Written by PBFS Safety Director, Charles Sanford, and reposted with permission of NAFED from Firewatch! magazine.
Every state in the U.S. is different, and some regulate the fire protection industry more than others. In the state of North Carolina, we have been fighting hard to bring licensing requirements to fire protection companies. Let me share why.
I believe that everyone in our industry has seen examples why licensing should be required. These can range from something as simple as ignored service schedules (6-year maintenance, hydro-testing) overlooked, rust and dents in cylinders, to patched together discharge hoses with hose clamps or even shortcuts taken on recharging. Some of these things to “save the customer money”, placing considerable liability and responsibility on themselves and their company. Every time a service tag is placed on a fire safety appliance, the company and technician’s name gets associated with that equipment. It is our responsibility do make sure we are doing things right.
I believe we all at some time have taken short cuts of some type. I also believe that most of us meant well at that time and have learned from those mistakes. I truly believe that most people in our industry have a desire to do the right thing for the right reasons.
Like fire departments and AHJ’s, our industry is tasked with the protection of life and property. We have the opportunity of being proactive in our approach, while other agencies are more reactive. That is natural. If we consider where fire codes, building codes and safety procedures originated, you realize they are a direct result of mistakes or short cuts taken, resulting in deaths and injuries to the public. North Carolina is a perfect example and one only needs to remember the fire in Hamlet (September 3, 1991) where 25 workers were killed and 55 injured, trapped behind locked doors. Now, every fire inspection performed in our state is a direct result of an error in judgement made by the owners of that company.
Portable extinguishers are designed to extinguish fires in the incipient or beginning phases. They must be serviced and ready to work at a moment’s notice. If they fail, was that extinguisher serviced properly or was it operator error? If your name is on that extinguisher, which failure option would you prefer in a court proceeding? Some feel portable extinguishers should be removed and the fire extinguishment should be left up to the sprinkler system. This is a position that allows an incipient fire to grow into a larger incident with more damage and salvage cleanup. Taking such a stand leads to a greater business loss, employee lost wages and higher insurance costs. Many businesses will fail to recover from a major fire loss, when a portable extinguisher could have been used to minimize the damage. A licensing program can make sure that a qualified, or fully certified, technician is there to ensure that the extinguisher is operable and ready to go, increasing faith in portables as a vital fire protection tool.
Fire suppression systems, like portable extinguishers must be ready to function on demand, automatically, at a moment’s notice. Taking shortcuts here is even more dangerous. These systems are in place to protect the business, its employees, and its customers. Mixing system parts from different manufacturers may still enable the system to function, but if it fails and your company has used non OEM parts, you have just accepted full liability for a potential failure. Even if an employee fails to activate the remote pull station initially, or a fusible link fails because of excessive grease buildup, if your name is on the system and you took a shortcut, you are liable.
AHJ’s have a tremendous amount of responsibility on their shoulders. Their authority and responsibility is to approve things we are expected to do correctly. They depend on us to do things correctly, as designed and intended so the fire safety equipment will function properly. We should never hesitate to help them, answer their questions and help them to understand what they are looking at and what they should be looking for. We are the professionals who do this every day. If we run into one who gives us a hard time, it may be because that AHJ has been misled by another provider or simply does not understand what you are trying to accomplish. Always offer to assist an AHJ and answer their questions. Many of them may be reluctant to ask questions, but always offer the assistance. Here a licensing program is valuable in helping to instill trust between our two industries. If a customer experiences a fire loss which is attributed to a failure on the part of their service provider, they will choose another provider. Failures on our part as a fire safety service provider leaves us open to litigation in amounts we never imagined when taking a shortcut. Business interruption is a term I have heard used fairly recently. Losing a customer because of a shortcut or being liable for business interruption is something one should consider. But, if a customer leaves because you refuse to take a shortcut, lose that customer and maintain your integrity. You can sleep better, your insurance carrier will appreciate the position you took and your peers will respect you.
Some states regulate our industry to try to eliminate people taking such shortcuts. Has such legislation stopped shortcut taking? Ask around and you will see it has not. But, it makes us all more accountable, to ourselves, our customers and our industry. After all, our business is to protect the life, property and businesses of our customers, and our communities.
Pye-Barker’s Safety Director Charles Sanford is on the NAFED Board of Directors and recently contributed the above piece to NAFED’s quarterly magazine, Firewatch! While it is our company’s job to help our communities with their fire protection needs, safety does not stop there. We are fortunate to have Charles helping us keep our own team safe while on the job and providing further safety resources both for our customers and staff. Thanks to NAFED for granting us permission to share this piece in full on our website.