By Frank Kurz
Surrey, British Columbia - In the recently published report dated May 22, 2015, submitted by Mssrs. Brian Carr, PHD, BSc, and James Coble, MA, entitled ASTTBC Technology Professionals: Value to the Public Interest, I was struck by the common theme it shared with many grade-school report card forms that are being handed out throughout the Province. If you’ve seen one, you’ll recognize it almost immediately because it’s replete with carefully worded phrases that employ warm sounding words meant to encourage an enthusiasm for learning and ensure those children with more tender egos feel okay and normal about their performance and experiences, so they can become comfortable, productive members of society. Unfortunately such words and phrases lack a cogent opinion of the child’s real abilities and are a poor yardstick from which to establish baseline performance levels. Giving everyone a prize for first place doesn’t really prepare them for what they’ll face in the real world, as adults, either.
So why issue such a report for a professional association? Does commending ASTTBC for things like Council Governance, Professional Legislation and Regulation, or Rights to Practice offer anything constructive in the way of guidance or meaningful critique? What positive feelings can one hope to possibly engender with the unfortunate reference to an ASTTBC kingdom (the first sentence under Professional Recognition on the report’s last page)?
The “positive accomplishments in 2014 that are too numerous to isolate in this report” (which also appears on the report’s last page under the heading Other Initiatives) is another example of the warm fluff that’s used as stuffing for a first place prize awarded for performance and policy that will ensure ASTTBC stays on their present course, leaving the members of one particular programme to continue down a road with positively no direction and no support.
I would like to take this opportunity to file another report card for ASTTBC to “the Minister of Advanced Education, the Minister Responsible for the ASTT Act, all Members of the BC Legislative Assembly, and the BC Members of the Parliament of Canada”. My report will offer a more direct, unsweetened evaluation of ASTTBC, their executive team, and the Fire Protection Certification Programme’s performance because it is written by someone that has been in the business of Life Safety for thirty (30) years, and a keen observer of ASTTBC’s efforts over the course of the last twenty of them.
My name is Frank Kurz. I am the Executive Director of the Fire Technicians Network; an internationally recognized, British Columbia based technical resource for individuals engaged in the service, testing, inspection, installation, design and maintenance of building life safety equipment and systems. I Chair the ULC Working Group which produces the two Canadian Standards that are the testing criteria for both newly commissioned fire alarm systems (Verification) and existing ones (Annual Inspection). I’m also a member of the ULC’s 500F Committee, and an active contributor to the Working Groups for CAN/ULC-S524 (Standard for Installation of Fire Alarm Systems), CAN/ULC-S561 (Standard for Installation and Services for Fire Signal Receiving Centres and Systems, and CAN/ULC-S1001 (Standard for Integrated Testing of Building Life Safety Systems).
REPORT ON THE ASTTBC FIRE PROTECTION TECHNICIAN CERTIFICATION PROGRAMME - October 6, 2015
1. Council Governance:
The ASTTBC Fire Protection Certification Board is responsible for establishing criteria for:
- Technician competence,
- The Standard of Practice,
- Acceptable educational programmes,
- Technician oversight (through the auspices of the Practice Review Board),
- Ongoing education,
- Inspection and testing for the various disciplines (including acceptably formatted inspection documentation),
- Ongoing review of Codes, Standards, and Bulletins affecting the various fire protection equipment disciplines and the dissemination thereof to their registered membership,
- Levelling the playing field for fire protection equipment service providers,
- Recommending changes to the Programme where necessary to ensure Public Safety, and
- Expanding the Programme to other Jurisdictions within the Province.
The Certification Board has been, in large part, successful in developing a firm foundation for the Programme. A number of individuals serving on the board deserve recognition for their efforts, service, and sacrifice. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Field of Dreams. While building the programme has resulted in a large number of technicians coming to be registered, they are not playing on the level field that was promised them (a positive working environment governed by a shared Code of Conduct and Professional Practice).
ASTTBC’s executive team has focused on the certification aspect of the Programme as the means to establish a stable revenue stream, while the membership languishes in the absence of the promised benefits and support of belonging to an association that purportedly stands for accountability, professional development and competent practice. It is important for me to emphasize that the day-to-day management of the programme is not within the purview of the Certification Board. The mismanagement of the Programme, and the failure to deliver on the Programme’s fundamental promise (the safety of the public), is the responsibility of ASTTBC’s Chief Executive Officer and the individuals appointed to form his executive team.
