Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Whats wrong with this picture?

A Fire Alarm System installed and approved 6 months ago fails to operate during a fire.
The Answers will shock you.

Hard to believe but a brand new Fire alarm system can be installed completely wrong yet be tested and approved by the fire Inspector as properly working and installed. This also includes Sprinkler systems
So how can this be? It begins with the very way how we train or not even train individuals to install them and how we train the individuals who inspect them.
Even a small fire system of 20 devices should take approximately 2 hours to test and inspect everything correctly and a large system should take all day to up to 3 days to test. But it is rarely done this way.
Instead the fact the system is properly installed to code is left up to the person installing and programming it the lead technician who in too many cases does not have the correct training to even know he has not installed the system correctly.
So how does this happen in the first place?

It starts because Fire alarm Systems are complex and require the following of several major building code sections which includes NFPA 72 Fire Alarms and Signaling Systems. NFPA 70 National Electrical code IFC International fire Code which is part of the ICC International Code Commission which is followed in many states. The ADA The Americans with Disabilities Act. And local and state codes.
This means to be able to properly install a Fire System you need knowledge of all of them and to be taught all of them as they pertain to Fire Alarm systems, and unfortunately there is not one school or class which totally covers the complete installation of a fire system from conception to Finnish. To fully understand how to install and service fire systems you need the knowledge of being an electrician and an electronics technician. But
most learning is on the job from people who have not been trained properly to begin with.
Just because you know how to wire a smoke detector does not mean you know how to properly run wiring and conduit to meet the Electrical Code, and this is where the problem begins with most of the schools you sit in class and watch the presentation but the hands on skills are not tested it being instead lead up to the people in the field teaching it who in many cases are not doing it right to begin with.
So now you can have a tech or installer with every license and certification card in his pocket and every class he can take and still has absolutely no idea how to properly install a fire system. I see it every day.
For beginners
Not once in any fire alarm class I have ever attended was the National Electrical Codes for fire alarms ever discussed or shown so you can wire a system totally wrong and unless an Electrical Inspector has checked it for accuracy you will never know it and neither will the Fire Inspector. Fire alarms should have an Electrical Inspection by an Electrical Inspector to make sure all wiring and piping complies with code and then is followed up by a fire system inspection to insure devices work.
But it does not work this way. Then you have electrical inspectors who want nothing to do with fire systems also because they consider it low voltage, which is fewer than 50 volts. And so what you have is a bunch of people running around saying they are certified technicians with cards which are totally worthless.
I challenge any code making or certifying organization of fire alarms to prove me wrong.
Of course they never will because they know what I am writing is the truth.
So should only Electricians install and electronics’ techs service and program well that’s what many in the industry suggest because there are very few individuals like myself who are cross trained in both electrical and electronics.
I estimate up to as many as 70+ % of fire alarms systems are improperly installed .Based on what I have observed in the 30 + years of work experience I have working as a trouble shooter.
So what about the Fire Inspectors same thing there not electricians or techs they know how to pull a manual station and make sure horns sound but they do not have the knowledge to know what goes on inside the system unless they have taken an interest and been shown by some one like myself what to look for.
Only 2 times in 2 communities did I see a comprehensive inspection the one I live in Penn Hills and in Wilkinsburg Pa.

The other day I caught a very large mid regional integration company that used orange extension cord wire inside a wall to power a fire system at a residential facility for at risk youth and when the individuals who installed it came down with the installation manager he tried to tell me it was OK to use this type of wire. I then pulled out the NEC code book I keep in my truck and showed him why it was wrong and he tried to tell me since fire alarms are class II wiring systems Fire alarms do not follow NEC . Wrong.
But there you go the lead guy in charge of a multimillion dollar integration company who has no idea what he does are how to install a fire alarm yet they are installing every day in Schools, Malls, hospitals, colleges etc.
Feel safe I would not be.
There are so many things that can and do go wrong when Fire systems are installed it would curl your hair.
But until the tragedy happens and a full investigation is conducted it is too late.
So what is the industry doing to make sure everyone is properly trained ? Not a dam thing.
So we keep turning out certified individuals who have absolutely no idea there installing incorrectly.
And leave it up to the courts and experts to fight it out when the lawsuits get filed.

What could be done to correct it.
To begin with incorporate all the extra codes sections you need into one code book instead of having to reference 5 different books and make the code readable at a 12th grade or lower level not in engineering language. And make the codes affordable. I would also insist on electrical inspections as well.
But of course until more people die nothing will be done and major court awards will continue.

In my next article I will talk about sprinkler systems and the total panacea for 100% public safety the fire service is trying to make them out for which they are not.
I will discuss a $4million dollar restaurant where a sprinkler system was inspected passed and then failed and $250,000. in damage resulted Sprinklers have big issues too.
And this is another case where a system never should have been passed and inspectors need to loose there jobs..

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