It’s Time to Stop ‘Shifty’ Contract Practices

With free or low-cost installations, a code-compliant system will dramatically increase objections to purchasing due to the increased costs incurred.

Many alarm contractors attempt to circumvent NFPA 72 and shift their responsibilities onto unsuspecting consumers in their installation agreements. This inexcusable practice has to stop. The alarm industry is required to comply with a comprehensive scheme of regulations, which includes but is not limited to the states-adopted fire code that refers to NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

Take this scenario: A fire occurred in a home, and it is alleged that the life-safety/fire alarm system failed to operate as intended and represented by the alarm company. Consequently, the damages sustained from this claim are based upon two persons being seriously injured by the fire and it is alleged that the alarm contractor’s failure to comply with NFPA 72 was the most significant proximate cause of the damages sustained because a) there was not a sufficient quantity of smoke detectors installed throughout the home and b) the audibility of the alarm system failed to meet NFPA 72’s minimum and mandatory audibility requirements as prescribed in NFPA 72.

Therefore, the occupants were not alerted to the fire in its early warning states so they could escape before the premises became untenable. In its defense, the alarm company attempts to utilize its alarm contract and protective language in the agreement to help limit its liability. However, before the salesperson ever visited subscriber’s home to conduct its security survey, this contractor — and many others in the industry — have started to incorporate language into their preprinted installation and monitoring contracts that purposefully shifts one of its core duties onto consumers — being in compliance with NFPA 72.

Why would any alarm contractor not want to comply with NFPA 72? One of the reasons companies do not want to install code-compliant fire alarm system systems is because with free or low-cost installations, a code-compliant system will dramatically increase objections to purchasing due to the increased costs incurred. Also, technicians will need to address the minimum and mandatory audibility requirements set forth in NFPA 72, which is commonly not met with household fire alarm system installations.

With the fabricated premise of a “supplementary” fire alarm system, there is a false belief that “the alarm company’s legal counsel’s inserted language” will dramatically limit the alarm company’s liability and also insulate it from cases and claims of serious personal injury and/or death, and/or property damage as a result of claims of defects and irregularities in the fire alarm system they are installing. It’s not unique to find claims being made against alarm contractors alleging the fire alarm system was not properly designed and installed and that there was no warning provided and/or that the “fire alarm system” did not provide an early warning to occupants of the home.

Dangerous to Dismiss NFPA & Other Code Compliance

We must never forget that NFPA 72 is a minimum standard, and if all an alarm contractor must do to circumvent NFPA 72 or another adopted code and standard is just add language into their agreement that says it is not the alarm contractor’s duty to comply with NFPA 72, then why adopt NFPA 72 across the United States and what life-safety purpose does NFPA 72 serve? Given that, authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) must take action to prohibit this deceptive maneuvering.

Here is another example of verbiage that relate to this improper conduct: I consent to (the alarm company’s) use of these measures and agree that the alarm system has not been designed, programmed, or installed pursuant to any law, code or rule that may be applicable to my particular premises, including, but not limited to, any code provisions of the National Fire Protection Association or the International Residential Code. How and why would any licensed alarm company knowingly admit in writing that they are not going to comply with any law, code, provision or rule of NFPA or IRC as part of their pattern and practice of alarm contracting? Why would any alarm contractor state that NFPA 72 and/or IRC may be applicable to the design, programming, and installation of a fire alarm system? It not only defies logic and fire alarm science, but it is foreseeably dangerous. And it doesn’t stop there.

In another paragraph of the agreement, it states in part: The (alarm contractor) has explained to me the full range of equipment and services that the (alarm contractor) can provide to me. How can an alarm contractor “represent” that they have explained the full range of equipment and services to consumers without including a code-compliant fire alarm system in their explanation?

Surely, fire danger in the home and the known life-safety benefits of a code-compliant system are mission critical and undisputed for all families. When a fire alarm system complies with NFPA 72, the professional and technical community of the alarm industry knows. Meanwhile, no consumer can be expected to know NFPA 72, and that’s one of the crucial duties certified and licensed alarm contractors are required to know and adhere to before they can become authorized, certified, and licensed.

Are Your Devices Really ‘Supplemental’?

Here’s a paragraph of the alarm contractor’s agreement that puts the ball in the consumers’ court: I have (being the consumer) sole responsibility for complying with any and all codes, laws and standards that may apply to the installation. In gross contrast to this preprinted text is that when a consumer contracts with a certified and licensed alarm contractor, there is a reasonable expectation that the alarm specialty contractors(s) will have the requisite education, skills, knowledge, training, and experience to be fully qualified to provide the services that they offer to the public.

If we were to apply this pattern to the electrical industry, agreements would state that it is the consumer’s responsibility to know the National Electrical Code (NEC). In the simplest terms, this attempt to circumvent and shift statutory duties onto consumers is nothing less than deceptive. I’ve got one more example amplifying this egregious pattern and practice of improperly manipulating NFPA 72. The agreement states: Any smoke and/or carbon monoxide detectors described in this contract are supplemental devices only and are not intended to be part of a primary fire alarm or carbon monoxide detection system. Notably, no alarm contractor can just unilaterally declare in writing that everything they are providing for fire alarm and carbon monoxide systems is supplementary.

The code already prohibits this declaration as only the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) can make this determination, and in doing so, he/she must declare in writing that the fire alarm system is supplementary … or it’s not. In other words, despite alarm contractors having the duty to comply with NFPA 72’s regulations as part of their statutory duties and its licensing regulations, the language that’s been added into these agreements purposefully attempts to shift fire code duties onto consumers who would never be expected to know and interpret NFPA 72 and/or the requirements set forth within all relevant chapters. The audacity of directly and overtly taking the position that its acceptable to circumvent NFPA 72 and in doing so, this act through its writings which are subsumed in an alarm agreement, eliminate alarm contractor liability is conduct that smack of intentional wrongdoing. The practice of inserting language into an agreement to circumvent statutory duties and shift universally recognized responsibilities onto unsuspecting consumers and companies is one that does not minimize liability at all; instead, it dramatically increases it.

Treacherously, this conduct is done at the expense of consumers who hired the alarm contractor to help protect their family and/or business from the very threats of an emergency that a code-compliant fire alarm system is technically designed to focus on. At the same time, these persons reasonably relied on the alarm contractor to ensure that the fire alarm systems that they purchased from it complied with all codes and standards that make up the framework of why compliant NFPA 72 fire alarm systems help save lives or minimize serious personal injury via early warning detection. If alarm contractors continue to use these improper methods, consumers will repeatedly be lured into a real false sense of security.


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About the Author


Jeffrey D. Zwirn, CPP, CFPS, CFE, FACFEI, CHS-IV, SET, CCI, FASI&T, MBAT, writes Security Sales & Integration’s “Security Science” column. He is also president of IDS Research and Development, an alarm and security consultation, expert witness and training authority providing nationwide services on all issues related to alarm and security matters. He can be reached at 800-353-0733.

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