Maine’s largest city institutes new fire rules

Industry reps say regulations are positive overall
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

PORTLAND, Maine—New training and inspection requirements for companies that install and service fire alarm systems here in Maine’s largest city aren’t perfect, but are a positive development for public safety and the industry, according to some industry representatives who worked with the city as it drafted the rules.

“I think it’s an excellent thing to have in place. It should put everybody on a level playing field,” Mark Fuller, general manager for Protection Professionals, a Falmouth, Maine-based fire and security system integrator to northern New England, told Security Systems News. “It definitely serves the public interest and serves the contractors who work within Portland.”

Portland is the first city in Maine to pass such rules and Fuller said other large municipalities in the state are expected to adopt similar regulations.

The rules were first promulgated in 2010, but underwent some recent revisions and companies have until this year or later to meet some of the requirements. Highlights of the regulations include a requirement that all companies installing or servicing fire alarm systems in the city must have a “certificate of fitness” that is issued when their technicians have completed approved training programs. Also, all fire alarm systems need to have valid inspection stickers that companies who do the inspections must acquire from the city.

Brad Norris, CEO of Norris Inc., a New England integrator based in South Portland, Maine said Portland’s inspection sticker program is “much like automobile inspection stickers.”

Norris said that while he does not like all aspects of the new regulations, he believes that they are a positive step overall.

“I feel that rules like this improve professionalism in our industry and level the playing field as everybody is being held to the same standards while improving life safety in the buildings,” Norris told SSN.

Norris and Fuller served on a subcommittee of the Maine Burglar & Fire Alarm Association that worked with the city on shaping the rules. However, both men stressed to SSN that they were offering their own opinions and not speaking on behalf of the association regarding the rules.

Some association members have concerns about some aspects of the new requirements.

Rich Brobst Jr., who became president of the association earlier this month, said he considers the rule “a living document” that still needs “to be tweaked as to the minutiae and details at this point.”

However, said Brobst, who also is the operations manager at Protection Professionals, “the members of the association support standardization and enforcement of the code.”

Lt. Benjamin Wallace Jr. of the Portland Fire Department said that the rules hadn’t been updated in five years. He said changes were needed because of safety issues with fire alarms in some buildings.

The fire department invited the industry to participate in the drafting of the rules because, Wallace said, “we didn’t want to come up with rules in a vacuum.”

Norris said, “I have seem way too many systems installed or modified with overloaded circuits and problems with everything from wiring to programming to not embrace some type of changes. I’ve even seen fire alarm devices that were just screwed to the wall without a wire touching it—and it’s not a wireless device.”

In Maine, Norris said, electrical contractors typically install fire alarm systems, basically pulling wire and mounting the devices. The new rules now require those contractors to have a certificate of fitness as a fire alarm wiring company whose technicians have passed a special four-hour course in fire alarm wiring methods by July 1, 2011.

After the electrical contractors install the fire alarm systems, Norris said companies such as his “do all the final connections and the control panel and all the programming, then testing and providing the NFPA inspection certificate.”

The Portland rules state that those types of companies must have a certificate of fitness as a master fire alarm company whose technicians are NICET or IMSA (International Municipal Signal Association) certified.

Norris said the original 2010 version of the rules required that higher level of certification also for the electrical contractors. However, he said, the city agreed to the two-tiered certificate of fitness approach in the revised version of the rules that the fire chief approved in November and which took effect Jan. 1.

But he said the city did not agree to other revisions in the rules proposed by the industry.

Among the industry’s concerns with the regulations, Norris said, are requirements for even higher levels of training in the near future.

For example, senior level technicians who do programming and certification must attain NICET or IMSA level II by Jan. 1, 2013 and system designers must be at NICET level III or higher by that same date. Getting staff to such higher training levels could be “a challenge” for his company and others, Norris said.

Also, he said, companies are worried that other Maine municipalities will have a variety of different certificate requirements, making it onerous and costly for companies to comply with the rules in each community in which they do business.

But Fuller believes the Portland requirements will benefit Maine companies because they will discourage out-of-state competitors who find it’s not worthwhile to obtain a city certificate for an occasional job or two.

He called the rules “a good working document” and said that “as with any regulation, you sometimes find items you wish you could change or were different, and we have this open communication with the fire department so we can go to the table and negotiate from time to time.”