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Report: NFPA's "Unwanted Fire Alarms"
Issued: April 2011

This report, prepared for the International Association of Fire Chief’s May 2011 Fire Alarm Response and Management Summit, contains estimates of fire department responses to false alarms, public experience with unwanted fire alarms, causes of these alarms, and possible policies to address them.


Unwanted fire alarms are a problem for the fire service, businesses, and the public. In 2009, fire departments went to 16 false alarms for every 10 fires, and 45 false alarms for every 10 structure fires. In 2009, almost half (45%) of false alarm responses were to unintentional activations, one-third (32%) were due to system malfunctions, 8% resulted from malicious or mischievous false alarms, and 15% were due to other false alarms. The ratio of smoke alarm activations to actual fires is even higher in surveys of the public than it is in fire department responses.

This report contains two sections. The first, by Marty Ahrens, summarizes NFPA estimates of fire department responses to false alarms some findings from other studies about causes of fire alarm activations and false alarms, and policies to address them. The second, by Ben Evarts, provides a detailed overview of fire department responses to false alarms in 2003, the most recent year the detailed data were available.

Many unwanted fire alarms could be prevented by improving procedures, training, and enforcement.

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