Northern Territory Fire Alarm System Transmission

Darwin fire station

About

Northern Territory Fire Alarm System Transmission (NTFAST) is an innovative fire alarm monitoring system developed by the Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service (NTFRS).

NTFAST is a real-time mission critical application developed specifically by the NTFRS and serves to ensure protected buildings are monitored on a 24 hour a day basis. It provides significant enhancement to firefighter safety through detailed knowledge on each site monitored and provides ease of reporting through mobile data terminal usage into the Fire Service Reporting System (AIRS).

By using remote radio telemetry as a medium, NTFAST does not succumb to the extreme weather, especially lightning strikes that played havoc with the copper hard-wired systems. The system has improved industry servicing of vital fire protection in buildings by ensuring that required standards are met and maintained through enhanced data logging and reporting process.

System availability and reliability has been increased and costs have been significantly reduced to clients by eliminating the previous third party involvement with the removal of reliance on hard wired systems between the building being monitored and the relevant fire station required to respond.

Government's commitment to community safety programs and well being of Territorians continues to be exceeded and maintained as a focal point through the auspices of NTFAST as a life safety medium.

There is no doubt that the NTFRS has moved fire alarm monitoring and emergency response systems into the 21st Century by utilising radio telemetry and data acquisition systems as an operating platform for the first time in Australia and quite possibly the whole of the southern hemisphere.

Legislative requirements

Legal Responsibilities

For complete information on legal compliance please refer to the reference documents, especially the NT Building Act and the Building Code of Australia.  We bring to your attention that in accordance with the Fire and Emergency Act, the owner is required to maintain the building's essential services, which include required fire detection and alarm systems. 

Should it come to the attention of the NTFRS that a fire alarm system is not operating correctly, any of the following may occur:

  • The fire services may contact you to advise correct procedures.  If necessary they can inspect your premises and may issue a Notice to Owner Occupier, requiring specified action to take place within a certain time (penalties apply for non-conformance)
  • Building Advisory Services will be notified should a fire alarm system be disconnected without a building permit or continuously isolated inappropriately.  An Infringement Notice can be served if necessary (penalties apply)
  • Non-compliance may result in penalties or other enforcement measures.  These include monetary fines, and may require evacuation of the building in certain circumstances.
Reference Documents
  • NT Building Act
  • Fire & Emergency Act 2011
  • Work Safe Act
  • NT Liquor Act (where appropriate)
     

Australian Standards

  • AS 4428.6 - Fire detection, warning control and intercom systems - Control and indicating equipment - ASE
  • AS 1670.3 - Fire detection, warning control and intercom systems - System, design, installation and commissioning.

 

Responsibilities

Closely liaise with your fire maintenance company and monitoring provider to ensure that appropriate maintenance and servicing is being carried out. Australian Standards set a minimum criterion - your system may require more than the Standard to mitigate false alarms.

Responsible person

Areas of responsibility to consider:

  • Supervise all matters pertaining to the fire alarm system.
  • Know legal responsibilities in maintaining essential services including, but not limited to: 
    • display of annual essential services report; 
    • display of essential services records of maintenance checks (service and repair work); and 
    • permit requirements for disconnection of automatic fire alarm systems, isolation of system or part thereof, and/or alterations to approved fire alarm system.
  • Closely liaise with your fire maintenance company and monitoring provider to ensure that appropriate maintenance and servicing is being carried out.  Australian Standards set a minimum criterion - your system may require more than the Standard to mitigate false alarms.
  • Ensure the fire alarm system is checked at least daily to ascertain whether there are any faults on the system or maintenance required.
  • Faults on the fire alarm system must be reported on immediately  and acted upon.
  • Ensure no one resets the fire alarm before the arrival of the Brigade.
  • Ensure the log book is kept up to date and is available for inspection.
  • Ensure fire detectors and fire exits are not obstructed.
  • Organise a representative from the company to meet the Fire Service on arrival whenever practicable.  This will greatly assist the Brigade in investigating the fire alarm activation in a timely manner.
  • Ensure appropriate isolation methods are implemented choosing the minimum method available.  Train sufficient personnel in this area for your organisation's needs.
  • Ensure procedures are inplace for managing contractors, maintenance workers and other visitors. They should be aware that the building has an automatic fire alarm system and who is responsible for managing the system during works.  A log book should be kept, signing-in the workers and detailing such matters as fire alarm circuits that have been isolated, hot work activities, total fire ban permits and the time circuits are reset to normal.
  • Ensure all occupants of the protected premises are aware of the fire alarm system and are educated in ways to mitigate false alarms.
  • Monitor and control standard daily activities in the premises to ensure that these activities do not cause unwanted false alarms.
  • Investigate the incidence of all alarms given by the system to identify the causes of such alarms and take action to eliminate their occurance.
  • Closely liaise with the NTFRS Community Fire Safety on matters pertaining to false alarm charges and false alarm prevention measures.

