How to Help Reduce Unwanted Fire Alarms

Budget-strained Fire Departments can benefit from collaborating with alarm companies.

I recently attended the annual meeting of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), which was held on Marco Island, Fla.

Also in attendance as a guest of the CSAA was Chief John D. Sinclair of the Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue Fire Department, located in Washington.

Sinclair is the president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), an organization with which the CSAA has developed an excellent relationship over the years. During the past six years in particular, the major discussions have been revolving around the reduction of unwanted alarms.

While this topic has not gone away, the primary discussion points during at the CSAA meeting centered on training. Sinclair’s department, located a little more than 100 miles southeast of Seattle, is a combination department – in which there are both paid and volunteer fire fighters.

Other departments are either fully paid or volunteer. While metropolitan fire departments tend to be paid, those that serve rural and suburbia tend to be either combination or volunteer.

Build Relationships With Local Fire Contacts

Training at all levels is a concern, with the budgets of most fire departments these days stretched as far as a budget can be stretched.

Keeping that in mind, there are two areas that the fire alarm industry can assist in: the understanding of NFPA 72, The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, and the technology that is now used.

If you are in the fire alarm industry, you already have a relationship with the departments to which you submit plans. In some cases, this may be adversarial.

At Bay Alarm Co., the firm where I have worked for the past 33 years, we have contact with more than 200 different departments throughout California. Some we talk to on an almost daily basis and others maybe once or twice a year.

The level of understanding regarding fire alarm systems varies from department to department and from plan reviewer to plan reviewer. In most departments, the plans are either submitted to fire prevention or to the building department.

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While a few large departments do have plan checkers who specialize in fire alarm systems, most have to wear a variety of hats and be knowledgeable on a multitude of topics, to which fire alarm systems is only one.

For 25 years now, we have been conducting seminars with the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) within the market areas that we serve.

While the topics have been principally on fire alarms and NFPA 72, we have presented information on other relevant matters as well. The seminars are always company and product neutral. These seminars have also assisted us in strengthening our relationships with the various departments that we work with.

Stay Neutral & Earn Goodwill Through Training

With that as some background, let’s get back to Sinclair and some considerations regarding how your company might increase its role in the local fire jurisdiction.

Any education that can be provided on fire alarm systems would help the fire service, in particular with the volunteer departments. This is where the fire alarm industry can step in.

Depending on the market area you serve, hold training seminars on a semi-regular basis. As the majority of departments within our market areas are paid positions with full-time fire prevention bureaus, we run ours during the day-time with a lunch provided.

Our topics lean more toward a review of NFPA 72 or the California Fire Code as it relates to fire alarm systems. This would vary depending on your location. Sinclair expressed that for volunteer departments the training should be more on the technology and how the systems work, and what may cause an unwanted alarm.

Any education that can be provided on fire alarm systems would help the fire service, in particular with the volunteer departments. This is where the fire alarm industry can step in.

This training should also be more directed at a department level and conducted during an evening or Saturday.

Hands-on practice of how to operate a fire alarm control unit should be part of the exercise. The tricky part in providing this type of training is to be neutral. You are there to provide a service to the fire departments in your area and not to market your firm.

We have always provided our training as professional education. We also provide a certificate of attendance in which the “contact hours” are noted. Those contact hours can be used for their own education requirements.

While you need to be neutral, the benefit is your firm over time will be viewed as the one to contact when questions related to fire alarms may come up. When an issue with one of your submittals does arise, it is easier to talk to someone that you have met in a non-adversarial setting than not.

Of course, please note that you still may not prevail, but there may be more of an opportunity to reach a center ground. You and your staff really should make an effort to try to see the fire service from their vantage point.

Arrange to spend a day with either an engine company or the fire prevention bureau of a department. Remember that education is a two-way street.


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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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