Checking Your Work Saves Everyone From Grief

There is no greater sin in the fire detection industry than a fire technician who fails to check his work.

Only a small percentage of technicians fail to do so; but, unfortunately, that is all it takes to give the fire industry a bloody nose for many years to come. Even more unfortunate is the fact that it is the end user that ends up paying an even greater price.

Rushing Can Lead to Errors

Many years ago, like most of you, I crawled attics, crawl spaces and ascended ladders while installing every aspect of a fire alarm system. I know how easy it is to replace a smoke detector and leave the premises without checking it. I understand how hard managers press for production and how easy it is to rationalize the idea of packing up and moving on to the next job or service call.

I also know how easy it is to make mistakes – mistakes that can only be corrected if the installer or service tech takes the time to check system operation.

Sloppy Work Can Be Costly

According to Nick Markowitz, owner of Markowitz Electric Protection in Verona, Pa., an alarm company recently told officials at a hospital in the greater Pittsburgh area that their alarm panel was defective when it actually was not. Believing that assessment, a second dealer came along and sold them an entirely new fire alarm system. But during the installation, the tampers on the sprinkler system were miswired. There also was a ground fault in the system.

“The installing company then returned to repair it, but its technician did not have the necessary skills or test equipment. For example, he did not have a meter; but, if he had, he would have quickly found his miswire and ground fault,” says Markowitz. “So, what did this second alarm dealer do? He tried to sell the hospital a new panel when the problem was so simple and easy to fix.”

Some Dealers Should Be Ashamed

A college dormitory, in which yearly fire inspections were to be conducted, serves as another example of impatience and a poor work ethic.

According to Markowitz, “The client was paying for annual inspections, but in the one building where the residents slept, the [fire detection devices in the] entire back half of the building were never hooked up. Every year, this installer came through and said he did a test on this building when he simply could not have done so. I found that out of 50 smoke detectors, at least 20 had been omitted.”

Little Things Can Mask Big Issues

I have my own example of poor workmanship to share regarding a combination burglar/fire alarm system in a residence.

While adding additional burglar alarm devices to the combination system, I found that the fire loop had not been connected to the control panel. This is when the homeowner spoke up and mentioned the fire in the kitchen that did not set the fire alarm off.

Completing my work that morning, I connected the fire loop and went about my business. Later that evening, the client called to tell me that, by early afternoon, the fire alarm had gone off.

The next morning, I visited the house and found out that the original installer must have placed 135° fixed thermostats in the attic, instead of the customary high-temperature models. The system looked as though it had never worked properly before, and the installer walked away from the job knowing it.

System Changes Require Testing

NFPA 72 describes how acceptance tests are to be conducted in newly installed fire alarm systems. In section 7-1.6.1 it simply says, “All new systems shall be inspected and tested in accordance with the requirements of Chapter 7.”

Reacceptance tests are also required when you add or remove any portion of the system, such as a smoke detector or heat sensor, as well as when the system hardware is altered or wiring is changed in some manner. Another condition under which a reacceptance test must be performed involves alterations or replacement of software.

“All components, circuits, systems operation, or site-specific software functions known to be affected by the change or identified by a means that indicates the system operational changes shall be 100-percent tested. In addition, 10 percent of initiating devices that are not directly affected by the change, up to a maximum of 50 devices, also shall be tested, and correct system operation shall be verified. A revised record of completion in accordance with 1-6.2.1 shall be prepared to reflect any changes” (Section 7-, 1999 Edition).

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