Last Updated on 12 March 2021.
Fire alarm testing must be carried out every week.
This will usually be carried out by your commercial premises’ designated person or the site’s ‘Responsible Person’.
The problem is that many people don’t feel confident enough with their fire alarm to put the system in ‘test’ and carry out the test. But, with knowledge and practice, you’ll be an absolute pro at it.
Before we dive in, if you still need help with your fire alarm weekly testing then we can organise a video or phone call with one of our team to guide you through. Alternatively, all of our fire alarm maintenance customers can get training on weekly testing from our engineers when they turn up to carry out their six-monthly service. (They’ll be checking your log book as part of the maintenance service to see if your weekly testing has been kept up to date!)
This article will help you keep your testing efficient, unobtrusive and compliant with top 5 dos and don’ts, as well as a ‘top tip’ or two. Not only will you feel more confident in carrying out your fire alarm weekly testing, but you’ll also understand why it’s so important and not just a chore you can ignore.
If you’d prefer to watch rather than read, check out this quick video from our fire alarm expert, Paul Field, where he summarises these essential need-to-knows:
Here’s what we’ll be covering:
Now, without further ado, here are your…
Top 5 Dos
1. Do put the system “in test” (if you have fire alarm monitoring)
If your system is being monitored (i.e. has an emergency response set up if the alarm activates), you will need to contact your ARC (Alarm Receiving Centre) to notify them that you will be carrying out this test so they know to put the system “on test” and then to take it “off test” following. (People usually call and just give a time frame of, say, 15 minutes so that it’ll give you enough time to carry it out before it automatically goes into alarm mode again.)
You’ll then want to request a report from your ARC to make sure they received the signal, demonstrating that the connection between the alarm system and them is still operational. If it isn’t, there’s a problem and your fire alarm company (i.e. us!) will need to be contacted so they can diagnose the problem and resolve it.
2. Do check that the panel has registered the correct zone
Each manual call point (MCP) you test will be registered to a specific zone in your building. (Next to your fire alarm panel should be a Zone Chart which is a floor plan of your building with all of the zones colour coded and labelled so you know which zone relates to which area.)
So, when doing your fire alarm testing, after you’ve triggered an MCP and go to the panel to silence the alarm, you’ll want to first check that the screen on the panel displays the correct zone. E.g. if you triggered an MCP by the Entrance, Zone 1, the panel should say this (it’ll usually have wording coded to match so it’s easily decipherable).
If it doesn’t display the correct zone then there’s clearly an issue there which you’ll need to notify your fire alarm company about.
3. Do keep a record of weekly testing in your log book
If you ever have a spot check from the Fire Brigade, one of the things they will look at is your log book to see the evidence of weekly testing.
If you have gone to lengths to make sure you carry out your weekly testing every week but don’t record it, you’re in breach of legal compliance as there’s nothing to demonstrate you’ve actually done it. It’s important to do this to cover yourself but also to see where you’ve left off so you don’t just keep testing the same MCP (we’ll explain further down why it’s important to test a different manual call point each time).
You should have been given a log book by your fire alarm maintenance provider. (If you need a log book, we offer them for £19.99 or free with a fire alarm maintenance subscription.)
4. Do carry out your weekly testing during normal working hours
Your weekly testing must be carried out during normal working hours. We’ve often been asked how to minimise disruption, either by carrying the fire alarm testing out out-of-hours or by turning off the sounders (so no one hears it) but this completely defeats the purpose of doing it!
Your fire alarm is designed to disrupt. The reason why we in the fire industry recommend testing at the same time on the same day each week, during working hours, is so that the building occupants know to expect it at this time and become accustomed to what their fire alarm sounds like. So, if the fire alarm sounds outside of this time-frame, they know it’s not a test but potentially a real fire, and it’s time to get out.
TOP TIP: There is one way you can minimise disruption, and this is particularly handy for larger and busier buildings, and that’s by having a member of your team help you out with the weekly tests. One person can activate the call point, and another can stand at the panel ready to reset it as quickly as possible once it’s activated. This way, the alarm won’t sound for too long but you’re still doing what you need to do.
