State of the Market: Fire Alarm 2010
What are professionals in the fire protection market doing in the meantime? A lot. The industry is seizing available business, crafting leaner, meaner operations, responding to new codes, differentiating themselves from increased competition through certification and training, and developing technologies and price points that will sell.
“There was a lot of pain across the fire industry in 2009, and now everyone is moving to leave that behind,” says Jeff Netland, director of engineering, Silent Knight, Northford, Conn. “Today there still is not a lot of growth, but people are holding their own and we’re seeing changes made to offset the recession. In a tougher battleground where larger distributors and market leaders are moving downstream to fight for jobs, companies are changing their business strategies, getting certified to stand out, and operating smarter.”
One continued boost for the industry in 2010 is the code-driven nature of the market. As Netland describes it, it is “the part of the industry that helps companies get through leaner times.”
And yet, while the guaranteed business the industry’s codes provide remains relatively unchanged, the codes themselves are changing this year. For the last two years the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has been working on the newest edition of the 2010 NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code®. In the end, the 2010 edition includes new chapters, new opportunities, and even a name change to NFPA 72-2010 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code® (See “Changes to the NFPA 72-2010 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®” on page 72 for a more specific explanation of the code changes.).
Tim Frankenberg, fire product manager for Potter Electric Signal Company LLC, St. Louis, says, “The NFPA’s 2010 edition upset the apple cart. Companies that haven’t been paying attention during the revision process will have some work to do in order to acclimate themselves to the new layout.”
Adoption of the new code won’t be instantaneous, so in 2010 companies are continuing the ever-present dance of “What code am I following?” as states and municipalities gradually adopt the new edition of the code.
As Jack McNamara, director of industry affairs for Bosch Security Systems, Fairport, N.Y., points out, “NFPA 72 is bringing changes, but just because the 2010 version has been released, that doesn’t mean it is being enforced anywhere. For example, California is going to adopt it this June, but it won’t become effective until next June. It takes a lot of work to transition from one code to the next. AHJs have to be retrained, the new code has to be made available to everybody, some states might pass amendments before officially adopting the new code â€” and it all takes time.”
New NFPA 72 = New OpportunitiesTiming aside, the latest edition of NFPA 72 does bring marked changes.
“The new edition of NFPA72 has sweeping changes as it relates to emergency signaling,” says Shawn Mullen, chief energy officer, Protex Central Inc. “They changed the code to reflect notifications for other conditions besides fire, including weather, or emergency situations such as hostages. There are a variety of different signals. “As this 2010 edition begins to be adopted, there will be new requirements in terms of when the alarm sounds; it will not necessarily be a fire alarm,” Mullen continues. “That will mandate an entirely different set of activities, depending on the situation. Maybe you don’t want the doors to unlock. Maybe you want to keep everyone inside. That will be a major shift, and a major change in the very near future.”
Tom Giannini, CPP, director of security and emergency communications marketing, Simplex Grinnell adds: “Most fire alarm systems are also voice-enabled. This creates a powerful tool to manage emergencies or incidents. If you look at the tragic situations on college campuses or recently Fort Hood, you can now be selective about what areas you want to secure, what you want to leave open, where you want to direct people, and how.”
In addition to changes to access control, mass notification is also addressed differently in the new code, giving it new requirements and importance â€” and although the new code is only a few months old, it is a change many proactive dealers are discussing with their customers.
“We are constantly marketing and training, letting people know about mass notification. The message is simple – this is the wave of the future, and whether you are getting a new system or upgrading an old one, for a little more investment ... you can have a system that protects well and can also provide emergency notification, supervised, tested with NFPA72 and familiar to the first responders,” says Mark Simpson, assistant vice president of sales, Syracuse Time and Alarm Co., Syracuse, N.Y. “Whether code requires voice evacuation in their facility or not, mass notification can be installed. Other means of mass notification, i.e. email, text messaging, signage, simply can’t reach building occupants like a fire alarm system can.”
Duane Hannasch, SET, NREMT-P, president of Fire Alarm Control Systems Inc., based in San Antonio, also sees the growth in the importance of mass notification. He predicts mass notification will go hand-in-hand with fire moving forward, with an importance that cannot be ignored â€” especially now that the language NFPA 72 gives emergency communications systems signals priority over all other signals (when permitted by a risk analysis in accordance with 188.8.131.52) â€” and that includes fire signals.
“In order to grow you have to move in that direction starting now,” he advises. “It is already required on military installations through the military’s Unified Facilities Criteria. On the public and commercial side, the NFPA’s changes are driving it forward. Today, we are trying to go back and meet with school districts and meet with school officials, cautioning them to think ahead â€” both on new buildings and retrofits. It will eventually be mandated by municipalities, so why wait until you are told to do it? Do it now because the cost is less when it is brand new. Of course, the obstacle is dollars right now.”
