Fire bill: UL alarm inspections needed

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Thursday, January 1, 2004

AUGUSTA, Maine - Fire alarm installers here are advocating the introduction of a bill that would require third-party inspection and certification of certain fire alarm systems and would standardize the inspection process throughout the entire state.

The proposed bill, which is yet unnamed, would relieve the burden of system inspections from the fire marshal’s office by naming a third party to conduct inspections of fire alarm systems, according to Harty Norris, president of fire alarm firm Norris Inc. in South Portland. The inspection process would rely on a sticker system, where UL would inspect the system and state fire officials could rely on the presence of a sticker for compliance.

“Part of the issue becomes that the local fire department or state fire marshal really doesn’t have the expertise to check all various parts of the system and do it properly,” Norris said. An experienced fire alarm installer likely wouldn’t be able to inspect a competitor’s system to verify that it was working correctly without performing a lengthy study of the system, he said.

Under state law, fire alarm installers are regulated by the Electrician’s Examining Board, whose mandate is to enforce requirements of the National Fire Protection Association’s 760 electrical wiring regulations and not NFPA 72 Fire Alarm code.

“If the wiring is wrong, they can make the installer change the system, but if there is only one smoke (detector) and the system needs 18, the board can’t touch it,” Norris said.

The draft of the bill is modeled after existing legislation in the state that regulates the sprinkler industry and has ensured that all installers are “doing work according to a nationally recognized standard,” said Eric Ellis, an engineer technician with the fire marshal’s plans review division.

“The advantage is also that the inspection would be done by nationally recognized independent people who do this type of work anyway,” Ellis said.

Because the bill has not been revisited by the fire marshal’s office since it was originally written in 2002, state fire officials said they would need to review the proposed legislation to ensure that it was still viable, said Stephen Dodge, head of the plans review division.