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[Home] [2015 Editorials]

EDITORIAL

August 2015
 

CASE #13-36 - Public Safety in British Columbia (and Canada)

By Frank Kurz

“It’s dead, Jim.” -- DeForest Kelly (Dr. Leonard McCoy) in Star Trek

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.”  -- Ayn Rand

This is as true in everyday life as it is in battle: we are given one life and the decision is ours whether to wait for circumstances to make up our mind, or whether to act, and in acting, to live.”
-- Omar Nelson Bradley

“Don’t fear change.  Embrace it!”  -- Anthony J. D’Angelo

Vancouver, British Columbia - In recent months we have all been front row spectators to shocking revelations concerning the very public failure of key aspects of ASTTBC’s Fire Protection Certification Program.  Our June EXTRA! and an equally damning Editorial opened the eyes of the public and several local Authorities to the widespread failure of ASTTBC to not only provide the proper oversight for their registered technician members, but also spot-lighted a policy of hypocrisy which accepted technician malpractice and corporate malfeasance on an unprecedented scale as long as it didn’t impact the fiscal “bottom line”.

Witness the outcome of Case #13-36.

(From ASTTBC’s Fire Protection Case Summaries 2014)

    “STATEMENT OF COMPLAINT:

    That the respondent, a Registered Fire Protection Technician (RFPT), as Branch Manager of a Fire Protection Services business, provided an “authorised (sic) signature” on a Certificate of Verification, sanctioned a substandard Verification performed by an employee and approved the issue of Appendix “C” documentation on a non-compliant fire alarm installation.

    INVESTIGATION

    The above allegations, if found to be true, would be contrary to Principles 1 and 2 of the ASTTBC Code of Ethics and Practice Guidelines.

    The complaint initially focused on alleged errors in the fire alarm system verification report issued by the Respondent’s employee, and a Certificate of Verification that was signed by the Respondent.  The investigation determined that there is no formal requirement for such a Certificate.  It was also determined that the employee was an ASTTBC Registered Fie Protection Technician certified in several Fire Protection disciplines, but not certified in Verification of Fire Alarm Systems.  A similar complaint had been filed against the employee in the past in connection with an alarm system verification.  The PRB had provided recommendations for that complaint, which had been accepted by the employee.

    PRACTICER REVIEW BOARD RECOMMENDATIONS:

    The present complaint caused the PRB to express a concern for public safety, as it was not known how many fire alarm systems verifications had been conducted by Technicians of the Respondent’s Fire Protection Services business without the appropriate required certification to do so.  Therefore, the PRB recommended that the Respondent submit to the Registrar, a list of all fire alarm system verifications done by the business’ employees in municipalities with a bylaw requiring ASTTBC certification, and who were not certified by ASTTBC in Fire Alarm Verifications (VI).  The list would then be forward by the Registrar to the respective Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

    OUTCOME:
     

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    The Respondent did not accept the PRB recommendations.  Instead, the Respondent met with the Registrar and the Fire Protection Compliance Officer (FPCO), to obtain clarification with respect to the Verification of Fire Alarm Systems (VI) discipline, as well as the complaint itself.

    In the meanwhile, the ASTTBC Council approved a recommendation from the Fire Protection Certification Board (FPCB) to hold applications for the VI discipline in abeyance, while the Fire Protection Certification Policy for VI discipline is under review.

    Since the Fire Protection Certification Policy for the VI discipline is being reviewed and requires revision due to significant changes in the technology used to design, operate and inspect modern fire alarm systems that have an impact on the criteria for certifying technicians in the VI discipline, the complaint against the Respondent was dismissed and the file was closed.”

Let’s review the qualification requirements for a technician engaged in conducting a fire alarm Verification in Canada.  This is provided in Appendix “A” of CAN/ULC-S537-04(13) – Standard for Verification of Fire Alarm Systems reads as follows:

    “A1 Any person who performs the verification of a fire alarm system should be familiar with this Standard and have received suitable formal training or sufficient experience acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction.”

Where does the certification requirement come in?  How does ASTTBC identify an individual that meets the requirements of the Standard’s Appendix “A”?  What training is being provided by ASTTBC for the member technicians they propose to “certify”?  How does the suspension of the VI program properly address the formal complaint we filed respecting the sub-standard practices we identified the Respondents were responsible for in Case #13-36 (both the technician that completed the bogus Verification Appendix “C” report, and his employer who signed off on it)?  What training is being offered in CANADA for fire alarm service technicians engaged in providing verification service?

