HB Alarm's fire revolution

Thursday, October 12, 2006

BOCA RATON, Fla.--John Bourque, president of HB Alarm in Cranston, R.I., was considering getting out of the fire business altogether a couple of years ago. "It was too labor intensive," he said.
But today, HB Alarm has turned 180 degrees: The company has garnered a "substantial amount" of new fire business in the past few months. Further, Bourque is now developing a new premium proprietary HB Alarm wireless fire application, based on Honeywell's 5800 wireless solution.
"To kick up to [larger] commercial applications, we need to improve our knowledge of applications of wireless fire devices beyond that of anyone else in the business," Bourque explained. He's hired a team of engineers to study the applications of wireless devices to do just that.
But HB Alarm traveled a long road to get to this point, as Bourque told his peers here at the Honeywell First Alert Professionals Convention, which took place Oct. 5-8. First Alert president Ben Cornett cited Bourque's odyssey and asked him to come up on stage at one of the convention events to talk about it.
Bourque, who has been in business for 37 years, was the first First Alert Professional Dealer. (There were more than 250 at the convention.)
The tragic 2003 Station Nightclub fire that claimed the lives of 100 people, Bourque said, raised awareness of many loopholes in some fire codes and spurred changes around the country--some urgently needed, others well-intentioned but not well thought out.
Shortly after the fire, the Rhode Island Legislature decided that all commercial buildings should be brought up to the current fire code.
This meant that all commercial buildings built before 1998 were out of compliance; about "95 percent of the commercial buildings in the state of Rhode Island needed to be retrofitted with fire equipment," Bourque said.
Even though he's from the "old school of hard wiring that is somewhat leery of wireless," Bourque knew well the dependability of Honeywell's 5800 wireless series, which HB had been using in residential applications (and which Bourque has in his own house.)
He reasoned that it would be perfect for businesses trying to comply with the new law without having to invest in an expensive hardwired solution. The problem was that certain specific language in the Rhode Island fire codes prohibited the use of this product.
For the next 18 months, Bourque and his vice president David Dias, with the help of Doug Eaton, director of technical services for First Alert, worked their way through a "convoluted matrix of regulation" to ultimately get the 5800 solution accepted by the Rhode Island Board of Appeal and Review.
"David and I refused to quit even though its cost was incredible in terms money, man hours and our company focus," he said. Bourque said Eaton "worked tirelessly" and that Honeywell was "completely behind us in this endeavor." George Farrell, the new Rhode Island state fire marshal, "understood from the outset the impact of the law and was looking for ways to mitigate the cost and burden for businesses to comply with the law."
Regarding improved Rhode Island fire codes, Bourque noted an irony. "There are more regulations governing the installation [of fire alarm products] in a commercial setting [including low-risk commercial structures such as a convenience store] than in an average home where children sleep every night."