Nineteen years ago, author Spencer Johnson wrote “Who Moved My Cheese?” This book features a fable about how to cope with change.


The story involves four characters who live in a maze: the mice Scurry and Sniff, and two “little people,” Hem and Haw. All is going well because they have found a huge source of their favorite food, cheese. Hem and Haw have even moved their houses to be near the cheese, and it becomes the center of their lives. But they don’t notice that the cheese keeps getting smaller. They are devastated when they arrive at the site one morning and find the cheese has disappeared.


At this point, the story splits in two. Scurry and Sniff quickly accept the loss of the cheese and go off into the maze in search of other sources. The little people, because they have built their lives around the big cheese, feel they have become the victim of some kind of fraud or theft. Matters get worse as they cling onto what they once had and go hungry. Meanwhile, the mice move on and find new cheese elsewhere.


Electrical contractors may not see how this story would apply to them—you may be lactose intolerant! It’s all about dealing with changes, such as new products on the market that may impact an EC’s bottom line.


An easy example for ECs who work in residential construction is the introduction of wireless smoke alarms. NFPA 72 currently requires a smoke alarm installed in every bedroom, in every hallway outside of a bedroom, and on every level of the house with maybe an additional smoke alarm when the floor space exceeds 1,000 square feet. For discussion purposes, let’s assume a large two-story, four-bedroom house with a basement and a first floor that exceeds 1,000 square feet. By my count, based on the code requirements, eight or nine interconnected smoke alarms would need to be installed. Obviously, these would be included in the contract and properly installed with ease. This task should prove profitable because the smoke alarms are so inexpensive and a technician can perform the work for the standard hourly rate.


You may have heard about wireless smoke alarms on the market and dismissed them as unreliable—more for “do-it-yourselfers” and not for new installations. Also, wireless smoke alarms do not communicate with each other, so they really can’t interconnect and don’t meet code requirements. Finally, most owners still ask for hardwired smoke alarms. Life seems good, but the wireless versions have, in fact, become more reliable, interconnectable (wirelessly!) and more popular. The “installation cost” for the wireless smoke alarm consists of the cost of the alarm, a screwdriver and a project foreman’s helper with a ladder.


If an EC works on large commercial properties only, they might feel bad for their residential counterparts. But, they install large fire alarm systems and definitely wire everything, so they have no worries about the advanced technology of modern smoke alarms.


Would a contractor have a different attitude if they discovered wireless system smoke detectors now can communicate reliably and easily with fire alarm control units and at least one manufacturer has come close to providing a reliable wireless notification appliance?


I suspect fire alarm system installations can contribute to the bottom line, or nobody would do the work. What happens when a general contractor‘s unlicensed, untrained employee installs a fire alarm system in a commercial building? How does that affect the bottom line?


Do you pay attention to new technology? Or have you built your house near the so-called cheese and convinced yourself that owners would never allow a totally wireless system in their buildings?


Wireless mesh technology has proven itself with communication from every radio system to other radio systems in miles-wide areas. It will revolutionize the connectivity of devices and appliances in many fields, including fire alarm systems.


In my opinion, it is important to embrace this new technology and pay attention to state licensing laws. It makes no sense to allow unlicensed individuals to install life safety systems. If current laws require those that install fire alarm systems to be licensed, ensure the license requirements apply regardless of the technology being installed. This is especially important if the fire alarm licensing laws have been in place for a long time, because they may not cover new technologies.


Getting involved with a local electrical organization is a great first step, but it’s smart to take the lead in this endeavor. As you know, simply having a license does not guarantee high-quality installations. But, it does provide the opportunity to put in place training and education requirements of all installers holding a license.


Another chink in the “fire alarm wired installation” armor has arisen from the advent of enhanced radio communications within tall buildings using bidirectional amplifiers. Before this technology became available, electricians installed firefighter phones or phone jacks in at least three areas on every floor of every high-rise building where they had the contract for the in-building fire emergency voice/alarm communications systems. These radio systems require installation by an FCC-licensed individual. In fact, to install a wired firefighter telephone system under the most recent building and fire code, the contractor must obtain a variance. In other words, the “cheese” has suddenly gotten much smaller.


To remain at the top of your game, pay attention to technology advancements. If any other person can install a wireless device, your techs—who are already on-site—can do so as well. Use the fact that you will control all work and ensure a reliable installation.


Also, be a strong advocate for the licensing of anyone involved with the installation of all life safety systems. Advocacy should include the training component mentioned above to help ensure more reliable and higher quality installations, even if all devices are wireless.


With radio enhancement systems, it may prove better to establish partnerships with those who hold the necessary FCC licenses 
and have become qualified to install these unique systems.


Knowledge retains its power only if it is used to become the source for all things fire alarm. Embrace the new technology to remain the one and only “fire alarm systems professional” in the customer’s eyes.