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Do What You Know, Correctly

MTA Capital Construction Mega Projects, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
MTA Capital Construction Mega Projects / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
Published On
May 31, 2022

While listening to a podcast recently, the speaker quoted philosopher Epictetus: “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” Epictetus was alive from 50-135 A.D., and it amazes me that what someone said in the second century is still applicable today.

I believe this statement applies to almost every technician who has spent time in our industry. I am beginning to think that when I find issues during an acceptance test, the cause is that the technician only knows what they first learned when they entered the business and has not taken the opportunity—indeed the necessity—to read current editions of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

It's probably the same reason we throw away the instructions when we install a fire alarm system component. We feel we have installed similar devices enough times to know how to install the new device.

How many times has a technician had to reinstall a device that was incorrectly installed the first time?

As an owner of a contracting firm, do you encourage your technicians to read the code? I am reminded of a successful contractor that would have a weekly sit down with all his technicians to discuss code issues. He provided pizza and soda and reviewed a specific requirement with everyone. He would then assign reading a chapter in the code as homework. Frequently, the assignment was based on a problem that had occurred on one of their projects that could have been avoided if the technician had known what the code required. Each week he would ask three questions based on the previous week’s assignment and give a crisp $50 bill to each person who answered all three questions correctly. He had a large contingent of technicians and it cost him a few dollars, but they became more knowledgeable of the code with this financial motivation. And because of that, his dollar awards were a good investment.

And by the way, he bought a copy of the National Electrical Code and NFPA 72 for each of his trucks so technicians could read it during lunch and use it in discussions with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). Having access to the codes used most frequently also saved a lot of call-backs to the project building.

If you think this through, it all makes perfect sense. Once we enter a trade, we begin to learn our craft. But as is often the case, at least some of what we learn on the job is wrong. It’s a good possibility the foreman who is supposed to be training us had misinformation they considered “gospel” and did not know the code may have changed.

I will grant you that the code is not as exciting a read as a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, but the need to become familiar with the code requirements is important to your success in the fire alarm system installation profession.

We struggle as a profession with misinformation because so few people read the entire code.

The NEC and NFPA 72 change every three years, and the changes happen for two reasons: there is some new technology, or a problem in the field will make its way to the Technical Committee that exposes a lack of guidance.

So, if you are one of those individuals who has “memorized” the code, be careful. Assuming you have read and memorized it (something I do not believe is helpful), you may have memorized a different edition and a code change may have made what you memorized no longer the valid way to install or test the specific device or appliance.

Performing the installation correctly the first time adds to the bottom line of your business. Knowing the code will also make you the “go-to” person for the local AHJ’s questions.

All of this means that being open-minded to learning new material will only help your reputation and could possibly make you the real code expert. By knowing the codes, you essentially are “going the extra mile” as encouraged by Napoleon Hill of “Think and Grow Rich fame.” And when you go the extra mile, your reputation grows. Because of your correct code knowledge, you become the trusted advisor to the AHJ. Your knowledge will help you to get the job done right the first time and receive the AHJ’s approval at the end of every acceptance test. This last item is sure to help you to improve your standing with your customer, which will lead to more work and continued profits.

Do what you know, but more importantly, do it right. Follow this guidance and you and your business will flourish.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker, writer and expert in the life safety field, has been a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, as well as a former principal member of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is the...

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