The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted the electrical business in general. You may be among the lucky few able to remain working on a large new construction project. However, you have probably lost traditional service business with customers who had to essentially shut down their operations due to impacts from the pandemic. Now would be a good time to review your book of business and determine where you can add a revenue stream you can count on even during times such as these.
Typically, fire alarm inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) contracts provide a constant source of revenue, and one that simply can’t be stopped just because operations in the building have slowed or temporarily stopped. I typically see many contractors making a lot of “false starts,” and because their normal revenue stream picks up or because they don’t plan their sales efforts better, they stop offering fire alarm system ITM contracts.
The ITM business cannot be entered into half-heartedly. You begin the process with the knowledge that Chapter 14 of NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, is on your side by requiring ITM for new and existing systems. The code makes the somewhat obvious statement, “The purpose for periodic testing is to statistically assure operational reliability.”
It is also important to understand that NFPA 72 places the responsibility of ensuring the fire alarm system is inspected, tested and maintained at least annually squarely on the back of the owner.
You must start with a consistent commitment to provide this service. First on your list should be hiring, or promoting from within your company, a technically competent ITM salesperson. This person should be knowledgeable of the fire alarm systems you install and be well-versed in the requirements of the building codes and NFPA 72. This person should also be capable of offering complimentary system audits to determine customers’ needs. Often these audits will reveal that a complete system replacement is necessary, which offers the opportunity for additional revenue beyond the annual contracts signed.
It is important that your salesperson becomes a trusted advisor to your customers. They can accomplish this by assuring customers that your company has a focus on training and developing your people, being thorough in systems evaluations and by understanding customers’ fire alarm system needs.
The purpose of a quality ITM program, as stated in NFPA 72, is to ensure the operational integrity of an installed fire alarm system. Your salesperson’s audit of the existing system will often uncover obvious damages or changes that might affect the system operability. These obvious issues offer the opportunity to add service work to the ITM process.
Additionally, your salesperson should approach the system installation with “fresh eyes,” evaluating whether the original installation was supposed to meet a specific mission and whether that mission may have changed. They should also look for changes that may have been made to the building, including a change of occupancy.
After a thorough review of the customer’s needs, you should be offering a test plan that clearly establishes the scope of testing for the fire alarm system and explains how your documentation will meet the code and the local authority having jurisdiction requirements. The test plan should express exactly how and what will be tested. For example, if you do not plan on testing a device due to its inaccessibility, you should add to your proposal a change that will eliminate that issue so the protection originally expected will still be in place, but it will be more accessible for future ITM.
Annual testing of large fire alarm system installations is often done in a segmented fashion. You would normally schedule testing for a portion of the system on each floor, with all devices and appliances checked annually.
You may also indicate in your test plan when and how you intend to test all the notification appliances. Many building owners will ask that the appliances be tested during off-hours to avoid occupant disruptions. The same is true for the testing of many emergency control functions activated by the fire alarm system. Your test plan should indicate what testing can be done, usually extending up to and including the emergency control function interface device. Ultimately, the purpose of the test plan is to document what devices were and were not tested so the owner can have the appropriate contractor test the emergency control function and releasing systems.
Requirements for testing other nonfire alarm systems are found in other governing laws, codes or standards. For example, NFPA 3, Standard for Commissioning of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems, provides guidance for integrated testing of combined systems.
Using fire alarm system ITM contracts as a consistent source of revenue will benefit your bottom line, but doing it right is imperative for continued profitability.
It’s up to you to become a reliable provider of fire alarm systems service.