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Editorial

September, 2014

CHEAP TRICKS - DIRTY TRICKS - HOW PROFESSIONAL ARE YOU?

by Frank Kurz,
Vancouver, British Columbia

“The house of delusions is cheap to build but drafty to live in.”  -- A. E. Houseman

“And sometimes I actually start to think human life is just as cheap to corporate America as animal life, so long as there are big profits to be made.”  -- Tom Scholz

“Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger!” -- The Robot (Voice of Dick Tufeld) in Lost in Space (circa 1960)

Is anybody listening?

The fire alarm system is sounding.  Can you hear it?  Most of the time I ask this question of a building’s occupant, they answer with:  “Yeah, it’s loud.”  It’s the times when someone says:  “No” that really makes me perk up my ears (pun intended).  How loud is the hallway fire bell (or horn) in the suite you’re testing?  How loud is it with the door to the hallway closed?  What about when you’re standing in the bedroom with the door closed?  Can you hear it now?  If you can’t, do you think the resident will be able to when they’re fast asleep?  Do you think that the fact that you can’t hear it in the bedroom with the door closed is something worth mentioning in your test report? 

Sound levels MUST be adequate throughout the area served by the signalling appliance (reference Clause 5.7.9.1C of CAN/ULC-S536-04 - Standard for Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems). 

If they’re not, you cannot check “OK” or “Yes” on the version of the report form ASTTBC happens to be using (or ours).  If the signalling appliance serves the entire floor (and residential suites of that floor), it MUST be loud enough to be heard everywhere on the floor, regardless of where you might be located.  If it’s not, then you MUST note this as a deficiency on your report, and the fire alarm control panel must be RED TAGGED.

 

Is anybody looking?

What do you do to familiarize yourself with the equipment you’re testing?  Do you have a copy of the panel’s installation instructions?  Do you have the Verification Appendix “C” report handy?  These are two of the most important documents you need to examine even before you start testing.

Are you familiar enough with the fire alarm control panel to recognize when something’s not quite right?  Let’s take the example of a MIRCOM FA-1000 with the “twenty-four point” enclosure.  This is the smallest box Mircom produces for this model of common control.  What’s wrong with this picture?

 

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If you’re not familiar with the equipment (or you haven’t read up on it/don’t have the installation manual handy), you wouldn’t recognize that the adder module on the left is actually installed incorrectly (the adder modules are connected by the two short loops of ribbon cable at the centre of the common control board).  This is an RM-1008 relay module.  If you’re not familiar with the equipment (or haven’t read up on it/don’t have the installation manual handy), then you also wouldn’t likely know that the maximum rated voltage for the relays is 24VDC.  When I measured across the two white wires prominently terminated at the centre of the module, I got a reading of a whopping 110VAC! 

Should you be checking all this if you’re performing the annual test on fire alarm system?  Darn tootin’ you better be!  Add the fact that the batteries are undersized, the annunciator is wired incorrectly, and the Edwards 6700 EVCS system has been substantially modified makes this system a perfect candidate for a DOUBLE Brickee (the technician performing the annual service on the system is the subject of a full on investigation by ASTTBC).  Should the system even have been accepted/Verified?  Most definitely NOT!  The Verifier happens to be a manufacturer trained technician (thankfully he’s NOT directly employed by MIRCOM) and sanctioned the incorrect installation of the fire alarm equipment here, not once, but THREE TIMES in three separate Verifications as evidenced by the sticker which also happened to be prominently displayed on the common control (not shown in this image)! 

The level of incompetence demonstrated here is beyond the pale.  It hardly matters that the panel was originally installed in 2002 (the manufacturer’s installation instructions haven’t changed all that much).  I noticed that he also Verified the installation of a communicator (via a reference to “Verified monitoring” on one of the lines on the sticker).  The communicator, in this instance, is powered from the same circuit as the fire alarm control panel (a definite NO-NO in BOTH applicable Standards – CAN/ULC-S524 & CAN/ULC-S561 – even back “in the day”). 

So let’s fast forward to another (and much more recent) jobsite here in the Lower Mainland in which this same Verifier also found himself involved.  That system (located in Delta, B. C.) comprises a POTTER extinguishment panel on a pre-action valve for the sprinkler installation in a flash freezer.  So far so good.  Linear heat detection cable was installed in the freezer, manufactured by Protectowire.  Protectowire makes six versions of this specialty cable, only two of which are rated (and ULC Listed) for applications in which ambient temperatures are expected to fall below zero degrees Celsius.  Neither one of these approved cable assemblies was installed.  Once again, this same Verifier chose to IGNORE the manufacturer’s recommendations and the requirements of CAN/ULC-S524-06 to issue a “clear” Verification Appendix “C” report on a non-compliant system.  I should also mention that, when last I checked, he still happens to be restricted to the Verification of MIRCOM panels only (at least in Vancouver).

I’m currently embroiled in a small dispute with the owner/contractor of a warehouse in Pitt Meadows (a small community just outside of Vancouver).  The sprinkler contractor advised the owner that chain-locking a new sprinkler valve for a paint booth in the “open” position is an acceptable alternative to the Building Code requirement for electrical supervision.  The owner also needs a “clear report” for what he considers “base building” when substantial alterations (and a tenant engaged in manufacturing construction related goods) was already setting up shop when I got called in to Verify the fire alarm system.  I’m supposed to ignore the mezzanine, the requirement for additional visual signalling appliances, and the paint booth.  Go figure!

Where does such wrong-headed information (and thinking) spring from?  From simple phrases like:

“We want to save the owner/contractor money!”  “We’ll do the job cheaper than the other guy!”  “We’ll Verify it, no problem!”

 

“MUM” is NOT the Woid!

Here’s another phrase I often hear: 

“My boss doesn’t want me to say anything because it’s going to open a big can of worms.”

Let’s get one thing straight here.  I don’t want you to lose your job.  I don’t want you to rock the boat.  I DO want you to recognize that, as a professional, REGISTERED (or CERTIFIED, as may be the case) technician, you are mandated to identify potential hazards or non-compliant systems, and (if warranted) bring these to the attention of the local jurisdictional authority.  This is an important aspect of your job (if you’re ASTTBC Registered it’s most clearly defined in Principal 9 of your Practice Guideline).  I can go on and on about the number of Burning Brick Awards we were handing out (many more were in the queue when we decided to change the way they are published), but what we really have to change is the attitude of the people on the ground, the members of the technician communities that are integral to both the CFAA and the ASTTBC technician certification programs.  This means YOU!

Fire equipment service companies in the Lower Mainland are looking for qualified professional technicians.  There IS most definitely a shortage.  It is indeed a sad commentary when you consider that this shortage also happens to extend to the ranks of those formally registered (and formerly registered) with both ASTTBC and CFAA.

You can read more concerning technician practices, testing methods, etc. by clicking on:
Our August 2014 Editorial
Our Open Letter to ASTTBC
CAN/ULC-S536 Special Reports

 

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