Vancouver - October 2nd, 2010 - By Frank Kurz

In the last few months I have been working with a stellar bunch of individuals and feel particularly privileged to Chair the Working Group meetings for CAN/ULC-S536 and CAN/ULC-S537 (Canadian Fire Alarm Inspection and Fire Alarm Verification Standards) in which we share our expertise and knowledge.  It’s been an eye-opening and exciting experience and I look forward to the day that you guys get to see the results of the team’s hard work and effort.

I believe that improvement can be found in everything we do and see.  I believe that (as Francis Bacon said) “Knowledge is Power”.  This also happens to be the key phrase used in the lead up to CFAA’s 2nd BC Seminar being held in Vancouver on October 14th.

I can see honest effort being made by CFAA to disseminate knowledge but how many of you can actually afford to dish out the $184.80 (HST included) to attend this landmark annual function, let alone lose a day of productive employment?  I’ve been reading that almost 60% of working Canadians carry a credit card debt of over $40,000 and that many would be in serious financial trouble if they missed just ONE paycheque.  That’s frightening! University students particularly are saddled with enormous debt at the start of their chosen careers and many succumb to bankruptcy or court managed debt restructuring as a means “to get out from under” because finding a job in this economy is next to impossible and the banks demand repayment regardless.

What solution is on the horizon?  Can we rely on Government to bail us out or is our society heading down the route of the mindset of the individual that coined the phrase “in God we trust, everyone else pays cash”?

I’ve always viewed the fire equipment service industry as fairly recession proof for, after all, the buildings which require annual inspection and maintenance will continue to do so even when the national economy “tanks”.  The issue that concerns me is that as the number of commercial vacancies increase, the owners and managers of those buildings are starting to look for ways to economize and this opens the door for many individuals (and the companies that employ them) that won’t scruple to compromise proper inspection practice in order to provide a cheaper, more attractive alternative with a view to getting a bigger slice of the pie.

After all, a “tag” is a “tag”, isn’t it?

Who’s to say whether one of the big national’s tags is any better (or worse) than one from a locally based business?  Right now, what separates companies like this is something called “overhead”, and not necessarily the quality (or quantity) of the registered (or certified) technicians in their employ.  Longevity in the industry, whether from the standpoint of a company or from the view of the technician it employs, doesn’t necessarily equate to “knowledge” or a higher level of professional practice. Chubb Edwards, Simplex Grinnell, Siemens, Viking, and other national companies have to charge more because they support a corporate infrastructure most of us can only dream about being part of.  They pay the best wages and offer the best in employee benefits.


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October, 2010



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There will always be guys like “Paul” (Paul’s Fire Prevention) who, by the way continues to elude Lower Mainland jurisdictional authorities, and is still preying on the naiveté of retail store owners and managers by offering “cheap” (read “no”) inspection service for their fire extinguishers and emergency lighting on a “cash only" basis.  What store owner wouldn’t jump at the chance of obtaining a current tag on their equipment at a bargain basement price?  Sadly most do without even bothering to check the technician’s (or his company’s) credentials.  When you call the number on “Paul’s” tag by the way, the individual that answers denies any knowledge of the “gentleman” (or his “company” for that matter).

Now, I’m not here to preach (or advocate for) levelling service rates (that would be illegal).  What I do want to make clear is that this economy is going to pose challenges to all of us.  Some will have to deal with employers that demand faster inspections (from my point of view “faster” doesn’t equate with being a “better” tech), while others may pressure you to “discover” more deficiencies in the building you’re testing.  These two practices often go “hand-in-hand” and all that it serves to do is further erode the public’s confidence and ultimately, the standard of practice.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to see these same companies resort to publicizing their good “corporate citizenship” (or detailing their charitable gifts) to mask these more nefarious practices.

What I am here to do is to advocate for ensuring that every technician in this business has the knowledge and skill-set to help advance their careers to the next level.  I’m speaking to those individuals that don't just want to be the best, but that are striving to become a recognized industry professional and that won’t compromise principle for the promise of a bigger paycheque.  Monetary reward will come naturally to those of you that can demonstrate integrity, honesty and conviction as you gain in knowledge and experience.  There will always be companies whose management may not share your higher principles or ethics, but keep this in mind: for every one of those, there are many more "out there" that do.  There is no "fast track" in this business and anyone that tells you there is, is trying to sell you something you don't really want to buy.

The fire equipment service companies that are going to survive these tough economic times are the ones that aren’t just fiscally responsible, but who also recognize that a well-paid, professional, ethical and empowered workplace is a true force to be reckoned with.


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