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Real Emergencies vs False Alarms: When Your Fire Alarm System Cries Wolf

Your fire alarm system has a straightforward job: alert everyone in your building of an emergency. But what happens when your system sends out false alarms, causing unnecessary panic and a lack of trust when a real emergency happens?

In practice, when a fire alarm goes off, the system alerts inhabitants that a fire is occurring, and they need to begin an evacuation process and ultimately save lives. 

When said fire protection systems go off without an emergency or fire present, there’s a danger that the people in your building won’t take future alerts as seriously — even when they aren’t false.

What Happens When a Fire Alarm Goes Off in My Building?

Fire alarms “cry wolf” more often than one might think, which happens for various reasons. 

There are intentional events, like when someone pulls the fire alarm or a fire drill or maintenance check is scheduled. 

But most times, these are unintentional events — and are often due to system failures 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.

What Causes Fire Alarm False Alarms?

Not surprisingly, there are a ton of factors that impact false fire alarms. These range from simple mistakes like oven smoke to factors outside your control, such as humidity.


The density of water particles from steam and humidity is sometimes enough to trigger your fire alarm. Ventilate and use fans to help move the particles around the area to dissipate the moisture.

Dirt and Dust

The accumulation of dirt or dust particles interferes with the proper functioning of smoke detectors, leading to false alerts. Keep these areas clean and debris-free when possible, especially when remodeling.

Broken Wiring

If your fire alarm system hasn’t been inspected or maintained over the years, wires may fray, connections may loosen, and the entire system might be at risk of producing a false alarm. Faulty control panels also lead to false alarms, or worse, alarms that do not trigger.

System Power Issues

Remember that your commercial fire alarm system may go down during a power outage or circuit breaker issue. Avoid downtime as much as possible to ensure your fire protection system stays online.

How Do I Know if It’s a False Alarm or a Real Fire?

The best answer is to treat every fire alarm alert as real because you never truly know. 

Take All Fire Alarms Seriously

Overall, it is always better to follow the procedures that are in place to save lives and property.

  • The fire could be occurring in a different part of the building or home.
  • It’s nearly impossible to tell 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. 

We all learn in grade school that when the fire alarm goes off, you should evacuate the structure immediately and safely. When you hear the alarm, you should always believe that a fire is happening and treat the situation accordingly.

What to Do When the Fire Alarm Goes Off

Half of ensuring you respond to a fire alarm appropriately is in your mentality when you hear the alarm. 

When the fire alarm goes off:

  • Take the fire alarm seriously every time
  • Treat all alarms as real alarms
  • Evacuate the building
  • Wait for instruction from the local fire department

We take emergency preparedness for granted, but remember that fire alarms often mean the difference between life and death in an emergency. Try to take them seriously, no matter how many recent false alarms you’ve experienced.

When the Local Fire Department Arrives

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. 

What Should I Do About False Alarms?

If you notice these false alarms are occurring regularly, it could be caused by several issues. Most importantly, schedule a time to look into the cause when the alarm is not going off.

If a fire alarm system isn’t adequately maintained, that can also serve as the root cause of a total system failure. Calling in a fire alarm inspector can help ensure false alarms occur less often.

Regular Maintenance

Scheduling regular maintenance on your fire protection system allows you to increase the lifespan of your fire alarms and fix any potential issues before they arise. A disruptive fire alarm affects your commercial building, and regular maintenance minimizes those issues.

Scheduled Inspections

Work with NICET-certified technicians who will routinely inspect the functionality of all fire safety tools and components. This includes sprinklers, alarms, entrance and exit lights, and fire suppression systems. 

Not only is this necessary for local fire protection regulations, but it ensures that every aspect of your fire protection system is in working order when needed.

Education and Training

While not part of your functional fire protection system, keep any occupants of your commercial premises aware of safety measures in the case of a fire

This includes planning and posting exit plans on the walls and near stairways, scheduling regular fire alarm drills, and yearly training on using the various fire suppression systems inside your building.

Choosing a Reliable Fire Protection Company

Working with a trusted fire protection company is one of the most critical factors when avoiding false fire alarms. The team at Allegiant Fire Protection works alongside you to provide exceptional fire protection services to defend your greatest assets from disaster.

Homeowners and Property Managers Quick Tips:

  • Get a routine fire alarm inspection
  • Check for routine maintenance issues
  • Call a fire alarm inspector to ensure proper maintenance

Safety First

We cannot stress enough how important it is to treat every fire alarm alert like a “real emergency.” Evacuating your desk or home may be annoying when the fire alarm is false, but it is only a minor inconvenience – whereas the alternative is a major tragedy.

About Allegiant Fire Protection

Allegiant Fire Protection delivers exceptional fire protection services to businesses throughout the greater Chicago area, Northwestern Indiana, and Southeastern Wisconsin

Services include the design, installation, and service of fire alarm systems and offsite alarm monitoring. The firm’s NICET-certified technicians also inspect and test all life safety systems.

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