Fire alarm systems, testing, maintenance and response  

Fire alarm and detection systems are provided in premises where occupants need to have an early warning of fire to ensure their safe escape; i.e. in buildings where a fire could start and spread to affect the escape routes without the occupants being aware of it. They may also be needed for property protection when the building is unoccupied. The systems are linked to Oxford University Security Services control room or a call receiving centre, so the fire and rescue service can be notified out of hours. 

Fire Authorities want to reduce the number of responses to automatic fire detection systems resulting from unwanted fire signals, so Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service will not respond to unconfirmed fires between these times: 

  • in non-residential buildings between the hours of 08.30 and 17.00 weekdays  

  • in residential buildings between 0800 and 2200 every day 

To verify that a fire has occurred an investigation into the cause of an automatic fire alarm activation should be made whenever a building is managed by staff and particularly between the hours of 08.30 and 17.00 on weekdays in a non-residential building and at all times in a residential building. Any indication of fire is sufficient verification without compromising safety; smell, sound or seeing small amounts of smoke.  

If a fire is discovered at any time of day or night in both non-residential and residential buildings the fire service must be called by dialling 999. A follow up call to Security services can then be made to inform them that the fire service has already been called. The reason being that if the 999 call is omitted, Security Services will receive a signal and then call the building involved to check if there is a fire before calling the fire service. This will inevitably cause a delay and the phone will probably not get answered because everyone in the building is evacuating.

The building must be evacuated on activation of the fire alarm system as detailed in the guide for Evacuation Procedures and the system must not be silenced until the evacuation is complete.

If the fire service is in attendance or on its way, the fire alarm must not be reset until the fire service have agreed.  If the activation is found to be accidental, Security services or the alarm receiving centre must be notified and when the evacuation has been completed, a note of the device that has been activated must be made, and the alarm should be silenced and reset. 

This advice does not apply to University staff working in embedded spaces in NHS administered buildings. They must comply with NHS requirements for summoning the fire service.


Where a fire alarm and detection system is required it must be installed in accordance with the latest edition of BS5839 Part 1, type L2 for non-residential buildings and BS5839 Part 6 Grade A type LD1 for residential buildings. Any variation to the British Standard must be justified by risk assessment and a variation recorded in the commissioning documents. 

The fire alarm system should be tested by numbering all break-glass call points and activating a different one each week, to ensure that the sounders and other devices activated by the system are functioning correctly.  This includes automatic doors, internal security locks. The yellow refuge break glass call points should also be included in the testing regime. 

Before the test, OU Security Services must be contacted to ensure that they are aware that it will be a test. When putting back online, confirm that OUSS received the alarm and the reset.

The indicator panel must be checked daily to ensure that it is functioning correctly and is free from faults. 

Detectors must be checked quarterly by a competent contractor in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidance. 

Any defects arising from the weekly checks should be repaired as a departmental cost. End–of-life replacement is the responsibility of Estates Services. 

A record must be kept of the testing to the fire alarm and detection system.  

A record must be kept of false alarms, their cause and devices affected. 

A record must be kept of isolations of all or part of the fire alarm system including individual detectors.  

Oxford University Security Services, or any other relevant alarm monitoring station, should be kept up to date with the names of departmental key holders. 

The fire alarm system must be managed effectively, to ensure that it is operating correctly and the number of false alarms is kept to a minimum. The two main causes of false alarms are cooking and dust. Pans and grills should be monitored and the kitchen door kept closed when cooking or toasting.  

Dust caused by building works should be anticipated and nearby smoke detectors should be isolated and covered to avoid contamination. 

The isolation and covers should be removed at the earliest opportunity after the operations causing the dust has ceased and the surrounding areas cleaned.