I was at a Cracker Barrel, one of my favorite restaurants for breakfast, when the two gentlemen at the next table were approached by their waitress who informed them that she had made a mistake. When she went to check on the status of their order, she discovered she had neglected to put the order in the computer. She apologized profusely and gave the gentlemen a plate of biscuits to eat while they waited. Then she came to my table to take my order, and I’m thinking, “Great, I get the one with the bad memory!” I placed my order, and was pleasantly surprised when my breakfast arrived quickly. The men at the next table were served right after me by the manager, who apologized for the delay and said that both meals were compliments of the restaurant. He told the gentlemen that Cracker Barrel prides itself on fast and efficient service, and he hoped they would come back. Of course, they probably will.

This is a perfect example of how a company should be run. The waitress quickly advised her superior of the issue, thus taking responsibility for the mistake. The manager further took responsibility by picking up the tab. What is the goal of Cracker Barrel? To make sure their customers have the best experience possible at the restaurant to ensure that the customer will not only come back again, but tell their friends about the experience. That’s the definition of customer loyalty. Did the waitress and the manager accomplish their corporate goal? You bet they did.

Do you take responsibility for your work? As an electrician, you have a responsibility to ensure everything you install will not only work and be code-compliant but operate safely. When you install a fire alarm system, you have an additional responsibility to ensure the system will operate when called on to detect and sound the alarm. This functioning of the system is called “operational reliability.” What part do you play in ensuring operational reliability of an installed fire alarm system?

There are four key elements to ensuring operational reliability:

  • Equipment
  • Design
  • Installation
  • Maintenance

Of course as a responsible contractor, you will purchase quality, UL Listed fire alarm equipment. If you are designing the system that you are installing, you will ensure that you understand the National Fire Alarm Code requirements, the jurisdictional building or fire code requirements, and your customer’s fire protection goals; that way the design will be appropriate. If you are not the system designer, this element will be controlled by the ability and dedication of the licensed professional engineer.

The remaining two elements of ensuring operational reliability are under your direct control. In Article

110.12, the National Electrical Code (NEC) states, “electrical equipment shall be installed in a neat and workmanlike manner.” And the ANSI/NECA 1-2006, Standard Practices for Good Workmanship in Electrical Contracting, and other ANSI-approved installation standards are useful documents to review what are accepted as workmanlike installations.

The NEC also specifically addresses the mechanical execution of work for fire alarm systems in Article 760.24 that states, “Fire alarm circuits shall be installed in a neat workmanlike manner. Cables and conductors installed exposed on the surface of ceilings and sidewalls shall be supported by the building structure in such a manner that the cable will not be damaged by normal building use. Such cables shall be supported by straps, staples, cable ties, hangers, or similar fittings designed and installed so as not to damage the cable… .”

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to ensure the installation is code-

compliant and installed in such a way that you would be willing to admit you did the work. What that means is you must take pride and responsibility for what you install. When it comes to the installation of a fire alarm system, you are not installing just another electrical product. You are installing a system that will save lives. If you make a mistake—such as improper spacing of a detection device—in the installation, even though the system may still work, assume the responsibility and fix it.

We all have seen code-compliant installations that do not meet the intent of NEC Articles 110.12 and 760.24. And although those systems appear to be working, they are less than satisfactory when applying the operational reliability test to the installation. To get a .999 operational reliability for an installed system, each element of the list above must have a .9999 reliability factor. And if the equipment, design and installation all meet that requirement then maintenance, the last element must as well.

Your responsibility here is to point out to the owner the requirement in the National Fire Alarm Code that the owner must maintain the fire alarm system. If you take responsibility for your fire alarm system installations, your customers will not only benefit, but they will become your advocates. And an advocate tells his or her friends about your responsible actions and becomes a loyal customer.  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. at the Warwick, R.I., office.