Downtime: can you afford to take the risk?

Bradley Parker looks at the insurance implications of failing fire detection systems in residential blocks.

Are you the ‘Responsible Person’, accountable for maintaining effective fire protection systems in a residential block?

If so, do you know the life expectancy of your fire detection and alarm (FD&A) system(s) and who can provide you with the information?

The expectation is that the equipment manufacturer will be the best source of information on the expected lifetime for a particular product.  Manufacturers are also likely to have an obsolescence policy regarding spares and may offer support for maintenance.

Manual call points and heat detectors are robust devices that are not expected to deteriorate, even over extended periods well in excess of 10 years.  The main external influence on the life expectancy of most detectors is the environment:  A smoke detector in a sterile environment will probably last a very long time. However in a dusty, dirty location the detector may have a relatively short life.   It is usually recommended that smoke alarms are replaced every 10 years, though again this depends on the manufacturer and the environment the alarm serves. 

Mature fire alarm control panels will fall under the category of ‘no longer directly replaceable’, when upgraded models have replaced these units on the manufacturing line.  

There is a key word in the fire protection industry: reliability.

Where faults and failures appear to be age-related - particularly if they are becoming frequent - this may indicate that it’s time for an upgrade.  However, where a faulty component or a major refit could result in a lengthy downtime, leaving residents without fire detectors or alarms, it may be more prudent to consider a planned replacement.  This is because any downtime lasting more than a few hours could negatively impact insurance for both life and property if a fire breaks out in your block and no active alarm system is in place.

The answer to ongoing questions of life expectancy should also come from the block’s service and maintenance provider.  

Here at Future Fire Systems Ltd, we provide our clients with a dilapidation RAG report (Red Amber Green – traffic light warning management).  This report categorises the age of the FD&A system in line with possible component failure along these lines:

Green - system aged between 1-6 years:

‘Healthy’ and will normally be OK

Amber - system aged between 7-9 years:

Manufacturer’s obsolescence policy, reliability and downtime should be discussed with the block manager or other responsible person, along with provision of upgrade quotations. The client will then be fully aware and in a position to manage forthcoming budgets to accommodate upgrades.

Red System aged 10 years plus:

Manufacturers obsolescence policy, reliability, downtime, along with insurance should be discussed

Small Print

As with most insurance policies, the small print needs to be considered and if any ambiguity is found in the wording, a telephone call to the insurers will be needed with reference to ‘downtime’ and a ‘non-operational FD&A’ in the event of system failure.  It is vital to determine whether or not you are insured if the FD&A system becomes inoperative due to component failure.

An example of the worst case scenario in respect of downtime is a mature FD&A system failing on a Friday evening.  The client duly contacts the block’s service and maintenance contractor’s 24hr emergency callout.  On arrival the system is deemed unfixable and no spares are available over the weekend.  At this point, life and property protection will become an issue, and the block insurance policy comes into play.

So for property managers the key questions are:

  • Do you know the age of your FD&A system?  
  • Has your service provider given you a RAG report?  
  • What is your insurer’s policy in the event of system downtime?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, make time to find out. The safety of your blocks and their residents could be at stake.

Bradley Parker is MD of Future Fire Systems

He can be contacted by email at: or tel: 020 3826 9999