Have you ever seen a poor fire alarm system installation? Perhaps the original installer executed an incompetent design, or an incompetent installer poorly installed a proper design. In either case, the bottom line profitability of the installer will suffer.

Whenever I encounter a poor installation, I cannot help but ask: “Why on earth do we still allow the installation of a system intended to provide life safety without the installer following the minimum requirements of NFPA 72 2007, the National Fire Alarm Code and ignoring the quality necessary to ensure an installed system’s operational reliability? Is it really so hard to do it right? Burgeoning technology has changed what we need to know. But the basics remain constant.

We still must decide what the customer needs, hopefully with his or her input. Then, we have to design the appropriate fire alarm system to meet those needs. Installing a code-compliant fire alarm system should not amount to an impossible test of courage and knowledge.

In most cases, the majority of installers and designers do a good job. We only hear about or see the bad installations because they get the press. As a result, everyone gets painted with the same negative brush and becomes labeled “incompetent.”

Still, our industry faces some real issues. I hear from people on the installation side that they have more difficulty today finding qualified technicians. I also hear from the installing company owners that the cost to train technicians is growing exponentially.

You have probably guessed from my previous articles that training is one of my hot button issues. A commitment to training, both in the classroom and on the job, is essential to maintain the quality and reliability of installed fire alarm systems.

What kind of a business have you chosen to create? Do you simply and methodically install fire alarm equipment? Or, do you go one step further to purposefully and thoughtfully provide safety and peace of mind?

Have you ever thought about the importance of “competency” in our profession? When a customer asks you to review an existing fire alarm system, can you see evidence of the original designer and installer’s competency? Have you ever wondered during such a review where these guys received their training?

In the article “Employee Training and Development: Reasons and Benefits,” author Carter McNamara of Authenticity Consulting states, “Training and development can be initiated for a variety of reasons for an employee or group of employees, e.g.,

• “When a performance appraisal indicates performance improvement is needed

• “To ‘benchmark’ the status of improvement so far in a performance improvement effort

• “As part of an overall professional development program

• “As part of succession planning to help an employee be eligible for a planned change in role in the organization

• To train about a specific topic.”

All of these offer good reasons to train your employees—or seek training from your employer—but, in the case of fire alarm system installations, the 2007 edition of the National Fire Alarm Code provides clear requirements on the subject of installer competence, stating that “Installation personnel shall be qualified or shall be supervised by persons who are qualified in the installation, inspection, and testing of fire alarm systems.” And the code attempts to define qualified personnel as “(1) Personnel who are factory trained and certified for fire alarm system installation of the specific type and brand of system being installed. (2) Personnel who are certified by a nationally recognized fire alarm certification organization acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction. (3) Personnel who are registered, licensed, or certified by a state or local authority.”

Obviously a journeyman or master electrical license will comply with the third requirement. Item two refers to nationally recognized fire alarm certification programs, such as those offered by the International Municipal Signal Association and the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies. The code purposely does not mandate a priority to the list above. In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of an installer’s competence comes from the factory training they receive on the equipment that they will install or service.

As an industry, we need to combine training, mentoring, licensing and certification to ensure that all members of our industry build quality and reliability into the design and installation of our life safety fire alarm systems.

So, how important is competency to your bottom line? I think you now know the answer.

Competency will make the difference between a high-quality, reliable installation and one that false alarms regularly, or worse, will not work when the customer needs it. If you work as a contractor, don’t take offense when someone asks you to prove your competence. Instead, make your qualifications known upfront, set yourself apart from the competition, and meet the challenge of competency. You’ll likely earn the just financial reward in your bottom line that comes from that competency.

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.