Running a successful contracting business is a time-consuming job. You spend time marketing and selling your company to clients and then spend time operating the company, hopefully at a profit. Those of you who install fire alarm systems often treat them like other electrical projects. Once the projects are completed, you thank the client and wait for a call about the next project. However, those of you who provide service contracts on your electrical work know that servicing what you have installed can be very lucrative.
Testing and service contracts for fire alarm systems also can be lucrative. The difference between your “standard” electrical work and fire alarm systems inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) contracts is that the ITM contracts are National Fire Alarm Code-driven.
Section 10.2.2.1 of the National Fire Alarm Code, NFPA 72-2007, requires that “the property or building owner or the owner’s designated representative shall be responsible for inspection, testing and maintenance of the system and for alterations or additions to this system.”
Simply put, the owner must inspect, test and maintain his or her fire alarm system. Because you have just installed the system, who better to maintain it? You have the as-built drawings, and you just finished commissioning and acceptance testing the system. Of course, you may argue the system is under warranty for at least a year, but the code still requires testing at least annually. A profit center awaits you if you are willing to organize your operation to accommodate the business.
To perform this work, you need qualified technicians. Your testing and service personnel should be able to understand the requirements contained in the National Fire Alarm Code and the fire alarm requirements contained in the National Electrical Code. Of course, they also should be able to understand basic job site safety laws and requirements, be able to apply troubleshooting techniques, and determine the cause of fire alarm system trouble conditions. You also should have someone on staff who understands equipment-specific requirements, such as programming, application and compatibility. The competent technician will be able to read and interpret fire alarm system design documentation and manufacturers’ inspection, testing and maintenance guidelines. Your technicians will already know how to properly use tools and test equipment required for testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems and their components because they have installed the systems they are testing. And all of your installing and service technicians must know how to properly apply the test methods required by the National Fire Alarm Code.
The code offers examples of who meets these criteria in Section 10.2.2.5.1:
“Service personnel shall be qualified and experienced in the inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems. Qualified personnel shall include, but not be limited to, one or more of the following:
“(1) Personnel who are factory trained and certified for fire alarm system service of the specific type and brand of system. As the code advises in the Annex, ‘factory training and certification is intended to allow an individual to service equipment only for which he or she has specific brand and model training.’
“(2) Personnel who are certified by a nationally recognized fire alarm certification organization acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction. Nationally recognized fire alarm certification programs are described in the Annex of the code as those agencies that might include programs offered by the International Municipal Signal Association and National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET).
“Both of these certification programs offer the technician another avenue besides licensing to indicate their qualifications. Many jurisdictions, such as the military, the state department and some states, require NICET certification in order to install or service fire alarm system.
“(3) Personnel who are registered, licensed, or certified by a state or local authority. These include licenses and certifications offered at a state or local level that are intended to recognize those individuals who have demonstrated a minimum level of technical competency in the area of fire alarm servicing. This includes you as a master electrician and includes your licensed journeyman electricians as well.”
And finally, “(4) Personnel who are employed and qualified by an organization listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory for the servicing of fire alarm systems.” This group includes those installation and monitoring companies who are certified by Underwriters Laboratories.
None of these qualifications are difficult to achieve, so the professional electrical contractor is already poised to enter this code-driven market place. Are you missing out on this business generator? EC
MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. and is located at the Warwick, R.I., office.