The May issue of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION includes my exclusive and in-depth interview with Gary Lederer, business leader of Honeywell Life Safety, Fire Solutions, Americas. In this bonus blog post from my lengthy discussion with Lederer, the industry veteran shares his thoughts on how installing fire systems contractors can find success in the marketplace, as well as issues surrounding false fire alarms.
With the installing fire systems contractor in mind, what vertical market opportunities do you see currently?
Infrastructure. Around the world and especially in the U.S., most of our facilities were built 40-50 years ago. Our infrastructure is showing its age — airports, ports, rail stations, depots of any sort. All these segments are being refurbished and there is money available for these projects. People recognize that in order for commerce to continue to evolve you need the mobility of people and products.
Then health care, I think the aging of the population, nursing homes, hospital facilities, medical centers. Even though, again, a lot of it is government funded, I think we’ll see more private industry pick up. I think the more leisure type facilities like hotels, resorts, probably won’t see as much expansion in the near term. People aren’t traveling as much. There is this uncertainty over which direction the economy is going, and while people haven’t eliminated travel they have cut back on it.
How do fire systems contractors need to prepare themselves for success going forward?
It’s being able to attract and retain qualified technical people and how do we as an industry go about making sure there’s sufficient people available, not just for my customer base but the industry in general. How one goes, we all go, basically. It’s about having technically competent people in the industry. Secondly, as an industry we need to make sure we provide our installers with equipment that is fit for the purpose and utilizes the latest technology. It has to be robust.
Honeywell acquired the Gamewell business several years ago. Gamewell started over 100 years ago with the corner post [fire alert] stations. Somebody would run down the street and open the box and pull the alarm. If they hadn’t evolved to modern technology they would have gone out of business long ago. But again, everybody has to stay up-to-date with technology. There’s a lot of information [and training sessions] out there and I think the challenge is going to be to discriminate what is of real value and what is nice to attend but you could probably use your time better elsewhere.
Do you have some advice for an installing security dealer who wants to explore the potential for offering fire system services?
They would need to have some people on staff who have gone through the NICET training. That would give them a better understanding and better training and grounding for installation and operation of a fire alarm system. It’s quite intensive. You have detector spacing issues, you have placement issues of detectors. It’s just not putting in a fire system, stringing the wire, and putting the detectors haphazardly. There are code regulations for what detector to use where. It’s pretty intensive. It’s not costly at all. It’s an open-book test still, but it forces you to learn the codes, learn the application of a system. And the operability and what to do, essentially.
Step two, a lot of installers are probably already using either conventional or addressable systems. An addressable system is a communication so you know which detector went off. But the intelligent system, which the engineered systems distributors typically use, send all sorts of information to the panel in terms of obscuration, of sensitivity, and if it’s starting to get dirty, maintenance schedules. A lot of information comes through the panel. It’s a different world than a conventional system. They would need to understand those systems.
Installing security dealers and integrators should also be looking at service and maintenance opportunities. That’s where the value for their business is. I need these guys to install my equipment because that’s the only time I make revenue and can earn my salary. But for them, the value they’re adding for their business is really the service and maintenance contracts they have in place. Many dealers are small businessmen, who may be family-owned businesses or sole proprietors. They’re building something of value. The value is the service and maintenance because if somebody was looking to buy their business and it’s only a project business or install business, there’s not a lot of value. If they have an existing service and maintenance base and they have competent people trained and understand the business, that’s a value and somebody will pay for that. If they’re looking to create value in their business, they need a combination of the two. They need the project side, which will feed the service side.
What part can Honeywell play in helping mitigate false alarms beyond engineering and manufacturing of products?
We’re actively involved in industry trade associations where we believe the emphasis needs to be placed. It’s not a one-company issue. It’s an industry issue. Industry awareness programs really come out of industry associations because they’re viewed as neutral. If the manufacturer did that, there’s always the thought they’re doing it for a profit motive and are trying to sell their own systems. We’re very active in industry trade associations. We are active in training our customer base on installation and operation of our equipment. It’s not always the equipment that is the issue. It could be a poor installation, either unknowing, or trying to get the job done quickly. Just proper installation techniques.
Products in certain applications are very important. In homes people typically disconnect the smoke alarm that’s near a kitchen. For example, when they’re cooking a roast the smoke can set off the alarm. That’s a detector placement issue. You can put the detector somewhere else and avoid that all together. Proper training in system installation, system commissioning is very important. I’d like to think we can get 100% elimination of nuisance alarms, but unfortunately every circumstance is different. You’re going to have nuisance alarms. It’s just a matter of trying to reduce the number of them and continue to focus on it.
Rodney Bosch | Managing Editor