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November, 2012


Editorial by Frank Kurz

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things.  Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” -- John F. Kennedy

“A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away.” -- Gene Roddenberry

Vancouver, British Columbia - “Surely you’ve got to give us more than just one chance!” exclaimed the voice on the telephone in an often repeated phrase I hear when I’ve called to inform yet another recipient of their addition to our wall of Burning Bricks.

A valid request?  You tell me.  Would Jovel or Phillip (Galarosa) have enjoyed such a second chance?  Would Garland (McKay), Stephen (Yellowquill), or any number of the victims of PREVENTABLE house and apartment fires, have jumped at the opportunity if it was presented?

In Canada, we live with a justice system that’s most notably famous for second chances.  Why do I not extend the same courtesy to fire equipment service companies (or their individual Registered Technicians)?  I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to recognize there’s a world of difference between a judicial second chance and one that could actually wind up costing a life.

When I conceived the Burning Brick Awards, I thought very carefully about how I should proceed.  I knew that many of my peers would look at something like this as being not only confrontational, but incredibly controversial.  It could also, very easily, cross the line between fair comment and libel (and believe me, I’m very conscience of exactly where that line is!).

Then thoughts of Jovel and Phillip came to mind, and the decision to proceed became, what my sons would term, a no brainer.  Personally, I can’t imagine losing one of my children (let alone both).

I started this website as purely an information resource; one that, I hoped, would help fill a major gap between the efforts of ASTTBC and CFAA.  As time went on however, I came to realize that I could extend my influence to the companies that actually employed our membership - and in so doing, elicit a positive reaction that would benefit the greater good.  One such company, Levitt Safety, did, in fact step forward to do just that.  For me, it was a watershed moment and I remain hopeful that the other companies we’ve singled out for our rather unique and unorthodox award will step up to the plate much like Levitt has!

It’s easy to lead.  It’s far more difficult to lead by example.



Points of Interest:
Stir up the Gray Matter with
Nick Markowitz &
Al Colombo

Smoke Detector Cross Listing Information:
ULC Smoke Detector Compatibility Index
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How many of you are testing the life safety equipment, with which you’ve been entrusted to, properly (in accordance with both the published Standards and the Practice Guidelines)?  With the resources we’ve endeavoured to make available here, I’m confident that at least our members are!  If you happen to work outside of the Province of British Columbia (and ASTTBC’s influences), remind yourself of why it is you’re in this particular business.  These days all you really have to do is pick up your local newspaper.  Hundreds of people die in fires every year across North America.  As fire protection service technicians, we’re on the front lines, so to speak.  One of the most important sections of ASTTBC’s Practice Guideline makes an eloquent statement on what it is we should be doing and how we should be working towards ensuring the safety and security of the people that hire us.  It’s entitled:


The FPT should prepare by reviewing previous inspection, test and maintenance reports; familiarize themselves with the activities/occupancy of the site and prepare a list of items that may need to be investigated or reviewed; and ensure the necessary access to all parts of the building in which the fire protection equipment is installed.

Depending on the discipline, the FPT should observe all conditions in the building, which affect the proper and safe operation of the fire protection equipment and systems. This includes, but is not limited to…

    Fire separation doors and walls are in place and that they work properly;
    Proper location and accessibility to fire protection equipment;
    Any new occupancy, which could change the level of protection;
    New walls or separations that might have been constructed and for which fire protection equipment has not been properly installed;
    Obstructions to the fire protection equipment;
    Anything else that might affect the proper functioning of the fire protection systems or compromise public health and safety.”

A recent verification I performed has sparked an ethical conundrum for me.  The jurisdiction in which this project is located has mandated every new fire alarm system be installed to CAN/ULC-S524-06 and verified to CAN/ULC-S537-04.  The system I was called in to test had been installed many years previously and serves a religious retreat where people of like mind can spend whole nights and weekends contemplating and discussing topics which interest them.  The Fire Department had requested the installation of a remote annunciator which would assist them in better locating the source of a problem (considering the common control was buried in a basement electrical room and the site is spread over acres of interconnected buildings).  The servicing agency didn’t have much in the way of options (hampered by both an obsolete Edwards 2280 and a limited owner’s budget).  It was decided to upgrade the common control to a Mircom FA-1000 which would better accommodate the addition of the annunciator and serve as a solid base from which further system expansion could be affected. 

I handed in a list of over twenty-five deficiencies and recommendations.  They ranged from inadequate sound pressure levels in several suites and sleeping rooms, incorrectly installed bells and end-of-line resistors, to inadequately marked exits and incorrectly installed smoke alarms.  The fire alarm communicator and the kitchen suppression system weren’t terminated correctly either.  A professionally performed verification inspection on an existing structure’s life safety system often serves to identify areas that need attention and should make specific recommendations from which the Authority Having Jurisdiction can strategize further improvement with the owners.  It was with this in mind that my report was submitted notwithstanding the fact that my mandate (as a verifier) is (and always has been) to inspect the system to the previously referenced Standards (and which I have never compromised).  Yet in a rather disturbing telephone conversation I had with the local fire department inspector, I was told that the owners would be arranging for another verification of the system and that, if the individual that provided this handed in a clear report, it would actually supersede mine!

I have seen far too many compromises in the almost thirty years I have been in this business (many of which are showcased on this site).  I’ve been told by several contractors that they won’t use my services because “I create too many problems for them”.  This is the first time a jurisdictional authority has expressed a similar sentiment to an owner concerning work I have done. 

Many of my detractors would choose to view this as a serious blow to my reputation.  I think it points to a far for disturbing situation.  I remain hopeful that some of the issues I highlighted will be similarly identified in this new report and will illicit the measured response I had originally intentioned. 

The goal of every fire equipment service professional should be to work towards enhancing life safety by working within the established jurisdictional framework and authority.  ASTTBC’s Practice Guidelines have served many British Columbia communities very successfully and are (in my view) an excellent foundation from which jurisdictions across North America can confidently craft their own inspection and service criteria.  We must all work together to ensure no more families will have to grieve the loss of a loved one.  It is a commitment from which I will never back down.


I welcome your comments, as always.  Please feel free to call or contact me!


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