Fire Alarm Certification Options

Today’s economy presses us all to work more efficiently and promote our businesses at every opportunity. One method of self promotion is to advertise the fact that our technicians hold professional certifications.

There are several fire alarm certifications to choose from. The 2002 edition of NFPA 72’s National Fire Alarm Code lists several certifications to proving qualification and experience such as being certified in fire alarm systems from the International Municipal Signaling Association (IMSA) and the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET). Also acceptable is factory trained and certified, state licensed and personnel certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Requirements for all of these certifications vary greatly and it is important to identify all of these methods of compliance.

The list of ‘qualified and experienced’ requirements in NFPA 72 presents dissimilar ways of showing compliance. The first option states “personnel who are factory trained and certified for fire alarm system service of the specific type and brand of system.” In addition, NFPA 72 then adds, “factory training and certification is intended to allow an individual to service equipment only for which he or she has specific brand and model training.” Yet, no experience is required of this method and it is also the easiest to acquire.

A second method mentioned in NFPA 72 of proving yourself to be ‘qualified and experienced’ was to have your company become a customer of the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory’s (NRTL) certification service (think UL or FM) and get listed in the directory they publish. This is what, “personnel who are employed and qualified by an organization listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory for the servicing of fire alarm systems,” implies. It is still unclear to me how a technician could automatically become qualified and experienced simply because the company they work for becomes (UL/FM) listed, especially since NFPA 72 doesn’t even attempt to offer any explanation in their annex for this compliance method. (I’m now left to picture a technician-fairy, pulling with flourish from her tool belt, a magic wand which she uses to strike knowledge and experience into a tech’s head upon their employer’s name appearing on a list of businesses meeting the listing program’s requirements.)

A third method listed under Chapter 10 allows for compliance by “personnel who are registered, licensed or certified by a state or local authority.” The annex added, “licenses and certifications offered at a state or local level are intended to recognize those individuals who have demonstrated a minimum level of technical competency in the area of fire alarm servicing.”

The other two methods listed in 10.2.2.5 state “personnel who are certified by a nationally recognized fire alarm certification organization acceptable to the Authority Having Jurisdiction,” which allows for NICET and IMSA certifications. (Basically, money plus time equals certification). NICET requires statements of work experience and IMSA does not. The IMSA test is not timed, but closed book, whereas the NICET test is timed and open book. NICET also asks many more questions than the IMSA exam but a lot of these questions are not fire alarm related. NFPA 72 has moved the NICET and IMSA references to the appendix of their 2007 edition where they have become explanatory material and are no longer specific code requirements. It seems that NFPA concluded that listing and endorsing these specific products was not something that should have been codified. In fact, NFPA added a NICET and IMSA disclaimer to the 2007 edition which reads, “NOTE: These organizations and the products or services offered by them have not been independently verified by the NFPA, nor have the products or services been endorsed or certified by the NFPA or any of its technical committees.” That’s fair, since they never included the NBFAA certification process as an option, even though it was and is currently adopted by many states and jurisdictions. A new proposal was recently made to include the NBFAA certification process in the appendix of the 2010 edition but was rejected when NFPA decided that they will boot both NICET and IMSA from the appendix as well when they update.

The NBFAA certification process is different than the NICET in a very basic way. NICET tests your knowledge, which stems from your experience in fire alarm systems, math, geometry, science, electronic theory and components and the metric system, to name a few. The NBFAA tests your fire alarm knowledge and requires a minimum level of training. NICET has stated that there shouldn’t be any training necessary for their certification since their certificates are awarded to demonstrate knowledge gained through work experience. In fact, NICET doesn’t provide any training at all. The NBFAA process mandates classroom time and levels of certification awarded based on fire alarm competence.

Clearly, certification is the way to go and the one to use is left up to you or your state. Even if your state specifies a particular certification organization, such as NICET, they commonly allow for similar certification providers so as not to mandate anyone’s exclusive product. Hopefully, you can now choose wisely and evaluate from the facts presented here. Remember to be on the watch for NICET and NBFAA to vastly change their testing and certification processes over the coming year. When their changes are finalized, I’ll update you in this column.

In other news…

The Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) announced that Valued Relationship Inc., West Carrolton, Ohio, a healthcare services provider of medical alert monitoring, renewed their CSAA Five Diamond Certification, which testifies that 100 percent of their central station operators have achieved proficiency and certification by passing the CSAA Central Station On-Line Operator Training Course. These courses cover virtually all phases of central station communications with customers, law enforcement, fire and emergency services communicationscenters.This critical area of communications is the life-saving link between the residential or business properties and the law enforcement, fire and emergency services in local areas.

Certification through NBFAA’s National Training School

The National Training School (NTS) of the NBFAA offers three certifications: Certified Alarm Technician (Level I); Certified Fire Alarm Technician; and Certified Alarm Technician (Level II).

Certified Alarm Technician

(Level 1) - Requirements:

Successfully complete the three-day Certified Alarm Technician course and pass the two-hour, multiple-choice examination.

Certified Fire Alarm Technician

Requirements:

Successfully complete the two-day Fire Alarm Installation Methods course and pass the two-hour, multiple-choice examination.

Advanced Alarm Technician

Requirements:

Level 1 Certification

Successfully complete the two-day Advanced Burglar Alarm Technician course and pass the two-hour, multiple-choice examination.

Successfully complete the two-day Fire Alarm Installation Methods course and pass the two-hour, multiple-choice examination.

Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, can be reached at Greg@firealarm.org or www.FireAlarm.org.

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