Getting to know your AHJ

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03/24/2011

Have you ever thought about stopping by your AHJ’s office just to say “Hi” and chat? A friendly visit like that 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 Webinar I attended yesterday entitled “establishing an effective relationship with your local AHJ.”

Sponsored by the Central Station Alarm Association, the Webinar was presented by Tom Presnak, UL senior staff auditor, and Mike O’Brian, a fire marshall 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 those installing and monitoring code-compliant fire alarm systems but on the AHJ responsible for ensuring that buildings in a locale are safe. The purpose of the hour-long Webinar was to provide insight into some of the steps industry members can take to improve their working relationship with their AHJ. 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 it’s important to learn about an AHJ’s background because that can vary widely.

For example, he said that 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, Presnak said, municipalities cutting back on spending in the economic recession have been putting their fire marshals back on active firefighting duty and tapping 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 and what their credentials are. You may have to do some education yourself.”

O’Brian added, “From an industry standpoint it’s important to understand how they got where they’re at.”

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,” O’Brian said. And he said that for alarm companies, “it’s a great way to get to know your AHJ.”

In the question portion of the Webinar, one participant said he sometimes has to deal with “fire inspectors who know less than the contractor,” and asked how to handle it when such inspectors get defensive and make an inspection difficult.

O’Brian responded: “It goes back to building up that inspector.”

He said, “What my recommendation is: 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.”