A Review of Training Required to Install Fire Alarm Systems

Fire safety expert Shane Clary delves into training and certifications required to install fire alarm systems, as well as where to obtain them.

This month’s article is dedicated to the memory of George P. Gunning, who recently passed away. You may have known of Gunning or worked with him within the Electronic Security Association (ESA).

I worked with Gunning, a U.S. Navy veteran, on several projects within California via the California Alarm Association (CAA) and the California Automatic Fire Alarm Association (CAFA).

For the past 20 years I worked with him on the formulation and then operation of the Western Burglar & Fire Alarm Association Unilateral Training Committee (WBFAA UATC), which serves as a testament to his vision on industry training.

Speaking of training, it’s a fitting topic this month.

States Carry Certification & Apprenticeship Rules

The WBFAA UATC formed as a result of several laws passed within California that required all who worked within the state on electrical systems of greater than 100VA be certified through the California Department of Industrial Relations.

The law also required individuals who were new to the industry be in a state-approved apprentice program. The approving agency within California is the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards.

At the time the law passed, there was no merit shop program. While there were many who assisted in the development of the WBFAA UATC and in the obtaining of the required approvals, Gunning led the charge to see the approval through, while at the same time being in the leadership of the ESA and being a partner of USA Alarms.

I do not believe that the program would have been approved without his guidance. Depending on the state(s) in which you operate your business, there are various requirements for training and certification before one may work on a fire alarm system.

A number of other states require that an individual go through an apprenticeship program, which includes both classroom academic study as well as on-the-job training under the direct supervision of an experienced journeyman electrician or technician.

Other states require that the individual be certified through NICET or the ESA and their programs. These I have discussed in past articles. In some states one even requires first to go through an apprentice program and then to also obtain one of the certifications that are provided through these two organizations.

NFPA Also Outlines Work Requirements

Even if you should operate in a state that has no license requirements for the installation of fire alarm systems, there are still the requirements found within NFPA 72, “National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code,” that mandate each person who works on a fire alarm system be able to demonstrate a level of competence through their qualifications.

Within the 2016 edition of NFPA 72, the requirements are found in section 10.5.2, “System Installer,” covering said qualifications: Fire alarm systems and emergency communications systems installation personnel shall be qualified or shall be supervised by persons who are qualified in the installation, inspection, and testing of the systems. State or local licensure regulations shall be followed to determine qualified personnel. Personnel shall provide documentation of their qualification by one or more of the following:

     (1) Registration, licensing, or certification by a state or local authority

     (2) Certification by an organization acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction

     (3) Manufacturer’s certification for the specific type and brand of system provided System installation trainees shall be under the supervision of a qualified system installer. The system installer shall provide evidence of their qualifications and/or certifications when requested by the authority having jurisdiction.

Similar requirements are found within earlier editions as well as the 2019 edition. There are also requirements of a similar nature for those that design, service, test and inspect and program fire alarm systems.

No matter which state that you may operate within, training is an essential component of any fire alarm system, for the system is only as good as the manner in which it was installed.

I did not agree with Gunning on everything, but one area in which we were in sync was the notion that everyone who worked on a fire alarm system needed to be properly trained and then maintain that knowledge through continuing education.

There are many programs available, both in the classroom setting and online. These are not limited to: NFPA, ESA, Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA) and Fire Suppression Systems Association (FSSA).

Systems that are installed and maintained by trained and qualified installers and service personnel will have less issues during the installation, have a lower chance of having unwanted alarms and operate for a longer time.

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About the Author


Shane Clary, Ph.D., is Security Sales & Integration’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist. He has more than 37 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is vice president of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pancheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.

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One response to “A Review of Training Required to Install Fire Alarm Systems”

  1. Israel Munoz says:

    Good afternoon, I’m a licensed apprentice electrician and would to work in the fire alarm / security field. My question is, what are the restrictions for obtaining a state license I would like to further my technical background. Thank you.

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