5. Do report any issues to your fire alarm maintenance provider
It’s been mentioned throughout so far but it definitely is worth reiterating that if a fault shows up or something’s not quite right, such as people not hearing the alarm when they should, you need to report it. This weekly testing is essentially a health check of your fire alarm system, so if you do it but then ignore potential issues, this could have a detrimental effect on the efficiency of your fire alarm.
Similarly, if you need help or have a question, it’s better to ask than feel like it’s a bother. It’s your life safety system, after all!
Now, let’s move on to the…
Top 5 Don’ts
1. Don’t get your weekly fire alarm testing mixed up with fire drills
Testing your fire alarm is not the same as a fire drill. The fire alarm testing is looking at the health and response of your alarm and its devices, fire drills test you and your building occupants’ ability to carry out an evacuation quickly and calmly.
Unlike your fire alarm testing where everyone should know what time and day this happens so they know it’s just a test, building occupants should not know when a drill will happen so as to test how they’d act in a real life situation.
2. Don’t alter the environment
When everyone knows a test is happening, don’t let anyone stick earplugs in; they must not alter their environment. It’s just one of those things that you’ve got to suffer, I’m afraid! But it’s much better, I’m sure you’d agree, not to suffer through a real fire.
3. Don’t just test the same manual call point every week
A different call point should be tested each week. If you have 10 of them at your site, you should have tested all of them by the end of the 10th week before rotating round again. This is because there could be a fault with one of them, e.g. one of them doesn’t trigger the alarm as it should, which you wouldn’t be able to identify if you kept testing the same one each time.
TOP TIP: Make a note of what MCPs you’ve tested. A simple way of keeping track of what you’ve tested is by using stickers and numbering each of the call points, and then recording that number in your log book, so you won’t be scratching your head the following week! Check out the one below, for example. We can send these stickers out with our log books, so let us know if you’d like any sent out.
4. Don’t mistake this testing with your bi-annual maintenance service
Another thing not to mistake your weekly fire alarm testing with is your periodical (typically six-monthly) fire alarm maintenance visit, which is to be carried out by a competent specialist (i.e. us!).
The maintenance service, when done twice a year, is usually split into a major and a minor visit. The major visit will be where everything is tested (all MCPs, for example), whereas the minor will just test a small selection. Your maintenance visit will not only check the call points but also the detectors and your batteries in the panel – making sure everything is keeping you safe and legally compliant.
5. Don’t be the only person who knows how to do the weekly fire alarm testing
It’s unwise to just have one person on-site, such as a caretaker or office manager, who knows how to carry out the weekly fire alarm testing (or how to operate and silence the alarm in general, for instance, if it starts going off) because it’s likely that person will be on annual leave of off sick at some point, so there needs to be a back-up. Ideally, you’d have two or three people who know how to work the alarm and do the weekly testing, but this of course depends on the size and capacity of your building.
We’ve heard in the past about how the person who knew how to work the fire alarm left but there was no handover to someone else and when it started going off, no one knew what to do!
As Benjamin Franklin would say: “fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
TOP TIP: If you have a building or buildings with multiple fire alarm panels networked together, ensure the panels are activated and that no faults are displaying across all panels.
Taking care of your fire alarm
Fire alarms are an expensive investment within your building, and like everything, you need to maintain it and take care of it. You can’t leave it alone and expect it’ll perform for you when you need it.
That means it’s important to do your fire alarm weekly testing each week and make sure you’ve got a maintenance subscription in place with a trusted, accredited provider, who will carry out repairs if needed and attend every six months to do the bit you can’t do yourself – the fire alarm maintenance service.
Getting help with your fire alarm testing
If you still need help with your fire alarm testing, then get in touch.
Some people benefit from hiring a professional to come in and do their weekly testing for them, which we do for a few of our customers, however it is far more cost-efficient to do this yourself or have a team member do it. Plus, it helps you understand how the system works so you feel confident operating it, without having to rely on a professional to do this part which can be done in-house.