Getting to know AHJ builds understanding

A CSAA-sponsored seminar provides tips on effective relationships with AHJ’s
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Friday, May 6, 2011

VIENNA, Va.—Stopping by your AHJ’s office just to say “Hi” and chat could help increase understanding when it comes time to determine whether a fire alarm meets code.

That was one of the suggestions offered during a recent Webinar entitled “establishing an effective relationship with your local AHJ (Authority having jurisdiction).”

Sponsored by the Central Station Alarm Association, which is based here, the March 23 Webinar was presented by Tom Presnak, UL senior staff auditor, and Mike O’Brian, a fire marshal with the fire department in Brighton, Mich.

The session noted that updates to standards, rapid improvements in technology and limited resources put pressure on not only installers, but on AHJs as well. The Webinar covered ways installers can improve working relationships with AHJs. Tips included getting to know an AHJ and making sure that the technicians who interact with them are well trained and knowledgeable.

Presnak pointed out that AHJ’s backgrounds vary widely.

In a large city, AHJ’s “may have no firefighting background, they’re strictly engineer types.”

Some might come from law enforcement, and “some are former alarm technicians, some sprinkler guys,” he said. Also, in order to cut spending, some municipalities have put their fire marshals back on active firefighting duty and tapped city building inspectors take over fire marshal’s duties.

“It’s a whole new experience for them,” Presnak said. “So, from an alarm company’s standpoint, it’s really good to understand who you’re going to be dealing with, and what their background is and what their credentials are. You may have to do some education yourself.”

O’Brian said he was impressed when an alarm company owner came into his office recently with a vendor just to interact and talk about the vendor's product that the alarm company was considering. “It was a good way to spend some time with the alarm contractor ... [and for alarm companies] it’s a great way to get to know your AHJ.”

One Webinar participant said he sometimes has to deal with “fire inspectors who know less than the contractor,” and asked how to handle that situation because such inspectors can get defensive and make an inspection difficult.

 “Understand the situation and get through the inspection, but then find an avenue to come in and talk and become a resource to them in the long run,” O’Brian recommended.