 

Site management

Owners and their representatives must ensure that their fire alarm system, and the entire site it protects, are managed effectively to provide fire safety and to mitigate unwanted false alarms.

Building owners and managers responsibilities

Owners and their representatives must ensure that their fire alarm system, and the entire site it protects, are managed effectively to provide fire safety and to mitigate unwanted false alarms.

In developing management systems, the challenge is to 'think outside the square' to foresee any possible problems and implement prevention strategies before a false alarm occurs.  The management of your site may include:

Appointment of a responsible person

Does your building or site have an appointed person responsible to oversee the management of the fire alarm system? The NTFRS is aware of a number of companies that have already taken this step - it has proved to be positive in reducing unwanted false alarms. Personnel that have been appointed to this role include site engineers, building managers and fire wardens and they should be motivated, authoritative, and receive training in all aspects of your fire alarm system and monitoring equipment.

Procedures for visitors including sub-contractors

Can builders, tradespeople, cleaners, etc. enter your site at will, or do you have procedures in place to control their egress? Smoke detectors activate from dust, heat, fumes, etc. that are a common product of trade activities, and so it may be necessary for specific zones or circuits of the fire alarm system to be isolated prior to work commencing. Managing the isolated area is a priority when this occurs. Procedures should be implemented to protect your fire alarm system from generating these types of unwanted alarms.

Education and training of personnel

For personnel responsible for the fire alarm system, training should include:

  • Correct testing procedures
  • Correct isolation procedures
  • Liaison with fire maintenance company

For all staff and occupants of the site, education should include:

  • Overview of the fire alarm system, including detector types and positions
  • Information on which activities and conditions are likely to activate the fire alarm system
  • Information on the policies and procedures that may affect the fire alarm system


False alarm prevention should form part of all new employees orientation programs.  Our brochure 'Living with a fire alarm system' may be of assistance.

Evaluation of your detector positions, type and calibration levels

Detector types (eg. smoke, thermal) should be chosen to suit the environment and must comply with Australian Standards. The calibration or sensitivity of the detectors may need to be adjusted. The position of the detectors may need to be considered and advances in technology may assist.

If you wish to modify any part of your fire alarm system, all changes must be approved by a registered building certifier.

We suggest you advise your insurance company of any intended changes.

General

If you need to alter, relocate or remove fire alarm equipment, permission is required from a Registered Building Certifier.

Egress, isolations and the alarm generally

If you need to alter, relocate or remove fire alarm equipment, permission is required from a Registered Building Certifier.

We also suggest you inform your insurance company of any intended changes.

Egress of public (hire of hall, room or building)

Establish procedures to manage buildings that are hired by third party.

Clearly notify the third party of the existence of the fire alarm system and the limitations of their egress and activities.

Clearly establish responsibilities of the third party, especially if a building manager in your employ is not at the site.

Egress of trades and contractors

Ensure procedures are in place to control the egress of all trades and subcontractors at your site.

Consider writing to contractors before they commence work, informing them of procedures they must adopt and who they must report to before any work is commenced.

Assess risk

Before work commences, evaluate the need for temporary isolation ensuring correct procedures are put in place to manage the area to be isolated by your Fire Contractor.

Allow for drift of dust, steam, fumes, etc. when selecting which zones or circuits should be temporarily isolated.

Manage the alarm

Document the risk and actions required. 

Details may include:

  • type of work to be undertaken
  • duration of work
  • areas that will be affected by the proposed work
  • zones or circuit numbers that will need to be isolated
  • location of fire alarm cables
  • contact details of trades undertaking work
Your fire contractor involvement in building works

Before resetting the alarm, check the LEDs on detectors have not activated.  It is possible that detectors may have become contaminated.

As an added precaution, especially if your detectors do not have LEDs, follow the procedure below:

  • isolate the fire alarm (using the isolate key)
  • at the FIP, de-isolate the zones or circuits
  • check for any zones or circuits in alarm
  • if clear, de-isolate the entire alarm (ASE)
  • if still in alarm, isolate the affected zone or circuit and de-isolate the entire alarm
  • check your detectors and for any residual dust, etc. and repeat the procedure - if still in alarm, we recommend you immediately contact your maintenance company for assistance.
Isolations

NB: If isolating ensure you read 'Managing an isolated area'.

