Tech-News & Views
IT’S OFFICIALLY SUMMER! AND SOME TECHNICIANS KEEP MISBEHAVING!
By Frank Kurz
“Rather fail with honour than succeed by fraud.” -- Sophocles
“If they are... receiving money for services that they did
DISCLAIMER - This story involves the illegal testing of a life safety system by a national fire service company in one Lower Mainland (British Columbia) community (at least we hope it’s the only one). While we have not revealed the actual identity of the company involved because of certain commitments we’ve made, we have elected to publish the report they filed in its entirety because of the dangerous, irresponsible and fraudulent practices involved. Building owners and operators, the engineering community, and jurisdictional authorities place a great deal of trust in the professional and ethical conduct of the service agency contracted to perform Code mandated testing of life safety equipment and systems. Compromising any testing Standard is simply not an option and must not be tolerated! If you’re a Building Official (Inspector) or a Fire Prevention Officer, please CONTACT US to receive a copy of the unedited report and the details of the complaint we filed with ASTTBC.
New Westminster, British Columbia - June is marked by the arrival of Summer (and Summer vacation). In BC, we’ve been fortunate to have had Summer weather since February (the downside being that we’ve had to suck it up as well as our Canadian teams LOST the bid for Lord Stanley’s Cup - AGAIN!).
But the subject of this article is not a big silver cup or even the wonderful sport of Hockey. It would more aptly be suited to a Burning Brick Award because it involves two equally BOGUS Verifications of a fire alarm system in one Lower Mainland community. It remains our sincere and fervent hope that this article will serve as a warning to other jurisdictions across Canada to be on guard against these kinds of illegal practices.
Let’s set the stage for this horrific tale by giving you a little background into my involvement in it (and no, I won’t be starting with “Once upon a time...”!).
I received a call from a customer interested in purchasing a building in New Westminster. About three years ago, I’d been called in to provide a Building Life Safety Audit for another building they bought in North Vancouver. Well, they liked what they got so much, they contacted me again for this newest of their potential acquisitions.
The building is a twenty storey residential high-rise located a few seconds from the New Westminster Courthouse. Yep. If you’re a Lawyer looking for a really nice pad, all you’d really need to do is roll your Mercedes Coupe (or Bimmer) down the hill at the end of a long day of argument and negotiation and you’d be home. Last year, the building’s owners decided to gut the 2nd through 4th floors and convert them from commercial space to more residential apartment suites. Very posh suites (at the time of this writing there’s also a PENTHOUSE APARTMENT that’s become available with views to die for). At the same time, they decided to take out the old EPE fire alarm system and replace it with a Notifier NFS-3030, one of the newest jewels in Honeywell’s crown.
The upshot is that the entire fire alarm system had to be Verified to CAN/ULC-S537-04. Both the Verifier and the electrical contractor had a duty to deliver a fully functional system that complied with BCBC 2012 for at least the 2nd through 4th floors suites (which were considered “new construction”). The existing fire alarm devices (and zoning) were left pretty much intact with the exception of the smoke detectors which were upgraded to conventionally wired System Sensor photo-electric units (2151A’s).
So here’s the fire alarm Verification Appendix “C” documentation filed on this job:
Please note that we’ve deliberately redacted the building’s
Bogus Fire Alarm Verification Appendix "C" Documentation New Westminster (Redacted)
Let’s go through the documentation provided page by page.
The first thing that stands out in the February 2015 report is the reference to a Vancouver Bulletin (which actually has no standing in any community outside of Vancouver). That’s really a minor issue, but one I myself got in trouble for not correcting in another Lower Mainland municipality. If fact, you’re welcome and encouraged to read the EDITORIAL we published on the subject which should prove that this writer is not above presenting himself with a “Burning Brick Award” (for the more die-hard critics amoungst you).
Moving right along, the technician has checked YES for three separate types of Verifications, the “entire system”, a “partial” for a fire alarm system that’s being replaced in stages, and a Section 6 “modification/upgrade”. Since we’re adding devices to the system in order to correct a deficiency identified in the first Verification conducted in July of 2014 (more on this later), and not reverifying the whole system, the appropriate box to check would be the one associated with a Section 6 “modification”. On page two of the report, the technician has identified two addressable modules, but hasn’t listed what they’re monitoring (or controlling). The reader should also pick up on the fact that the “Device Testing - Legend and Notes” is from an Appendix “E” annual inspection report form from the 1997 version of CAN/ULC-S536! On the third page he’s failed to document the testing of the floor’s isolators. Keep in mind, he’s just added two devices to the DCL loop for the floor, but hasn’t cross-checked the module count for the isolators serving this area (or checked their proper operation). Adding powered devices to a system should also trigger another battery calculation, but many of you would also likely say that’s just “me” being “me”, and that it’s not necessary (it’s liable to provoke a lively discussion in the CFAA Member Forum though!).