2. Technician Competence:
The yardstick is broken. There is no method or procedure in place with which to judge a technician’s competence other than a logbook (which can easily be altered or misused) and the recommendation of their employer(s) (a process that is rife with prejudice and fertile ground for abuse). There is no proactive means of ensuring registered technicians are performing their duties in the competent, responsible and professional manner expected by the jurisdictional authorities that have endorsed the Programme (reference Section 5 – Technician Oversight).
Technicians are utilizing forms that don’t comply with the various testing Standards, let alone the forms produced under ASTTBC’s auspices (which are incidentally riddled with errors and outdated). You don’t have to look very far to see that the technicians are NOT complying with the proper testing and inspection criteria. In point of fact, most of the malpractice I’ve seen is often done at the behest (and with the full blessing) of some rather amoral employers. The end result is that British Columbia’s citizens are exposed to an unacceptable level of risk (reference Section 9 – Levelling the Playing Field for Fire Equipment Service Providers).
ASTTBC has FAILED to provide or maintain adequate means to measure and ensure uncompromised technician competence and professional practice.
3. The Standard of Practice:
It is the writer’s carefully considered opinion that ASTTBC’s Practice Guideline is one of the best documents of its kind ever produced. It is, however, a living document and one that must undergo regular review and revision (much like our National Codes and Standards).
ASTTBC has FAILED to provide either the method or the means through which such a review can take place. Various interpretations of its clauses have resulted in inconsistent technician practice as well as a number of contrary opinions and errors in judgment by the Practice Review Board when dealing with complaints involving similar examples of malpractice. The latter has negatively impacted several technician members who are provided nothing in the way of support throughout this process, and who have been required to pay exorbitant fines that further discourage engagement and positive discourse (one such individual actually resigned from the Programme, abandoning a promising career, which is referenced on Page 8 of – Fire Protection Case Summaries 2013 – Case 13-11).
4. Acceptable Educational Programmes:
The writer is currently engaged in reviewing the fire protection courses provided, in large part, by BCIT as well as the fire alarm courses that are the foundation of several other provincially accredited certification programmes offered in Canada through the auspices of the Canadian Fire Alarm Association (CFAA). ASTTBC has accepted the educational credentials of the graduates of these courses but has never been directly involved in any formal review process that would lead to substantive and positive additions or revisions. For example, there are currently graduates of the fire extinguisher course who have never physically recharged one, or who fully understand the various testing methods and requirements of NFPA 10. There are individuals with certificates testifying to successful completion of a course in Fire Alarm Testing that have never performed a battery test or who do not comprehend the requirements for stand-by emergency power when a generator is part of the equation.
ASTTBC has FAILED to provide proper oversight and guidance to the educational institutions responsible for teaching their trainee technicians even when specific issues have been identified through either the complaint investigation process, or by various technically qualified professionals observing the malpractice of technicians participating in the Programme.
5. Technician Oversight:
The writer continues to be presented with reports and documentation that demonstrate the total failure of ASTTBC to provide the proper oversight of technicians participating in inspection and testing of building life safety equipment (through legally enacted local Bylaws). ASTTBC has continued their twenty year tradition of hiring retiree Fire Prevention Officers to manage the Programme in order to pay lip service to the association’s claims of full accountability and the professional practice of their technician members. Employing these individuals helps ASTTBC leverage an already established and mutual comradery with serving Fire Prevention Officials in order to promote the Programme in those jurisdictions that do not yet subscribe to it (not to mention their dream of Province-wide acceptance). While these appointees are well versed in the Fire Code and understand the responsibilities and requirements, their backgrounds are so far removed from the industry that it’s difficult for them to sympathize with the daily challenges registered and trainee technician members face in the performance of their duties, let alone comprehend the complexities of physically testing the various new technologies involved. Their efforts are further hampered by an executive team that restricts complaint investigation and compliance, as well as the Programme’s management, to a mere ten (10) hours per week respectively.