Let’s answer these questions!

Where does the certification requirement come in? 

Answer:  None currently exists.

AHJ’s across Canada have been wrestling with finding a way to determine acceptance criteria for fire alarm verifiers for as many years as I have been in the business.  There has never been any formal certification process in Canada.  In point of fact, Verification is often considered synonymous with the electrical termination, programming and commissioning process involved in complex equipment installation that often falls outside of the scope (or knowledge) of most journeyman level electricians.  If you’re working for a fire alarm manufacturer, you’re automatically assumed to have the “suitable formal training” and “knowledge” components of the Standard’s Appendix “A” to conduct a Verification.  In this instance, the training certificate you receive not only provides evidence that you have the skills to program that particular model of fire alarm control, it’s also been serving as the means for an AHJ to identify you as someone that meets their approval.

The City of Vancouver has, so far, been the only jurisdictional authority in Canada to clearly specify acceptance criteria for Verifiers and moreover, has identified specific individuals that can conduct this testing in their Bulletin 2003-009-EL.  This document provides us with an insight into one particular regulator’s interpretation (it was drafted by Arkady Tsisserev back in the day when he was Vancouver’s City Electrician) of the requirements of the Standard and the mandatory inter-relationship with Provincial electrical safety regulations and guidelines.  It also serves as the basis from which ASTTBC has formulated their certification requirements.  The Bulletin identifies three key components for acceptance:

  1. Knowledge of the Standards (CAN/ULC-S524-06 and CAN/ULC-S537-04)
  2. Technical training on the equipment
  3. Knowledge of electrical code application with respect to fire alarm system component wiring and device installation

Where does a technician receive formal knowledge of the Standards?  Manufacturer sponsored training focuses largely on the complexities of programming the equipment.  This writer has documented dozens of non-compliant systems in the Lower Mainland (including the one that is the subject of CASE #13-36) in which manufacturer trained technicians have filed bogus Appendix “C” reports because they have NO FORMAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE STANDARD or demonstrate a stunning lack of integrity by choosing to ignore key elements of the testing procedure in order to complete the project and get paid.

How can ASTTBC provide certification in a discipline that has no formalized training program?  They can, at present, only rely on the criteria established in the Vancouver Bulletin.  The only other means currently available of confirming a technician meets the “knowledge of this Standard” requirement in the Appendix “A” are:

  1. The technician is directly involved in the formal process if the Standards production (includes providing expertise to the Working Group) or engages in the formal review through the public balloting process immediately prior to its publication,
  2. The technician can provide verifiable proof that he has completed a training course on the Standard and has direct access to the referenced documents which suggests they’re going to comply with the requirements and provide a properly formatted Appendix “C” report (mind you, this also assumes the technician is going to adhere to a code of conduct and has something called professional integrity),
  3. The technician can demonstrate professional integrity and his knowledge of the Standard through a documented body of work that includes (amoung other things) properly formatted Appendix “C” reports filed over a number of years.

How does ASTTBC identify an individual that meets the requirements of the Standard’s Appendix “A”?

Answer:  ASTTBC follows the guidelines in Vancouver’s Bulletin, but we can actually crystallize this down to just one primary criteria:

    Pay your annual dues!

What training is being provided by ASTTBC for the member technicians they propose to “certify”?

Answer:  ASTTBC does not provide training.

They are a “certifying body” that have vicariously assumed the role of the authority through Bylaw amendments in several British Columbia communities in which ASTTBC has successfully lobbied (or hoodwinked depending on your point of view) municipal officials and councils.  They must recognize and rely on a training program developed and provided by an acceptable (to them) third party.  There is NO FORMAL VERIFICATION TRAINING PROGRAM IN CANADA with but one exception (and this only launched recently).  There are presently a number of RFPT’s in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia that do, however, possess the “VI” designation on their stamps (a scary thought).

In the Outcome portion of Case 13-36, ASTTBC has identified the reason they have suspended the Verification Certification Program, to wit:

    “… due to significant changes in the technology used to design, operate and inspect modern fire alarm systems that have an impact on the criteria for certifying technicians …”

How does this affect those technicians already certified when ASTTBC has so publicly admitted their program is flawed to the point of it having to be suspended indefinitely?  Have these RFPT’s been informed that they can no longer practice this discipline?  What about those technicians that hold the “AL” designation?  How does “significant changes in the technology used to design, operate and inspect modern fire alarm systems that have an impact on the criteria for certifying technicians” affect them?  If all these individuals are somehow exempted from suspension, what criteria has ASTTBC formulated that will maintain confidence in the program for those AHJ’s that have already accepted these individuals’ certification?  The answer is a resounding NONE! (at least that has been publicly formalized). 

