Getting Started in Educational Life Safety Systems – Part One

Marco Cardazzi

On October 10th In Fire, System Sales Tips & Marketing Concepts
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If your traditional business is the installation of intrusion and video surveillance systems, you might be missing a golden opportunity if you don’t include life safety projects in your business plan. There are hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on fire alarm, mass notification, panic systems, and other technologies by all types of educational facilities from pre-schools to graduate colleges. Because many of these facilities are publicly funded, they may have the financing available to purchase these systems while private enterprises may not have the budget for new systems or upgrades.

Before getting into the life safety business, there are a number of very important issues that an installation company must address or consider before taking the plunge. Let’s take a look at a few key topics:

  1. Legal issues – before providing life safety systems prudent contractors would carefully review their standard contracts, limits of liability, and insurance coverages. It would be best to have an industry-knowledgeable attorney and insurance carrier verify that your paperwork and coverages are on solid ground before you proceed.
  2. Licensing requirements – different states, and in some cases different cities, may have specific certification requirements to which life safety contractors must be in compliance. For example, many states require fire alarm technicians to carry the NICET (National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies) Fire Alarm Systems certification. It is possible that you may need to only have your “lead” technician be certified for the NICET rating, or the state/municipality may require all technicians be certified. It’s critical to understand and meet the requirements for technician certifications.
  3. State licensing – along with the individual certifications discussed above, many states and some municipalities also require that installation companies carry a valid state license. If you are currently licensed to install intrusion and CCTV systems that license may also provide the legal right to install life safety systems. You need to check with your state board to verify their requirements.
  4. Understanding “required” and “non-required” life safety systems – simply put, a “required” system is one that is required by legal statute and falls under the direct approval of the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Generally, schools, hospitals, dormitories and hotels will fall into the “required” classification, along with any specialty manufacturing plants that use exotic, caustic, or explosive materials. “Non-required” systems are those that are purchased by the building owner/operator and are not required by statute. However, in some cases if a non-required life safety system is installed and monitored, it may then fall under the guidance of the AHJ.
  5. Authority Having Jurisdiction – the AHJ often is employed by the fire protection district or department, and has sole authority to approve or disapprove any required life safety system. It is very important to understand that the AHJ can and will either make or break your installations. When planning to start to sell life safety systems, smart installation companies will set an appointment with the AHJ to discuss their general requirements for life safety systems that are installed in their geographic area of responsibility. In particular it is important to determine which version of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) #72 standards that relate to fire alarms is currently approved. The latest version is NFPA 72 2013, but some AHJs may still be using older versions.

Once a positive relationship has been established with the AHJ, it’s likely your best practice is to have only one or two of your employees be the contact persons with the AHJ. They tend to become perturbed when they receive multiple phone calls on the same system/project from the same company. So appoint an AHJ representative in your company and let them work with that authority. Also, it would be a smart move to contact the AHJ when preparing a bid for a new or upgraded system, whether required or not. This pre-sale contact will show the AHJ that you respect their office and decisions and will follow their guidance.

There are a few more important business issues that installing dealers need to know about getting into the life safety business. In our next blog we will discuss them in detail. Click here for more reference information on fire protection and life safety solutions.