Cost is helped when using the fire system as a backbone for mass communication.
“By using the fire alarm system’s backbone for mass notification, the design takes advantage of the already native components, to the benefit of customers,” says Felix Gonzales, vice president, Strategic Initiatives & Business Development, Stanley Convergent Security Solutions Inc. (Stanley CSS), Naperville, Ill.
Competing With CertificationTight markets continue in 2010 with the recovery happening regionally rather than nationally. Hannasch of Fire Alarm Control Systems Inc. says his market is strong this year.
“At the rate we are going, we will equal or exceed our sales from last year at this point,” he says. In addition to substantial military building in the area, according to Reed Construction Data, Texas accounts for more than 15 percent of the single-family housing permits issued in the last year.
The result? Business for Hannasch â€” business and plenty of competition, which is how it is in every profitable region this year.
“With the good market in San Antonio and growth in the area, we’re seeing a lot of out-of-state competition,” says Hannasch. “There are more and more names on every project from everywhere â€” the East Coast to the West Coast.
How is he approaching it? “We emphasize things like our NICET certifications and our experience with the new code requirements, like our existing experience doing intelligibility testing, which is required,” Hannasch says. “We also remind our customers that instead of just looking at prices, they need to make sure the other bids are offered by companies with the same eligibility. I don’t mind losing projects to equal competition. I just mind when it is someone who can’t finish the job or do it right, and it ends up hurting the industry,” says Hannasch.
In such a competitive market, many companies like Hannasch’s are using certification to stand out â€” and committing to drive up professionalism in the industry.
“The Stanley CSS ‘On Fire’ program includes fire code training, fire equipment training, Stanley CSS certification as well as NICET certification,” Gonzales says. “While many Stanley CSS employees are fire industry veterans, the desire is to drive a higher competency level.”
NICET is one of the certifications that have seen a notable increase this year â€” with the company reporting an increase in both number of applicants to take the certification and the number of certifications actually awarded. Even companies offering the training for NICET have seen an increase in participation (See “NICET Certification as a Differentiator” on page 76 for a closer look at the certification and the changes it is undergoing.).
The increase in training and certification this year is a very necessary expansion in the industry, as more companies than ever are adding fire systems and need the training to tackle the code-driven installations.
“There are a lot of people out there who previously just did security systems, adding fire to increase profits,” explains McNamara. “That’s fine if they understand that now they are going to have to do installations according to codes and regulations, not by what they think is right. It gets a lot of companies’ first installations in trouble when the AHJs come by and inspect if the system was not put in according to code.”
Factors Impacting the IndustryConstruction, which has an undeniable influence on the fire industry, is still down. It is improving in pockets â€” especially within the vertical markets receiving support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Time will tell when the recovery becomes widespread.
With construction down, one obvious savior tends to be retrofit.
“The softness in new construction has had a negative impact on the fire market. However, code changes and building owners’ desires to improve efficiency of existing systems make the retrofit fire alarm market positive for 2010,” Gonzales says.
Still some say certain areas are struggling so much that even retrofit isn’t enough to offset the drop in construction.
Steven Hein, vice president and general manager, global fire products, UTC Fire & Security, Bradenton, Fla., a United Technologies Company, describes, “The fire industry does, to a great degree, parallel the state of the construction industry, so when construction is depressed and down around 30 percent, it is inevitable that the fire industry as a whole is going to be hurting like it has been.
“While in prior slowdowns, the retrofit market helps with rebounds â€” primarily driven by code officials who go in and inspect existing building and find violations â€” this recession has been so steep that even though retrofit has increased it has not increased enough to offset construction in some areas.”
That has put immense pressure on the employment in the fire protection industry. In the week ending April 10, the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration Report showed increases in unemployment. Still, dealers in the fire market are trying not to be part of that statistic this year, and they are using the nature of the market to their advantage, says Susan Adam, director of marketing, Silent Knight.
“Many dealers are focusing on the service side of fire since there isn’t new construction. They are working on what is helping them succeed â€” and the necessity of maintenance in the fire industry is allowing companies to shift employees from installing, which is down right now, to maintenance, which is still necessary, and that is helping them keep their staff.”
One positive area for the industry is the commitment of the leading fire manufacturers to research and development.
Hein says, “Although new construction is still down, I see the larger companies in fire continuing to invest in research and development, and all the companies are coming up with nice, cutting-edge products that will help the market continue to meet end-user needs and give the market new possibilities for the upcoming year.”
Some of the “cutting-edge” products hitting the market today include a new generation of addressable systems, new power supplies, along with CO detectors and mass communication products.
Growth Through TechnologiesPrice-conscious end users are prompting manufacturers to introduce panels and systems that are affordable on the small business level â€” without sacrificing many features found in commercial systems.