The truth behind the VI discipline’s sudden hiatus has nothing what-so-ever to do with the “significant changes in technology” twaddle they’ve suggested here.  You see, ASTTBC has been actively pursuing the BC Safety Authority for the ability to grant limited electrical certification to their membership and they have erroneously identified the Verification discipline as requiring this.  There has been significant push-back from members of the electrical community (including several industry experts) as there is no confidence in the ability of ASTTBC to manage such a program safely and effectively.  This writer happens to agree.

How does the suspension of the VI program properly address the formal complaint we filed respecting the sub-standard practices we identified the Respondents were responsible for in Case #13-36 (both the technician that completed the bogus Verification Appendix “C” report, and his employer who signed off on it)?

Answer:  It doesn’t!

What Case #13-36 clearly illustrates is nothing less than the total collapse of ASTTBC’s Fire Protection Program in British Columbia.  It also stands as a stunning example of the lack of training and enforcement for a discipline that is mandated by the National Building Code across Canada.

How can any reasonable person justify an Outcome predicated on these statements?

    “The above allegations, if found to be true, would be contrary to Principles 1 and 2 of the ASTTBC Code of Ethics and Practice Guidelines.”  -- Case #13-36 Investigation

    The present complaint caused the PRB to express a concern for public safety, as it was not known how many fire alarm systems verifications had been conducted by Technicians of the Respondent’s Fire Protection Services business without the appropriate required certification to do so.  Therefore, the PRB recommended that the Respondent submit to the Registrar, a list of all fire alarm system verifications done by the business’ employees in municipalities with a bylaw requiring ASTTBC certification, and who were not certified by ASTTBC in Fire Alarm Verifications (VI).  The list would then be forward by the Registrar to the respective Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).”  -- Case #13-36 Practice Review Board Recommendations

In the published Outcome, the tail is clearly wagging the dog

    “The Respondent did not accept the PRB recommendations.  Instead, the Respondent met with the Registrar and the Fire Protection Compliance Officer (FPCO), to obtain clarification with respect to the Verification of Fire Alarm Systems (VI) discipline, as well as the complaint itself.”  -- CASE #13-36 Outcome

The total absence of support, training, continuing education, integrity, and oversight which results in such unprofessional practices have been the hallmarks (and the only true legacy) of ASTTBC’s Fire Protection Certification Program.

What training is being offered in CANADA for fire alarm service technicians engaged in providing verification service?

Answer:  Visit our Technical Training Centre

Knowledge.  Integrity.  Vigilance.  We stand firmly against complacency and the sub-standard practices that represent a clear danger to Canadian families and the public.  We offer an unparalleled technical resource that’s committed to providing definitive answers for questions involving Codes & Standards and the installation, service, testing and application requirements for life safety equipment products & systems.

If you truly want an association that supports your career with ongoing training, affords you opportunities for advancement, promotes an environment of positive peer interaction, and provides a genuine, measurable return on your investment, then don’t you think it’s time to quit griping, roll up your sleeves, and GET INVOLVED?

CASE #13-36 is a call to arms, ladies and gentlemen!

We’re looking for a few good men and women to join us in advocating for change and the implementation of a NATIONAL certification program where technicians are empowered to do their jobs without interference or bias and with the knowledge and full support they need.  Are you going to stand with us?  The cost to set up the comprehensive program we envision will require significant funding, strategic implementation, and a committed core of volunteers across the country.  We’d love to hear from you!  CONTACT US! and let’s explore how you can best serve your community!

We are not a professional union, but together, we are a union of professionals!

You can read more concerning technician practices, testing methods, etc. by clicking on:

Our Special Report on ASTTBC’s Fire Protection Technician Certification Program
Our Editorial EXTRA! (April 2015) - The Wolf on the Board!
Our Open Letter to ASTTBC (March 2014 Editorial)
Our September 2014 Editorial
Our August 2014 Editorial
More comments concerning ASTTBC technicians are in in our May 2012 Editorial
ASTTBC Complaint Outcomes (This actually makes for some pretty scary reading.)
CAN/ULC-S536 DO’S AND DON’T’S - Special Reports

 

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