Isolations can be useful management tools, however, they are easily misunderstood.

Isolations can only be done by a Fire Contractor.

Always use the minimum isolation method that will suit your purpose.

Minimum isolation occurs when zones or circuits of your system are isolated for a minimum of time at a panel (often referred to as a Fire Indicator Panel - FIP).

Isolation of circuits or zones  -  preferred isolation method

Individual circuits or zones of an FIP may be temporarily isolated.  Examples are:

  • to perform maintenance
  • to accommodate works such as building or cleaning that may trigger a false alarm

The NTFRS may agree to a written request to isolate your ASE for a maximum of 24 hours, given exceptional circumstances.  You may also be able to isolate a specific input.

Isolation of Alarm Signalling Equipment (ASE)  -  only use when absolutely necessary.

There are now two types of ASE isolation possible:

1.    Site ASE isolation

Use of the isolation at the ASE is a last resort and the NTFRS must be advised.  This isolates the entire ASE.  A typical use would be to perform standard maintenance works or checks on the system by your registered contractor.

2.    Remote ASE isolation

System Management

Items to consider to ensure maximum fire protection.

Do not reset your system prior to arrival of the fire service - this is an OFFENCE

The resetting of the fire alarm system will not prevent the Brigade from responding to the call. It may also influence any decision on charges for false alarms, and will certainly result in increased cost should the charge proceed as the attending fire fighters will need additional time to establish the premises are not at risk from fire.

Only fire service members attending an 'alarm of fire' have the authorisation to deal with the emergency under the Fire & Emergency Act 2004 and the owner or occupier has a duty of care to ensure that firefighters are not hindered in any way in the performance of their statutory duties.  In the past, site managers have incorrectly misread the details on the fire alarm panel and investigated the wrong area.  This is an important public safety issue.

Ensure faults are investigated and quickly fixed

Should there be a period where the system is not correctly functioning, ensure alternative fire safety measures are instigated.  Actions to consider are included in managing an isolated alarm.

Attending to false alarm system faults in a timely and efficient manner will ensure the installed fire alarm system is in complete readiness in case of emergency.

Undetermined malfunctions - eg. system returns to 'normal' status after alarm activates

The NTFRS attends many false alarms each year where the automatic fire alarm system returns to a 'normal' status before the Brigade has arrived on scene.  In these situations there is usually no indication on the fire alarm panel of which circuit/zone has activated.

There are a number of reasons why this can occur:

  • a voltage change has occurred in the fire alarm panel
  • the wiring in the fire alarm panel could be old or corroded
  • a valve monitor alarm could have dirty contacts
  • a sprinkler pressure switch is not seating correctly
  • there is corrosive wiring on components of a sprinkler system

Each year the NTFRS responds to unwanted false alarms caused by 'undetermined malfunctions' in fire alarm systems.  It is advisable to seek assistance from a fire maintenance company.  This will greatly assist in minimising unwanted false alarms.

Isolating alarm systems at sites

Isolations can be useful management tools, however, they are easily misunderstood.

Isolations can only be done by a Fire Contractor.

Always use the minimum isolation method that will suit your purpose.

Minimum isolation occurs when zones or circuits of your system are isolated for a minimum of time at a panel (often referred to as a Fire Indicator Panel - FIP).

Isolation of circuit or zones - preferred isolation method

Individual circuits or zones of an FIP may be temporarily isolated.  Examples are:

  • to perform maintenance
  • to accommodate works such as building or cleaning that may trigger a false alarm.

The NTFRS may agree to a written request to isolate your ASE for a maximum of 24 hours, given exceptional circumstances.  You may also be able to isolate a specific input.

Isolation of Alarm Signalling Equipment (ASE) - only use when absolutely necessary

There are now two types of ASE isolation possible:

1.   Site ASE isolation

Use of the isolation at the ASE is a last resort and the NTFRS must be advised.  This isolates the entire ASE.  A typical use would be to perform standard maintenance works or checks on the system by your registered contractor.

2.   Remote ASE isolation

Tampering with fire panels

Fire Indicator Panels - Restrictions

Only an "Authorised Fire Contractor" or a Fire Officer may open and utilise a Fire Indicator Panel that is monitored through the NTFAST System.  Should it come to the attention of the NTFRS that a fire alarm panel has been tampered with, any of the following may occur:

  • The NTFRS may contact you to advise correct procedures
  • If necessary Fire Officers may inspect your premises and may issue either a Notice to Owner Occupier requiring specified action to take place within a certain time (penalties apply for non-conformance) or a Fire Infringement Notice.
  • The Fire Indicator Panel 003 key will be removed to restrict access
  • The NTFRS may give special dispensation on consideration of a written application.

