AFAA not shy about hot topics

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Friday, September 1, 2006

LAKE MARY, Fla.--At this summer's National Fire Protection Association conference, more than 200 people showed up at 7 a.m. to hear what panel members had to say about "Measuring Competency--The Impact of Education, Training and Experience."
That should come as no surprise; the Automatic Fire Alarm Association is known for embracing controversy. Co-sponsoring the event with the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, the AFAA, said president Tom Hammerberg, works to build solidarity among the different fire industry players by bringing them together to talk about topics that may be a bit controversial. Topics are chosen to draw people to AFAA meetings, but Hammerberg believes the discussions foster understanding.
"We try to provide quality speakers who will represent all sides of a topic," he said. "That's the value."
On the subject of education and training, Hammerberg said the AFAA and SFPE are interested in "fire alarm systems being designed properly. There is a big problem with unqualified people designing systems."
"By promoting good design, it's much easier to have a good installation," Hammerberg added. "We strongly support certification and the one we promote is NICET."
Founded in 1953, the AFAA has nearly 1,000 members, mostly installers. The remainder comprises engineers, manufacturers, end users and authorities having jurisdiction. The two-tiered group (with a national group and state associations) represents the automatic fire detection and fire alarm industry, provides training and works to affect ICC and NFPA code changes.
Members convene twice a year, at a springtime annual meeting and for the aforementioned breakfast meeting at the annual NFPA conference. A few years ago, the hot topic was mandating residential CO detectors. Last spring, Hammerberg gathered representatives from fire equipment manufacturers, the engineering community, the General Services Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to discuss "finding the balance in fire protection."
A balanced approach to fire protection is "one of the key things our association believes in," Hammerberg said. "We work with other groups [such as the SFPE, American Fire Sprinkler Association, National Fire Sprinkler Association and others] to promote fire safety. Even though [AFAA members] don't work with sprinklers, for example, we look for support [from those in the sprinkler industry on certain issues and code changes] and they look for our support. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don't, but we look to work with people who have common goals."
Hammerberg is currently planning next year's annual meeting, which will take place in Colorado Springs in April. A theme for the meeting has not yet been chosen.