ASTTBC has FAILED their mandate, within the communities they serve, to ensure the requirements of the British Columbia Fire Code (2012) are adequately addressed by trained, competent, professional technicians and any claims to the contrary are both false and intended to mislead. An experienced technician that is fully conversant with the Codes, Standards, and the technical aspects of testing complex equipment must be involved in the proactive review and oversight process of the Programme’s registered technician members on a FULL TIME basis.
6. Ongoing Education:
There has been no attempt by ASTTBC to investigate or adopt a programme of continuing education, nor has there been any substantive effort to communicate or distribute informative, timely and educational materials to their registered FPT’s. Vague references have recently been made to a requirement for documenting ongoing education, but the membership continues to be frustrated by a lack of clear direction and many feel they are on their own, and unsupported (literally operating in an informational vacuum). The single most comprehensive technical resource available to the membership has received only two (2) mentions in past, sporadically published Newsletters (both of which occurred under the auspices of the only individual that recognized the need for guidance and proper Code/Standard interpretation, and demonstrated both the courage and the willingness to explore viable alternatives in pursuit of that knowledge).
ASTTBC has FAILED to provide the necessary guidelines or adopt a substantive programme of ongoing education and has yet to take advantage of the technology available to disseminate relevant educational and informational materials to their membership.
7. Inspection and Testing Criteria (Forms and Required Documentation):
As of October 5th, 2015, the forms available for download from ASTTBC’s Fire Protection Technician Programme’s website have not been materially altered, revised, or had their content corrected since 2007. The version of the Standard for Testing of Water Based Extinguishing Systems (NFPA-25) called up in the British Columbia Fire Code is “2008”. The fire alarm testing form follows the correct Standard, but is presented in a format which makes documenting multiple power supplies, annunciators, and transponders utterly impossible.
One of the Programme’s cornerstone promises has been to level the playing field. Standardized forms are one such method, but they must be produced in a useable format, and be reviewed on a regular basis. ASTTBC has FAILED to do so.
8. Ongoing review of Codes, Standards, and Testing Practices:
Another keystone in the Programme’s foundation is the establishment of a Codes and Standards Committee in order to review the various testing requirements on a regular basis and make appropriate recommendations that will ensure technicians maintain the highest level of professional practice (reference http://fireprotection.asttbc.org/overview.php ). Additional references, on the page, are also made to an Association of Fire Prevention Companies, as well as one involving Fire Prevention Technicians. There are no such groups in existence with but one exception and ASTTBC had no involvement in its genesis (nor does it participate in, support, or endorse its ongoing operations).
This is not simply a FAILURE of ASTTBC’s executive team to manage the Programme. It speaks to the much larger issue of their total lack of regard to the Programme’s central promise, to protect the safety of the citizens of British Columbia, by continuing to publicly disseminate false and misleading information.
9. Levelling the Playing Field for Fire Equipment Service Providers:
ASTTBC’s “Professional, accountable, registered technicians” in the employ of many Lower Mainland service providers are performing substandard testing and inspection of building life safety equipment that is contrary to the British Columbia Fire Code (2012) and the various Standards it references. They are doing so at the behest of a number of employers who are engaged in a competitive frenzy for scraps and diminished returns on investment demanded by building owners and property managers who view aspects of life safety systems testing with the same abhorrence they would a root canal. The Codes and Standards are sacrificed on the altar of the bottom line and technicians willing to bend to the twisted moral code of their employers are rewarded with bonuses and incentives that further diminish the Standard of Practice and the safety of the public. They have become a part of a legion of silent, willing acolytes to greed and malfeasance. Examples of such practices include the failure to test required fire alarm system components, advancing hoses a few centimetres along their hangers to make it appear they have been removed, inspected, and re-racked, swapping tags on extinguishers in cabinets without removing them to perform the proper inspection, and worse, applying illegal hydro-static and maintenance stickers to the shells.
A level playing field predicated on substandard practice is not what the Certification Board envisioned, but is in fact, now being actively delivered in all the jurisdictions which have adopted By-Laws requiring ASTTBC technicians. Other professional associations support their members in the performance of their duties and offer proper guidance to the companies that employ them. Where is ASTTBC in all this?
ASTTBC has FAILED to provide the support their technician and trainee members require. Their mismanagement extends to the way they are handling complaint outcomes and censure conditions imposed by their own Practice Review Board. ASTTBC has lost all the respect of the registered technician member community.