Review begins for fire sprinkler accreditation

New resi sprinkler accreditation model being beta ested
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

CHANTILLY, Va.—An effort to establish a national accreditation process for installers of residential fire sprinklers is being beta tested this fall—potentially paving the way for an accreditation program to be in place next year.

“In the end I’m hopeful that we will have actually developed a residential sprinkler accreditation process because I think it’s very important for the industry as a whole to ensure that we have quality installers,” said Randy Bruegman, fire chief for Anaheim, Calif. and president of the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE), which is based here.

The CPSE, a nonprofit accrediting organization for the fire industry, announced the beta testing phase on Sept. 6. The effort began in the summer of 2010, when the CPSE, the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA), the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) and the International Code Council created a partnership.

Proposed residential sprinkler legislation in states around the nation has met tough resistance from the home building industry, which opposes sprinkler mandates because they increase the cost of new homes.

Bruegman said that’s unfortunate because “the technology is 99 percent effective” and saves lives.

He cited the combative atmosphere as a reason the members of the new partnership all agreed accrediting installers is necessary.

“The worst thing that could happen is that states adopt [home sprinkler legislation] and then installers of these systems go in and do a poor job of installation,” Bruegman told Security Systems News. “Then we have failures that would just provide ammunition to the building industry.”

So, as the accrediting agency, the CPSE created a Technical Advisory Committee to develop an accreditation model. Now that model will be beta tested, probably beginning this month, with actual installers, according to Ruben Grijalva, former California state fire marshal and project manager for the Residential Fire Sprinkler Installer Accreditation program.

He said the testing will involve six installers of different sizes from different parts of the country. After evaluating the beta testing, the advisory committee will make a recommendation to the CPSE’s board in December. If the board approves an accreditation plan, CPSE will set up a commission, which could be operational by the summer or fall of 2012, Bruegman said.

Jamie Reap, VP of the Lake Forest, Ill.-based United States Alliance Fire Protection, a large regional contractor that is part of the APi Group and is one of the sprinklers installers participating in the beta testing, believes accreditation for installers of residential sprinklers would be a good thing.

“I think that because the entry point for getting into doing that kind of work is so easy that there really is a need to establish a benchmark that separates the quality contractors from what we might call ‘trunk slammers,’” Reap, a member of the advisory committee, told SSN.

He said accreditation also could be a way for installers to boost business if homebuilders recognize their accreditation as “the equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” and seek out accredited installers.

The advisory committee also included representatives from the NFSA and the AFSA.

Phillip Brown, the AFSA’s director of technical program development & codes, in a statement praised the beta-testing program as an important way “to devise an accreditation program that is meaningful and useful.”

Jim Dalton, NFSA liaison to the committee, said in a statement: “We are confident that, after a suitable period of beta testing in the field, we will be prepared to introduce a national program” that gives everyone “a high level of confidence in these most important life safety systems.”

Grijalva said the beta testing will involve installers filling out an application about such factors as their business policies and training standards regarding residential fire sprinklers. The CPSE will review the application and a site assessment will be done by peers or other experts, he said.

Reap expects the accreditation process will be rigorous. “Only quality companies are going to be able to attain accreditation,” he said.