Editorial by Frank Kurz
“Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you!” -- Old Proverb
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -- Socrates
“You must unlearn what you have learned!” -- Frank Oz (Yoda) in Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Vancouver, British Columbia – When I first saw CFAA’s new annual inspection estimator tool my first thought was:
Cool! What a great idea!
Everyone I talked to from the East to the West coast all agreed that the inspection calculator was the “cat’s meow” and would make it easier for building owners and property managers to understand the reason behind the often high costs involved in their building’s annual fire alarm inspection.
But does it?
“ATTENTION ALL BUILDING MANAGERS - Have you ever wondered how to estimate the time to conduct an annual fire alarm inspection as described in CAN/ULC S536-04 ‘Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems’ ?” – (CFAA Website)
When you click on the link to open the calculator, it lists all of the devices you would normally find in a fire alarm system. What you’re supposed to do is enter the number of each type of device that’s listed (and installed in your building), then select the “difficulty level” (based on ceiling height), and “voila” – the system calculates the number of man hours it should take to perform your annual inspection. Wow!
But how accurate is the calculator?
How accurate can it be when it’s MISSING calculations involving several key devices that the Inspection Standard (CAN/ULC-S536-04), upon which it’s supposedly based, requires you to test?
Where does the calculator mention end-of-line resistor testing (required by Section 5.7.11)?
Where does the calculator mention data loop fault isolator testing (required by Sections 5.6.2 and 5.6.3)?
What about testing of signal circuit isolators used in suites of a residential (or care) occupancy? Their installation has been mandated for several years in many communities across Canada.
Where does the calculator mention testing of in-suite signal appliances (buzzers)? (Updated June 15, 2013)
Are these not all fire alarm devices and critical components of any modern supervised fire alarm system? Apparently CFAA doesn’t think so. In fact, their response to my concerns amounted to nothing short of what you would term “an official brush-off”.
Note: Please refer to our Inspection FAQ’s for information on the proper testing of the devices I’ve mentioned above.
What about local smoke alarms? While their testing is not mandated in the referenced Standard, some building owners and managers expect them to be tested concurrent to the fire alarm devices in many condominiums and residential high-rises (a factor could even be included for the time to change batteries).
So, how exactly does a professional association responsible for technician certification across Canada (with the exception of some municipalities in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia) justify the promotion of a calculator that promises to “estimate the time to conduct an annual fire alarm inspection as described in CAN/ULC-S536-04” but doesn’t? I really can’t answer that. Do the technicians they certify simply NOT TEST these devices and are building owners/managers not supposed to know they exist?
In the words of one individual who took the time to respond to the concerns I voiced shortly after the estimator debuted on the website: “Thanks Frank…. The idea was to give FA inspection Purchasers a rough idea of what the Minimum amount of time would be required to do an inspection (not a maximum). Accuracy wasn’t the intention; just the knowledge to avoid drive-by inspection services.”
So. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I’ll embark on this witty (some would doubtless say questionable) rejoinder…
Inspection Purchasers (by this I think he means building owners and managers)… Please! Use the calculator to figure out the time it takes for a “drive by inspection service” to perform the annual test in your building. When a legitimate agency approaches you with pricing based on an hourly rate that factors in the proper testing of the fire alarm system in accordance with the Standard for Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems (CAN/ULC-S536-04), tell them to take a hike! You have a responsibility to manage your costs and any fire equipment service company that’s going to charge you for up to as much as an extra day for the proper testing you’ve been getting from “Mr. Fly-By-Night Fire and Safety Services Inc.” should be shown the door. And hopefully it will hit ‘em in the ass on their way out!
In other words, in its present form, the estimator could be used to demonstrate the time it would take to perform an improper annual test, certainly NOT a proper one.
Am I na´ve in believing that organizations like the CFAA are supposed to be promoting PROPER inspection practices? I don’t think I am! Their website’s main page clearly states: “Our mission is to maximize the effectiveness and use of fire alarm systems in the protection of life and property in Canada.”
If we are to “maximize the effectiveness and use of fire alarm systems” I think it behooves all fire equipment service professionals (that don’t happen to work for “drive-by inspection services”) to assist building owners and managers in understanding that one of the many reasons their costs continue to rise equates directly to the technological advances being made (almost daily) that help safeguard mission critical communications and infrastructure. It is the reason Standards and Codes are continuously under scrutiny and development. The failure of an entire data loop for instance, is not an option when Codes and Standards mandate employing protective devices to ensure survivability of the system as a whole, and ultimately the safety and security of those we love and cherish. It goes without saying that regular (and comprehensive) testing of these devices is crucial.
The changes required in the testing and verification of fire alarm systems should have been addressed in CFAA’s latest symposium (held on May 31, 2013) particularly since the “06” version of the Installation Standard has been mandated in Ontario for several years prior to its inclusion in the latest release of the Building Code. CFAA has been largely silent on this critical issue which happens to impact the very individuals they train and certify. It’s interesting to note, however, that the new inspection estimating tool was prominently featured at the seminar!
CFAA has really fumbled this ball. I hope they recover it before the “drive-by inspectors” take over and win the game in the second half.
As always, I welcome your comments. Please feel free to contact me!
UPDATE! - We launch our very own Building Life Safety Inspection Calculator!
May’s Editorial makes for interesting reading.
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Received June 19, 2013 via Comment Form Submission:
“Instead of going after CFAA who arguably have the best fire protection courses in the business, why don't you go after the real culprit..... ASTT for basically certifying untrained technicians. I have been in this business 25 years, and have never even seen an ASTT staff member in a building. They sure are quick to money grab their ridiculous fee every year, and send credit card applications at any opportunity....you've got the wrong scape goat here.”
“Your comment is very interesting. ASTTBC didn’t publish the bogus inspection calculator and, believe me, if they had I would have expressed the same concerns to them. The editorial you’re commenting on was published fully a month after the calculator first appeared and after a number of emails were exchanged. What really bothers me is that CFAA should be promoting proper inspection practice, yet feature a calculator at the May 31st Seminar that is flawed in so many ways. They had the perfect opportunity to address a far more important issue, the proper testing of fire alarm devices now mandated in CAN/ULC-S524-06. We have Inspection and Verification Standards that are based on the “01” version of the Installation Standard, yet the “06” version has been mandatory in Ontario for years and is now mandated in NBC.
I hear what you’re saying about ASTTBC. It’s something that’s been expressed to me by a number of individuals. The PRB currently has a number of technician complaints they’re dealing with. ASTTBC has a process through which their technicians are held to account. CFAA does not. ASTTBC has done little with regard to providing the “continuing technician education” they promised whereas CFAA regularly features a number of technical seminars across Canada (to my mind they’re way too pricey and more would likely attend if it didn’t cost so much). CFAA has much deeper pockets because they accept CORPORATE Membership and advertising revenue. ASTTBC simply doesn’t have the revenue to support their members as they would like but I happen to know that this is something which Brian Stegavig (and a number of others) is working hard towards remedying. I’m just as frustrated as you are because they’ve had over fourteen years to get their house in order. If you take the time to look back, more than a few editorials (and news articles) have been critical of ASTTBC as well.
I’d like to add your voice to the debate, but won’t include your name or contact info. Both these organizations need to hear what their members are saying.
This is probably NOT what you wanted in the way of a response, but there it is.
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