Fire Side Chat: How to Sell Code-Compliant Fire/Life Safety

An important part of what makes fire/life-safety systems easy to sell is that municipal and county governments, by way of sanctioned building departments and knowledgeable inspectors, have established laws or ordinances mandating their installation and maintenance. This includes fire alarm systems, sprinklers, emergency lighting, and other life-safety systems—all in accordance with established national codes and standards.

For all intents and purposes, the firms and individuals that sell and install fire alarm systems enjoy a captive audience. If it were not for local competition and the likelihood of out-of-town firms hungry for work, there would be very little to stand before them and a sale once a proposal is submitted. This is because these systems are required in new buildings. Although this does not guarantee an easy, quick sale every time, it does provide “opportunity” for those who understand how to market and sell fire alarm systems.

This month, we’ll take a look at some of the things that make fire/life safety a great moneymaker. We’ll also examine the procedures behind procuring bid opportunities and how jobs are developed and managed once the job is awarded. This includes tips on how to obtain recurring revenue opportunities before and after the sale is made.

Selling the Life-Safety Concept

Everyone wants to be safe and to this end laws are created based on statistical evidence, established safety practices, well developed and tested standards, and the historical data that comes after tragedies have taken place. Section 1.1.2, “Danger to Life from Fire,” NFPA 101, “addresses those construction, protection, and occupancy features necessary to minimize danger to life from the effects of fire, including smoke, heat, and toxic gases created during a fire.”

The laws that come from such intense study seek to establish minimum standards and requirements that everyone must meet when they intend to install a low-voltage life-safety system in a new building. These are factors that can be used to help justify a prospect’s investment in a fire/life-safety solution.

Before you can sell a client on an expensive fire alarm system, you must know whether one is required by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). You also must know the details behind what the local AHJ requires. You can do that by referring to NFPA 101, Chapters 11 through 42, 2009 Edition, or by consulting with the AHJ before you start the project.

The “use group” officially assigned to the building(s) is what ultimately determines if a fire alarm system is required. In addition, the same classification determines to what extent the designer is required to go.

The official use group is petitioned by a licensed, qualified architect. You will find a list of use groups in NFPA 101 as well as the International Fire Code (IFC), which is developed and published by the International Code Council (ICC). The use group designation you will need to know includes the following, per Chapter 3, IBC/ICC:

Group A: Assembly

Group B: Business

Group E: Educational

Group F: Factory

Group H: High-Hazard

Group I: Institutional

Group M: Mercantile

Group R: Residential

Group S: Storage

Group U: Utility and Miscellaneous

It’s also important to realize that not all states utilize NFPA 101 as the basis for their local building codes. Ohio, for example, uses IFC in the making of the Ohio Building Code (OBC), formerly referred to as the Ohio Basic Building Code (OBBC).

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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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