The U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts a 23 percent increase in new job opportunities for electricians by 2012. Assuming you have the skill level of an apprentice, journeyman or master electrician and you desire to work at keeping your competency at an acceptable standard, you should not have to worry about job placement over the next seven years.

Reportedly, fewer workers have chosen apprenticeship programs for electricians, which could eventually cause a spike in the demand for experienced electricians. This will be important, given the increasing emphasis on the electrician skill set required for installing new technology fire alarm systems as well as other innovative technology networks.

Some critics have stated that for long-term considerations, with the construction process changing to meet the demands of technology, that this will, in turn, lead to a reduction in the demand for such electricians. In the past, wireless and mobile networks may have had some negative effect on the need for the services of electricians.

Most people learn the electrical trade by completing an apprenticeship program lasting three to five years. Apprenticeship gives trainees a thorough knowledge of all aspects of the trade and generally improves their ability to find a job. Although electricians are more likely to receive training through apprenticeship than workers in other construction trades, some still learn their skills informally on the job.

NFPA 72-2002, National Fire Alarm Code, Section 4.3.3 requires that installation personnel be “supervised by persons who are qualified and experienced in the installation, inspection, and testing of fire alarm systems.”

The code further states that examples of qualified personnel shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

“ (1) Factory trained and certified personnel

“(2) National Institute of Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) fire alarm level II certified personnel

“ (3) Personnel licensed or certified by a state or local authority”

This seems to indicate that your electrical license qualifies you to install fire alarm systems. But does it really? How involved in the fire alarm system installation field are you?

If you want to receive recognition as a fire alarm system specialist, you must exhibit qualifications beyond your electrician’s license. If you intend to build your contracting business by installing and servicing fire alarm systems, it behooves you to investigate other certifications, such as National Institute of Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) or become a UL Listed Alarm Servicing Company.

NICET has designed its certification program “for engineering technicians working in the fire alarm industry who engage in a combination of the following fire alarm systems activities: system layout (plan preparation), system equipment selection, system installation, system acceptance testing, system troubleshooting, system servicing, and system sales. Technical areas covered include applicable codes and standards, types of signaling systems, supervision requirements, types of fire and smoke detectors, building occupancy considerations, basic electricity and electronics, and physical science fundamentals.”

NICET offers four levels of certification. As stated on the NICET Web site, “Level I is designed for trainees and entry-level technicians who perform limited job tasks under frequent supervision, Level II is for technicians who perform routine tasks under general daily supervision, Level III is for intermediate-level technicians who, under little or no daily supervision, work with standards, plans, specifications, and instructions, and Level IV is for independent, senior-level technicians whose work includes supervising others.”

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) offers an “Alarm Service Company” listing to contractors who wish to set themselves apart from their competition and also provide listed fire alarm system installations.

UL conducts an evaluation of your installation, maintenance and service abilities based the requirements found within the current edition of the National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72-2002).

Typically, UL will evaluate those seeking a listing by checking their ability to manage the installation and maintenance of systems for compliance with NFPA 72. In order to obtain a listing under this category, a contractor needs to contact the UL office that provides alarm certification inspections in their area.

Generally, UL will inspect four fire alarm systems the contractor has completed, but they may determine that one large fire alarm system covering a variety of fire alarm equipment will suffice. The inspection of the fire alarm system(s) will include the field evaluation of the system(s), and the required documentation as required by NFPA 72.

Both of these certifications give you the chance to set yourself apart from your competition. If you want to enter the fire alarm system installation and service market in a big way, you will want to consider increasing your qualifications. 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.