If you are the manager of facilities for multiple locations, you have probably been frustrated by the complexity of Fire and Life Safety, and you’ve probably found there is little information or advice on how to maintain it while managing costs effectively across all of your locations. To help you better understand and deal with these complexities, this article is devoted to discussions on this topic, where we’ll explore the many concerns and considerations that surround Fire and Life Safety and its cost in this distinctly regulated activity. By delving into the many facets that drive you to make decisions, we hope to help you make the right ones. Let’s start by addressing the regulations, called Fire Codes.
Since there are no federal codes that regulate Fire and Life Safety, each state comes up with their own. Although every state bases their Fire Code on the model codes developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Codes Council (ICC), many states often adopt different versions of NFPA and ICC, leading to variances in codes. If you manage the outsourcing of service for your own Fire and Life Safety equipment, at your locations, in more than one state, you already know what a headache and time-consuming effort it is to keep track of each state’s Fire Code as well as the periodic updates to those codes.
Costs of Service Management
For national or regional companies with multiple locations, it is often a struggle to manage the servicing and upkeep of the Fire and Life Safety equipment. It boils down to managing costs at multiple locations that all have different vendors and local rules. And it is not just equipment cost. You need to balance equipment cost, while also adhering to the code requirements, and if possible, maintain a consistent level of quality of service. At first glance, it does not appear that it should be that difficult. But if you have ever compared the Fire Codes and vendors that perform the servicing of safety equipment, or dealt with the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), you know that almost nothing is consistent.
Since cost is such a big factor in most business decisions, we will discuss code compliance and consistency of service along with cost, keeping in mind that the codes, service consistency, and costs are almost always intertwined.
For many companies with multiple locations, they might have the same fire extinguisher types, the same fire alarm systems, and similar piping configurations for fire sprinkler systems in all locations. But the service intervals and menu of items being serviced varies greatly. You might question how this is possible and wonder why there is no consistency in service.
Fire and Life Safety equipment and systems are highly regulated by Fire Codes. To assess whether the variances are in compliance with local codes and reasonable, you would need a code expert on staff or hire a fire protection engineer to provide a review and analysis. But if there are big variances in inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) of fire equipment and systems, it is due to a misinterpretation or even a lack of understanding of the applicable Fire Code requirements. Many independent local servicing companies should be relying on the expertise of code specialists, but for a variety of reasons, they decide not to seek assistance. That is often why the servicing intervals and menu of items being serviced varies greatly from location to location.
Knowing the AHJ
AHJ stands for the Authority Having Jurisdiction. The AHJ, for many businesses, is the fire inspector that works for the local fire department. He or she is charged with enforcing the state Fire Code to keep the community safe. You might also be opening a new location or expanding one of your properties. For those activities, the AHJ would be the local building inspector that uses the local or state building code for enforcement. But depending on the amount of construction, other AHJs could be the electrical inspector (electrical code) or the plumbing inspector (plumbing code). Another common AHJ is a representative of your property insurance company. Insurance companies often have teams of inspectors that visit properties, make safety recommendations, and adjust insurance premiums based on what they find during their inspections.
Service Technician Qualifications
If you are managing multiple locations, in several states, you will likely be dealing with a variety of Fire and Life Safety service companies. One thing to remember is that all technicians need to be qualified to work on this equipment and systems. Although it is possible for a technician to have many skills, certifications, and licenses, more often than not, technicians have the knowledge, skills, and training that is limited to one specialty (you do not want a fire sprinkler technician working on a fire alarm system). But what might not be so obvious is a technician trained on sprinkler piping is likely not trained to work on restaurant fire system piping. That is because fire sprinkler systems are engineered and the work must comply with NFPA 13 (installations) and NFPA 25 (ITM). Restaurant systems are pre-engineered and the work must comply with NFPA 17A (wet chemical systems), NFPA 96 (commercial cooking fire protection) and the system manufacturer’s manuals.
If you have a technician performing service on your fire sprinkler system, make sure he is a qualified sprinkler technician with the local certifications and licenses. Similarly, make sure your restaurant system technician has the right training and certifications to work on those specialized pre-engineered systems.
Not only does this make practical sense, but you do not want to share the liability for a service company that allows unqualified individuals to perform work that could result in property damage, injuries and possibly fatalities.
© 2020 Commercial Fire.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the above blog are the author’s only and provide limited information. Although the information is believed to be reliable, Commercial Fire, LLC expressly disclaims any liability for errors or omissions. The user of this article is responsible for verifying the information’s accuracy from all available sources. The authority having jurisdiction should be contacted for code interpretations.