alarm.

Category ‘P’ systems as already stated are for the protection of property or assets and not for life safety, therefore although they do have to raise an alarm somewhere, for example a call centre, it does not have to extensively raise the alarm at the source, as the purpose of the system is to minimise the time between ignition and the arrival of firefighters.P1 systems would be installed throughout all areas of the building & P2 would be utilised in defined parts of the building such as high fire risk areas or parts where there is a risk to business continuity.
All that being said, the total combination of the two the detection of the P system being linked to the alarm raising capabilities of the M system would effectively turn the system into Category L system in all but name and enable the occupier to have confidence that the lives of their staff and visitors should be protected.
Automatic Fire Alarm Calls (AFA)
In recent years in light of some very high-profile incidents, statistical evidence showed that up to 98% of all AFA calls are false alarms and the continuing push to reduce unwanted fire calls, Fire Services around the UK have introduced policies within their own areas that restrict the levels of attendance either during certain times of the day or in some cases completely to certain types of premises that include factories and offices unless there is a confirmed fire. The main target for this is when a call is received but the only response is that the fire alarm has gone off, as would be the case with a property linked to a call centre.
One of the reasons for this is the large number of resources, that may be as simple as a single appliance up to multiple pumping appliances plus specialist appliances and high reach vehicles, utilised to something that can be a simple as a fault on the system of someone burning their toast in their lunch break.Fire Service control centres will now follow up a call with the question ‘can you see smoke or flames’ and if the answer is no, then there may be no attendance unless the property is exempt under the local services policy.
If you are linked to a call centre or have procedures whereby a receptionist may phone, then you will need robust procedures to ensure should you receive a call from your Automatic Receiving Centre (ARC) and you know the site is unoccupied, the site is visited ASAP or CCTV is utilised to ensure there is no fire. Remember that not all fire services work in the same way, and this is only for incidents that cannot confirm a fire.

Brian DeanPrimary Authority Manager, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service


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