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Steps to Prevent False Fire Alarms

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Steps to Prevent False Fire Alarms



1. Notify the Fire Department Communications Center at 610-649-4200, and your alarm company before testing or repairing the system and tell them to place the system ON TEST or OUT OF SERVICE

 2. Know how to cancel a false alarm. If the alarm goes off and you are absolutely certain you know what caused the alarm, notify the alarm company immediately and tell them that the “Homeowner wishes to cancel the alarm and that there is no need for the Fire Department to respond”. Have the alarm company’s phone number handy. If there is any doubt as to whether there really is a fire, don’t take chances – let the Fire Department respond to check it out.

 3. Dust and smoke detectors do not get along! Dust looks just like smoke to a smoke detector. If you are spray painting, sanding floors, installing new drywall, working with heat or doing anything else that produces visible dust, smoke or fumes, there is a good chance that you will set off a smoke detector. Smoke detectors should be covered during construction to prevent dust accumulation in the detector chamber. Once the construction is completed the covers should be removed and the system should be cleaned and the sensitivity checked.

 4. Fire alarm systems need regular testing and maintenance. You expect your fire alarm system to work when it’s needed and not to cause false alarms. The only way to make that happen is to have your system tested and maintained by a technician. Deal only with qualified, licensed professionals.

 5.  Fire alarm equipment must be installed properly. Smoke detectors do not belong in kitchens, garages, attics, or just outside of bathrooms with showers. Heat detectors can be used to protect these areas without false alarms or photo-electric alarms can minimize the likelihood of false alarms.

6. Make sure the alarm company has your contact information. Many calls we respond to the “responsible party” information is not available. Once dispatched to an alarm, the Fire Department is obligated to respond to the scene. If no one is on site, the alarm company needs your contact information to inform you of the alarm and the Fire Department might require your response in order to assist in gaining entrance to the building.

By following these simple steps, you can do your part in helping to reduce the risk of false alarms, and therefore avoid the hassle and expense they cause. The safety of the residents of The Township of Lower Merion and its Firefighters is the main priority for the Lower Merion Fire Department. Whenever there is an emergency requiring the Fire Department, our crews will be there to assist. At the same time, the Fire Department is working to educate businesses and citizens on ways to reduce non-emergency calls so that our crews will be available to respond where emergency help is truly needed. If a fire alarm is activated in your home or building, it is always recommended that someone call 9-1-1 should you see fire, smoke, or should you smell something burning. Until the cause of the alarm activation can be clearly determined, the Fire Department should be notified to ensure the safety of everyone in your home or building.


Commercial Fire Alarm Systems

An automatic fire alarm system is designed to detect the unwanted presence of fire by monitoring environmental changes associated with combustion. In general, a fire alarm system is either classified as automatic, manually activated, or both. Automatic fire alarm systems can be used to notify people to evacuate in the event of a fire or other emergency, to summon emergency services, and to prepare the structure and associated systems to control the spread of fire and smoke. The Lower Merion Fire Code regulates maintenance of fire alarm systems and requires regular testing and maintenance of all devices.


The Problem

The Lower Merion Fire Department responds to over 2500 fire calls per year and almost half (46%) of these are false or unnecessary alarms in both residential or commercial facilities. Responding to these types of false alarms, especially if they could have been prevented, is costly to both you and the Township.  More important, is the undue risk our firefighters are exposed to when responding to these FALSE alarms



Unless we know differently, the response to a fire alarm at a house or business, is at emergency speed as if there is a real fire. With the growing number of new homes and businesses in the past several years, there has been a very large increase in the number of alarm investigations.

 The Response

The Township of Lower Merion Fire Department is combination fire service made up of both career and volunteer firefighters. Once a call is received by the Montgomery County Emergency Dispatch Center the call is dispatched for our fire companies to respond. This means that our volunteers leave their homes or employment to respond to the fire house where our career staff are waiting to respond to the location of the alarm. Again, the response to a residential or commercial alarm activation is as if there is a real fire.


The goal is to reduce the number of false alarms to which our fire crews respond to each year. Fewer alarms reduce the risk to businesses, citizens and firefighters by lessening the number of responding vehicles on the road and improving available response for other emergency calls. In addition, fewer false mean fewer disruptions to your business and residence.

The Township of Lower Merion Ordinance No. 4094 and Chapter 51 of the Township Code regulates alarm registrations and the imposition of fines for false fire alarm activations.  Chapter 51 includes the following:

  • Any alarm user whose alarm system activates, causing three false alarms to occur in a consecutive twelve month period, may not cause or permit a subsequent false alarm to occur in the same consecutive twelve-month period
  • Each false alarm subsequent to three false alarms in the same consecutive twelve-month shall constitute a separate summary offense, and the alarm user, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to a fine or penalty of $300.00
  • Contractors and fire alarm vendors causing a dispatch for a supervisory signal,, trouble signal or unnecessary water flow activation signal, shall be sentenced to a fine or penalty up to $600.00
  • The Fire Department encourages residents and business owners to examine ways in which you can prevent future false alarms from occurring, including: 
  • Fire alarm systems should receive regular maintenance and testing to ensure they are functioning properly.
  • Educate contractors, tenants and building staff, including operators, cleaners and security, regarding when to take the fire alarm system off line and subsequent safety procedures to be followed.


  • Relocate fire and smoke detectors or switch the type of detector used in certain areas of your building to reduce instances of false alarms triggered by activities such as cooking or steam from showers. For commercial buildings, businesses and multifamily dwellings, a licensed technician is required to work on the alarm system.

  • Monitor the use of portable cooking devices such as toasters, toaster ovens and microwaves. If you are a property owner or manager, consider the inclusion of a clause in the tenant and contractor contracts to make these parties responsible for any fees for alarms they may cause. 

  • If you are performing building maintenance or renovations, you can shut down the fire alarm system but must first contact the Fire Department Administrative Office at 610-645-6190 for permission to do so in commercial facilities. You may be required to provide continual surveillance within the building until the fire alarm is restored to operating condition.