Let’s proceed to page four where we have the ubiquitous “Certificate” witnessing the fact that senior level branch office staff have checked and are certifying the “Verification” conducted by their technician on July 10th, 2014 was performed in accordance with the requirements of CAN/ULC-S537-04. Perry Mason would have had a field day with this simply because here’s the proof (the smoking gun) that FRAUD is apparently embraced at the senior level of this organization in Vancouver. Page five exhibits the same erroneous reference to the Vancouver Bulletin (2000-021-EL Revised), but it’s only when we delve into and examine the content of the succeeding pages, and compare them with an Appendix “E” from the 1997 version of CAN/ULC-S536 annual inspection and test report, that the full scope of this fiasco becomes apparent. The documentation provided cannot adequately witness a “Verification” even if one was conducted properly (in accordance with the requirements of CAN/ULC-S537-04 - Standard for Verification of Fire Alarm Systems) because whole sections of the proper Appendix “C” are missing!
Turn to the “Device Testing - Legend and Notes” page (page 10 of 29 in the July 2014 Appendix “C”). There’s a reference to EM (DCL Isolators) with two entries. One is the standard Notifier unit (ISO-XA), and the other is a smoke detector base (BI224A) (there’s another reference listed as I that includes the insuite sounder isolator modules). There are eighteen (count ‘em) pages of devices that follow and NOT ONE EM (DCL Isolator) is mentioned (although he does reference the testing of the insuite sounder isolators). We found physical examples of both DCL Isolators on the 2nd through 4th floors but there is NO RECORD of their having been tested!
Are they even installed correctly? Would the technician that performed this “Verification” even know if they were when he failed to list several non-conforming wall-mounted heat detectors, duct detectors with missing exhaust tubes, incorrectly spaced smoke detectors, and non-compliant manual stations? He’s even noted a deficiency in his report (see Technicians Remarks/Deficiency Quotations section on page 9 of 29) but has checked YES on the C.1 page in response to the line:
“The fire alarm system is now fully functional without deficiencies.”
You see, this FRAUD goes much deeper than the signature on the paperwork. It is evident to this writer (and to anyone with a modicum of COMMON SENSE that’s reading this) that the individuals PERFORMING both of these BOGUS Verifications may NOT meet even the minimum requirements stipulated in the Standard’s Appendix “A”. Had they the requisite familiarity with the Standard they should have, at the very least, been able to identify that the forms they were signing didn’t comply. To suggest that they ignored such a deviation would mean they were also complicit in the FRAUD perpetrated by their employer on the building owner.
“APPENDIX A (INFORMATIVE) - QUALIFIED PERSONNEL
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.”
Many of my colleagues will likely be disappointed that I’ve published what amounts to as a Burning Brick Award with this article. It’s my opinion that this doesn’t qualify as one (and not just because I avoided mentioning the company’s name). To those of you that might hold an opposing viewpoint however, I can’t (and won’t) apologize. This building owner is an innocent victim of a fraud of such an egregious nature that it has also endangered the residents of his building. Moreover, senior staff at the company’s Vancouver branch have hoodwinked a number of Building Officials (and two engineering firms) into believing the fire alarm installation complies with both BCBC 2012 and CAN/ULC-S524-06 (Standard for Installation of Fire Alarm Systems) when, in fact, IT MOST DEFINITELY DOES NOT!
Someone has to sound the warning here because this particular organization also maintains branch offices in several other Canadian cities, and I’m uncertain as to how wide-spread these illegal practices might actually be.
NOTE: So far, we have uncovered and identified only ONE branch office that has actively participated in the filing of fraudulent Verification Documentation. Building Officials and Fire Prevention Officers should carefully examine all submittals they receive (from any source) to ensure compliance with the relevant Codes and Standards adopted in their respective jurisdictions has not been compromised. Examples of testing forms can be downloaded from our LIBRARY.
Keep watching this space! We’ll be adding updates!
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