Certifiable Benefits

An ink stamp reading "certified."

Are you certified in the fire alarm or life safety field? If you are, why did you do it? If not, why not? I have heard many claims about the benefits and drawbacks of getting certified. I’d like to share some of my experiences on this topic.

There are a number of reasons someone may get certified. State laws or a local authority having jurisdiction may require certification to perform work on fire alarm systems. Or the specifications for a job you are bidding on may require one or more individuals to be certified.

When I was a fire alarm contractor in Florida in the early 1990s, there was—and still is—a requirement to have an individual licensed as the company qualifier to allow that company to work on fire alarm systems. There were, however, no requirements to be certified.

At that time, National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) certification for fire alarm systems was relatively new. Fire alarm systems certification started around 1989. I decided to get certified even though Florida did not require it.

I pursued NICET certification for a number of reasons. First, I felt that if I ever was looking for a job, being nationally certified would give me an advantage over noncertified applicants. Second, it was a great opportunity for me to prove that I was a knowledgeable professional.

Later, when I became a co-owner of a fire alarm test and inspection company, I required all my technicians to become NICET-certified so when I discussed our services with potential clients, I stated proudly that all employees were nationally certified to test, inspect and maintain their fire alarm systems. It was a great marketing tool. I also know a number of fire marshals that have gotten NICET certification to match contractor credentials in their jurisdiction.

A few years later, I decided to pursue becoming a certified fire protection specialist (CFPS) through NFPA. I found that many fire inspectors and end-user personnel responsible for their company’s life safety systems were CFPS-certified. Again, I did this to add a certification my customers held or recognized. This certification is broad and tests knowledge on more than just fire alarm systems. Another benefit for me was that it helped me learn about other life safety equipment. A number of states require a form of certification. Some only require a company to have one individual certified; other states require each technician to be certified.

For any fire alarm work for the federal government or military, a NICET-certified-personnel is required. My belief is that all individuals who work on life safety equipment should hold a certification in that field.

NICET also has certifications for the fire sprinkler, fire suppression, security and many other industries. Other certifications, beside NICET, include International Municipal Systems Association, Interior Fire Alarm Certification and Electronic Security Association.

I often hear people say that getting employees certified is too costly and isn’t worth it. Many of these individuals are the same ones who hold the belief that if you spend money on training your employees, they will go to work somewhere else. My friend Wayne Moore, who I am sure you know from reading his excellent articles, likes to quote motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “The only thing worse than training an employee and having them leave is to not train them and having them stay.” Training is vital to the life of a company, and training to get a certification gives employees something to show for their efforts.

When I present a seminar for relatively new individuals in the fire alarm industry, I ask them if they consider their position a career or a job. There is a significant difference. This would be a good question to ask potential employees. Someone who considers their job a career will have a much different attitude toward their work. We live in a competitive world and have to work hard to succeed. We work in a highly litigious industry and trained, professional individuals will save you a lot more than you will ever spend on training and certification.

About the Author
Tom Hammerberg

Thomas P. Hammerberg

Life Safety Columnist

Thomas P. Hammerberg, SET, CFPS is an indepe       ndent fire alarm presenter and consultant residing in Jasper, GA. Tom served on multiple NFPA technical committees as well as actively participating in the ICC code making process for many years. He...

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