A recent survey by Campus Safety magazine provides some insight into just how much fire alarm system renovation work could be available for you in 2010. According to the survey, more than half of the college and K–12 school fire safety professionals surveyed stated that systems maintenance represents one of their top four fire-protection challenges. More than 48 percent also indicated false alarms present a significant problem.
Do you want to find out if the schools in your area have false alarm problems? Speak with the local fire officials. They would happily welcome someone interested in fixing a school’s false alarm problem. Each response by the fire department to a false alarm represents a substantial cost to the city.
The Campus Safety study also points out another problem: K–12 school fire alarm systems that do not comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes and standards. The study found one in five schools responding to the survey stated their fire alarm systems do not comply with NFPA codes and standards. The NFPA codes and standards that apply to schools include the National Fire Code (NFPA 1), Life Safety Code (NFPA 101), National Electrical Code (NFPA 70) and the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NFPA 72).
The applicable National Fire Code and Life Safety Code requirements depend on what model building code the local jurisdiction has adopted. The building code indicates the required type of fire alarm system and the required level of protection. Obviously, from your experience, you already know NFPA 72, in conjunction with NFPA 70, provides the installation and application requirements for a fire alarm system.
Retrofitting fire alarm systems in the educational market continues to offer a lucrative opportunity, especially when the code drives the retrofits. It would appear from the survey that both college and school officials have concerns regarding fire alarm system maintenance. To ensure operational integrity, NFPA 72-2010 requires the fire alarm system to have an inspection, testing and maintenance program. In addition, the code requires the property or building or system owner (or the owner’s designated representative) to take responsibility for inspection, testing and maintenance of the system and for alterations or additions to the system.
Adding this information to your sales and marketing campaign will help to ensure you will get a share of this renovation work. In many cases, the educational institution will not publicly advertise the work. So, you will need to introduce yourself to the college fire safety director to help ensure that you know when these opportunities present themselves.
One way to increase sales in this area is to offer free “operational reliability checks” for a university’s fire alarm systems. If the campus has many buildings and many fire alarm systems, you may have to charge a modest fee to cover your costs. But, in order to entice the college or university to allow you to provide this service, you must maintain competitive pricing.
Obviously, once you have performed these reliability inspections, you will have the opportunity to provide a bid to fix the problems you have found. Also, when you have established your credibility with the fire safety director—and he or she knows that you possess knowledge of the code requirements and have shown your expertise in fire alarm systems inspection and operations—you will greatly increase your chances to provide future system upgrades. Depending on the condition in which you find the systems, you may also show the fire safety director how you can provide efficient testing and maintenance programs that will significantly reduce the college’s or university’s costs.
Participants in the Campus Safety survey indicated frequent concern regarding the integration of their fire alarm systems with other nonfire systems, such as mass notification and security systems. Thirty-two percent of campus fire officials surveyed marked this option as one of their top four concerns, offering another challenge to which you can respond. Mass notification systems and security systems represent two of the major nonfire systems in which you need to develop your expertise, if you haven’t already done so.
NFPA 72-2010 offers assistance with mass notification systems requirements, as well as design and applications guidance. NFPA 730-2006, Guide for Premises Security and NFPA 731-2006 Standard for the Installation of Electronic Premises Security Systems will provide the baseline guidance you will need for security systems.
Finally, the survey also showed that, compared to 2009, 62 percent of respondents will have the same amount of money, or more, to spend on new or upgraded fire systems in 2010. Regardless of the status of our current “down” economy, it would appear that investigating the fire alarm systems needs in the college or university, and in the K–12 markets, will still offer you strong business opportunities.
If you have not begun to sell your fire alarm services to these markets, you need to start ... today!
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. at the Warwick, R.I., office.