You Get Out What You Put In

Why can’t more technicians get it right? The answer: installation company owners must have a commitment to provide the appropriate training. And, technicians must have a commitment to participate in the appropriate training, so they will develop a passion to always do what’s right.

Commitment by the contracting company owners to provide the necessary training to their technicians is a first step. I have heard many excuses why some do not commit to training. First and foremost, owners respond, “If I train my technicians, they will just go to the competition.” My answer has always been the same: if you don’t train them and keep them, what will that cost? Doesn’t it mean your company will always have untrained employees? Think about that.

The key to keeping employees is to offer more training than they can get elsewhere. The better trained they are, the better you pay them. With more training, they will make fewer mistakes, operate more efficiently and be more loyal to you. After all, you’re the one who has rewarded their efforts by providing them with a fair pay scale.

When you look for new employees, don’t you pay more if they already have experience and training? Why not develop them on your own and train them in the manner you think makes sense for your operation? Don’t fall into the trap described by the adage: “Penny-wise and pound-foolish.” Untrained technicians will always cost you more in the long term.

Author David McCullough said, “Information is useful. Information is often highly interesting. Information has value, sometimes great value. The right bit of information at the opportune moment can be worth a fortune. Information can save time and effort. Information can save your life. The value of information, facts, figures, and the like, depends on what we make of it—on judgment.”

McCullough made these comments in a college commencement speech. But, they certainly apply to those of us in the fire alarm system installation field, as well.

The current fire alarm systems technology changes almost daily and requires more training and knowledge to install systems properly. The last sentence of McCullough’s quote is most telling. Judgment plays an important part in every fire alarm system installation. As a wise man once told me, “Good judgment comes from experience. And, experience comes from bad judgment.”

However, you can avoid much of the experience from bad judgment by establishing a consistent training program that includes hands-on training for your employees. You must plan this training program and devise a way to ensure some form of measurement as to its success. If you don’t have the capability of doing this yourself, a wealth of resources will become available to you as a part of your membership in professional fire alarm organizations. In addition, you can seek help from competent consulting firms who have a great deal of experience in developing training programs for contractors.

The codes that affect fire alarm systems installation generally change on a three year cycle. Given the amount of fire detection and alarm research, each cycle includes significant changes. So, your training program must include updates on the changes to the code as they occur. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers code training seminars that will assist you and your employees to become more familiar with NFPA 70, the National Electrical Code, and NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

You must also include the installation techniques and requirements for new fire alarm systems technology in your training program plans. For specialized training on specific fire alarm equipment, the manufacturers and engineered systems distributors for the manufacturers will provide in-house training or off-site training for those of your technicians who specialize in these installations.

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) offers books, webinars, and seminars that cover general fire alarm system installation techniques. The Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA) and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) publish and provide training manuals on fire alarm system installation requirements as well as application guides for both fire alarm systems and mass notification systems (MNS). Lastly, if you plan to expand your markets to include other systems, such as MNS or security systems installation, you will need to add that specialized training to your program plan as well.

To reiterate, installation company owners must have a commitment to provide the appropriate training. And, technicians must have a commitment to participate in the appropriate training, so they will develop a passion to always do what is right. Make a commitment to your training program plan. Encourage your technicians to understand the importance of training and how it affects their growth in the field of fire alarm systems installation. Once you do these things, you will become very successful. After all, it has been proven over and over again that training is worth it.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates, Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at

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