NOTE: The NTFRS actively encourages the use of EWIS systems by appropriately trained staff.

Reference Documents

  • NT Building Act
  • Fire & Emergency Act 2004
  • Work Safe Act

Australian Standards

  • AS 4428.6 - Fire detection, warning control and intercom systems - Control and indicating equipment - ASE
  • AS 1670.3 - Fire detection, warning control and intercom systems - System, design, installation and commissioning.

System Maintenance

Maintenance of your Fire Alarm Systems

Modern day fire alarm systems are complex in design, and need to be maintained by a reputable fire maintenance company that has expertise in this field.

As a minimum requirement, an automatic fire alarm system should be designed, installed and maintained in accordance with requirements of the relevant Australian Standards.

We emphasise that additional maintenance is often necessary to prevent unwanted false alarms.

What do owners or occupiers need to know?

  • A responsible person should be nominated and trained
  • A reputable fire maintenance company is required to be contracted to service and maintain your fire detection and suppression systems as per your agreement with the NTFRS
  • Clear procedures for managing the fire alarm system should be established to ensure maximum fire protection at all times
  • A maintenance log book must be kept on site and be available to the Fire Services 24 hours a day
  • Understand and mange your fire maintenance company.
Evaluation of your system

Does your fire alarm system suit your needs?  Chances are your business or site will fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • renovations have changed the building layout
  • the use of rooms have been changed
  • your old fire alarm system has been upgraded
  • a new building has been constructed and standard fire protection installed without tailoring the type and calibration of detectors to the use of individual rooms or areas.

Be proactive!

Don't wait for a false alarm to occur before you assess your site.

Does your fire alarm system generate faults that cannot be explained?  New technology may be your answer.

Who will look after your fire system?

Fire Maintenance Companies

There are a number of fire maintenance companies operating in the Northern Territory that can assist you with managing and maintaining your fire system.  Fire maintenance companies play a pivotal role in assisting owners/occupiers in the prevention of unwanted false alarms.

  • Only a reputable fire maintenance contractor should be employed to maintain your system. Modern fire alarm systems are complex in design, therefore you need a fire maintenance company that has particular knowledge about the components, configuration and performance specifications of your fire alarm system.
  • The NTFRS is aware that many owners/occupiers do not know what is involved in the maintenance schedule of an automatic fire alarm system or how to manage their system effectively.  It is important for you to take time to source this information and to discuss this matter with your maintenance company.
  • There is a need for a structured fire alarm system maintenance schedule to ensure optimum functionality. An owner/occupier has a duty of care to ensure its automatic fire alarm system is operating effectively at all times.
  • Australian Standards will provide a minimum maintenance requirement.  Be aware that additional maintenance of your fire alarm system may be required. This is particularly related to fire alarm systems that are exposed to dust and grime or other conditions such as salt air or continual water pressure fluctuations. Discuss ways of preventing unwanted false alarms with your maintenance company.
  • Establish a procedure to be adopted for dealing with faults on your fire alarm system. Immediate attention to faults will greatly assist in minimising unwanted false alarms and your maintenance company has the technical expertise to assist. Don't forget to inform your monitoring provider of your contact details relative to faults.
  • Check your maintenance log book regularly to ensure tests are being carried out as per the contract you have with your fire maintenance company.
  • Only allow minimum isolation methods and provide your maintenance company with the necessary permits for modifications to your automatic fire alarm system.
  • Request your maintenance company to explain the functions of your fire indicator panel to enable nominated occupants to isolate zones or circuits of your fire alarm system. 
  • Before buying or leasing a building with an automatic fire alarm system, ensure that it complies with all Building Regulations and Standards. When buildings are left vacant for a period of time, the maintenance may have been neglected, thus causing problems for the new owner. The first indication that something is wrong is when a false alarm occurs.

Be proactive, not reactive, and contact a reputable fire maintenance company before you lease or buy.

 

Changes to your fire system

Modification

Any changes to your Alarm Signaling Equipment (ASE) or your building needs to be approved by a registered NT Building Certifier. This includes:

  • changing the monitoring status of inputs ie. from automatic alarm to a local alarm or a system where the signal is intercepted by the monitoring company
  • amalgamating seperate inputs into one control panel or Fire Indicator Panel (FIP)
  • time delay of the signal (special fire brigade consent is required)
  • changing the positions and/or type of detectors
  • any renovations that may change the coverage of detectors or sprinkler performance.

