Raising The Bar

“The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them.” I’ve heard Wayne D. Moore cite this Zig Ziglar quote many times during presentations, and, for me, it always hits home. Companies involved in fire alarm and life safety systems inspection and testing cannot afford to have untrained personnel. Remember that, once your personnel touch it, you essentially own it.

As you probably know, there has been a lot of talk about nuisance alarms in the past few years. Owners do not want to spend money on system testing and upkeep unless someone makes them do it; fire prevention bureaus don’t have the manpower to inspect all properties on a consistent basis; and inspection and testing companies don’t always do a good job, primarily due to lack of training. I have heard the fire service put the bulk of the blame on the fire alarm industry. Whether that is warranted is another discussion, but our industry needs to do its part to solve the problem.

NICET now has a fire alarm systems inspection and testing certification. The Automatic Fire Alarm Association and I have pushed for it for a few years. Two levels of certification are available. Level I certification is for basic fire alarm system inspection and testing. This requires a minimum of six months of inspection and testing experience. Testing for Level I began in May 2015. 

Level II certification is for personnel testing advanced fire alarm systems that integrate with other building systems. It requires passing the Level I and II tests and having an additional 12 months of inspection and testing experience. This program is primarily intended for individuals performing periodic inspection and testing, not at acceptance or re-acceptance testing. The reason for this is, during an acceptance or re-acceptance test, the testing personnel are usually under the authority having jurisdiction’s (AHJ) direction, but they are on their own during periodic testing. The Level II tests began in June 2015.

We have promoted these certifications for a number of reasons. One is to show the industry that we are doing something to improve fire alarm system reliability. Another is to provide a means for more individuals to become certified in the fire alarm field. Individuals who are not involved in fire alarm system installation or layout may have a hard time with the existing program due to the experience requirements. 

I support NICET certification but feel our industry needs more areas of certification rather than a one-size-fits-all certification. This program is not intended to take the place of the fire alarm systems certification but to augment it. If you are already certified, there is no need to get this additional certification.

At some point, individuals should be able to choose to start either in the inspection and testing certification program or in the fire alarm systems certification program and be able to advance to Level III or IV in fire alarm systems from either path. This should give your inspection and testing personnel a goal to achieve for their personal growth as well as provide a great marketing tool for companies to use for reputation promotion. This certification will be promoted to the end-user community to help them select qualified inspection and testing companies. Your greatest enemy is the nonqualified company that underbids you and then doesn’t perform tests to meet code.

Regardless of whether you have your employees pursue certification, they still need to be trained. As systems get more complex, the codes are changing to ensure installation, service and testing personnel only work on systems they are qualified to work on. This is a good time to begin planning your employees’ training. Requirements are always changing in the latest code and standards editions, and you need to keep up with them to stay competitive.

Here is a challenge: Give copies of my 
integrated systems quiz (page 98) to your 
personnel. This is a good way to identify what they know and lets you plan future training based on the results.

About the Author
Tom Hammerberg

Thomas P. Hammerberg

Life Safety Columnist

Thomas P. Hammerberg, SET, CFPS is an independent fire alarm presenter and consultant in The Villages, Fla. He can be reached at TomHammerberg@gmail.com.

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