Grill The Fire Expert

Oct. 27, 2008
How Not to Get Burned

Serving as a Public Safety Advocate

Q: I have been installing fire and security alarm systems for about 18 years. In some areas of the country (New Jersey, New York, New England), I routinely encounter inspectors asking for horns and strobes to be added to sprinkler alarm monitoring systems whenever there are several floors involved. Usually these request come from AHJs (Authorities having Jurisdiction) in small cities and towns. The problem is, there are no requirements for inside notification appliances to be part of sprinkler alarm monitoring systems and our company is disturbed by the inconsistency and arbitrary nature of these requests. If some inspectors are just going to keep making up “rules,” why should anyone bother to try and learn the real ones? Besides being bad for business, we see this practice as adversely affecting public safety.

Here's the specific problem t hat inspired this letter. My question is regarding these code officials that want me to add a single (one) horn-strobe near each elevator lobby on each floor of the building, to sound when the sprinkler system activates; no hallway smoke detectors, no pulls, just a single appliance on each floor. The fire department says they know it is not meant to be a fire alarm evacuation system but still want the alarm to be heard inside the building, not just on the outside by the water motor gong. In the rest of the country this would be considered an improper notification system. I know for a fact that most of the occupants on each floor have no chance of hearing these appliances. I would (and should) flunk a final inspection with only one appliance on each floor if it were a job in any big city. How am I going to look when some attorney gets a hold of this case after a fire causes a loss of property in one of these installations? Where is the fire inspector going to be, then; hiding behind the public servant liability exclusion laws? Who will defend me in court when the inspector's request is seen for what it really is? (Sub-standard.) How successful is the legal defense: “He made me do it?”

A: You are both trying to do your jobs but bringing these issues up during an inspection can seem confrontational. Perhaps you can go to the source and begin a dialog with the top officials that have the power to make some real changes. Get the names of the head of the inspection departments in all the fire departments within the areas you serve and make an appointment with each of them. Dress in professional business attire and take your business cards. When you are finished explaining the problem you are having, ask for their help understanding the requirement. Local fire officials probably do not realize the potential conse quences of your adherence to some of these add-ons. When your approach is one of an advocate for public safety they will listen and hopefully enlighten all the AHJs of the potential dangerous situation they are creating.

Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, president of an alarm installing company since 1981, teaches NICET training classes to fire alarm system designers and installers and continuing education seminars for Ohio 's fire alarm inspectors. You can reach him at 888-910-2272; e-mail: [email protected]; or visit his website at www.