Please be aware that fire maintenance contractors do not have the authority to make changes - they can only carry out the changes once approval has been given by a registered Building Certifier.

We suggest you advise your insurance company of any intended changes.

Disconnections

To disconnect any Alarm Signalling Equipment (ASE) from the Fire Service, a building permit from a registered Building Certifier is required. The NTFRS will require a written request to disconnect and a copy of the permit. This applies for both permanent and temporary disconnections.

Examples of temporary disconnections are:

  • renovations to entire building protected by ASE
  • non-occupancy of building - ensure the site and/or building is made secure.

We suggest you advise your insurance company of any intended changes.

Sprinkler Systems

If you need to alter, relocate or remove fire alarm equipment, permission is required from a Registered Building Certifier.

We also suggest you inform your insurance of any intended changes.

General

Have you installed the best type of system for your building and occupancy type? Are your detectors in the optimum position? Are your detectors calibrated correctly for your needs?

Ensure your sprinkler head has the correct temperature setting for your application.

Do not move equipment that generates heat or steam (eg. autoclaves, steam ovens, etc.) under a sprinkler head without checking the suitability.

Advise staff and residents the sprinkler system will activate if a head is knocked or moved.

Don't use sprinkler heads as a hook (hanging clothes and decorations from them is a common problem).  

Building Maintenance

Do not paint a sprinkler head. If painting a ceiling, hand paint around the head and do not use spray painting technique near the head.

Cleaning - advise staff and contractors not to clean sprinkler heads.

Advise tradespeople to take extra care not to knock heads.

Pressure Problems

Install automatic jacking pumps with an automated counter.

Check your system daily and record pressures in your maintenance log book.

Ensure pressure is set well above the town mains pressure.

Ensure the maintenance schedule is sufficient for your system.

Consider installing pressure switches to replace DBAs (Direct Brigade Alarms)

Consider installing pressure relief valves for problems such as hammering.

Replace T-valves with ball valves to remove the likelihood of washer failure.

Car Parks

Install overhead height restriction barriers to entrances.

Position warning notices reminding drivers not to use roof racks without checking the new total height of the vehicle.

Reverse sprinkler heads to allow more clearance.

Excessive exhaust fumes may activate sprinkler systems - assess the ventilation and/or consider changing the temperature of the heads.

In shopping centres consider providing a separate outside car parking facility for 4WD and commercial vehicles.

Low Ceilings

Take care when moving furniture.

Recess sprinkler head into ceiling.

Install pop out sprinkler heads.

Practical solutions and tips to assist in the prevention of unwanted false alarms.

Sprinkler Systems Malicious

Restrict 'Out of Hours' access, especially to underground car parks.

Use a security camera to monitor the area - even signage advising of security can assist.

Secure your main sprinkler installation and equipment to prevent public access.

Forklifts

Position your racking system to facilitate forklift access.

Install heavy duty guards.

Educate drivers and staff.

Install signage for 'No Go' areas for forklifts - eg. paint symbols on floor.

Detectors other than smoke

These include thermal, beam, filtered point, flame, aspirated smoke, video smoke and laser point.  If you need to alter, relocate or remove fire alarm equipment, permission is required from a Registered Building Certifier.

Site Plan

Ensure your plans are accurate and detailed, especially notate detectors concealed behind walls, in ceilings and in vents. Many false alarms are triggered by tradespeople who are unaware of a detector due to poor paperwork.

Cleaning

Take care not to knock detectors when cleaning.

Do not spray aerosols close to detectors (except thermals).

Do not interrupt the detector beam or equipment. For these types of detectors, temporary isolation may be required.

Consider using proprietary detector covers (usually available from your maintenance company) for major cleaning works - never use plastic bags.

Remember to use minimum isolation methods and initiate alternative fire protection procedures.

Steam

Thermal detectors are still sensitive to steam.

Examples are urns, sterilizers, cooking areas - ensure adequate ventilation.

Fumigation

Except for thermal detectors, temporarily isolate any areas that may be affected.

Use minimum isolation methods and initiate alternative protection procedures.

Workmen & Trades

Educate staff and occupiers to never allow tradesmen to commence work without following established procedures.

External Detectors

Identify potential problems eg. detectors under eaves or verandahs.

Establish cleaning procedures and warning notices.

Common problems include:

  • hosing down area
  • mowing lawns
  • use of blower type equipment

Educate staff and occupiers to take care not to knock any detector when carrying furniture or equipment.