“The construction market is still in serious decline and it isn’t supposed to truly recover until 2011, so providing cost-effective fire protection is important for the industry,” Netland explains. We’re working to lower the price of addressable. This year, we’ve introduced a small addressable system that targets people who normally use conventional systems. By providing some advanced technology for the lower end of the market, we’re hoping to boost sales for installers by giving them an easier sell and opening up a new market.”
Distributors are seeing the effects of the advancements in addressable products.
“Addressable fire panels are experiencing faster growth rates than conventional as they become more affordable and offer more advanced features, including a higher degree of programming flexibility and single-point detection,” confirms Stacy Lyn Deveraux, senior product manager, Fire and Access Control North America, ADI.
Addressable growth is also being driven by a higher acceptance rate from AHJs.
“AHJs are getting smarter â€” they like the read-out of addressable, and the market is shifting that way,” Frankenberg says. “There are advantages, such as maintenance capabilities, from an installer standpoint as well, and it is definitely growing in 2010.”
There are also new developments in carbon monoxide detectors, just in time for a growing opportunity in the CO detector market “as schools, hotels, nursing homes and other commercial buildings upgrade and install more CO detectors to adopt the new NFPA 720-2009 carbon monoxide detection standards,” says Deveraux.
CO development has even crossed over into smoke detectors, as manufacturers like Bosch shift to multi-criteria detectors.
“Detection has turned a corner, and everyone is moving to multi criteria and adding CO as a component of fire,” says McNamara. “When you can detect CO along with smoke, it reduces false alarms because you know it is a real alarm instead of theatrical smoke and steam.”
POTS & IPAnother change set to impact the industry that is continuing its journey in 2010: The elimination of POTS. While not causing any immediate repercussions in the upcoming year, during the writing of this article, the FCC released its 300-page National Broadband Plan, and the message was clear: POTS is out â€” although how soon is yet-to-be-determined (If you want to check out the details on the National Broadband plan yourself, visit www.broadband.gov.).
So far, the FCC is moving slow and open to input. It stated it will “start a proceeding on the transition that asks for comment on a number of questions, including whether the FCC should set a timeline for a transition.”
That’s where the industry and its associations come in â€” with many starting work now, in 2010, on how the transition will take place. “We support a gradual transition to broadband and IP-based communications to ensure compatibility with existing services and equipment,” says Electronic Security Association President Michael Miller. The gradual transition is needed to guarantee reliability.
“The ability of the industry to rely on broadband and IP-based communications will be hindered if all aspects of the communications path are not reliable,” cautions Miller (See “Insider News & Business,” page 30 for further specifics on how the ESA is responding to the FCC.).
Many AHJs share the same doubt about wireless, but more manufacturers are confident in the advancements being made in wireless and IP.
“AHJs have been slow to accept new communication technologies in the fire industry, but there have been developments that have increased their reliability,” Netland claims. “Today it often helps to do demonstrations and show them the benefits of IP communication â€” for example, the speed at which it communicates. Once you are able to demonstrate some of the advantages, a lot of them are able to
Dealers are also coming on board as they experience the increasing ease with which they can configure and integrate fire panels, says Michael Carrieri, senior vice president, engineering, NAPCO Security Group, Amityville, N.Y.
“Fire alarm dealers are looking for panels that are more feature-rich, readily-expandable and easier to configure,” Carrieri acknowledges. “They want panels that come fully equipped, and that eliminate the need for the dealer to integrate additional external subsystems or add-on accessories to comply with stringent fire codes and AHJ requirements for large or small jobs alike. In the past, fitting together power supplies and external sync modules and compliant notification appliances from one manufacturer or the other was time-consuming and not cost effective. Now platforms are all inclusive, easy to standardize on, and designed to do it all, scale up or down as need be, do it compliantly, and make it easier than ever for the dealer.”
Hein points out that advances in wireless are helping dealers with early diagnosis of problems.
“A thing that is big in the industry is the ability to use the Internet and interrogate a fire panel to determine what is wrong prior to dispatching a technician. You may know a detector is dirty sometimes even before the customer does, so you can have a technician step in and address the issue. That capability to do remote diagnostics is really proving valuable.”
It helps fulfill a continuing demand among end users and installers alike this year that Frankenberg points out.
“Everyone is looking for ways to install a compliant system at the lowest cost with the greatest ease,” he says. That’s a mindset that definitely won’t change any time soon.
Changes to the NFPA 72-2010 National Fire Alarm and Signaling CodeÂ®Every Code cycle brings with it changes to the Code, and this edition of NFPA 72 is no exception. The first change that should be obvious is the name change. The Code is now known as National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®. Additionally, it includes structural changes aimed at making the Code easier to navigate and easier to grow in the future. The structure includes Administrative chapters 1-9; Support chapters 10-19; System chapters 20-29; and Usability Annexes A-I.
Although the chapters are numbered up to 29, only 14 are being used in the 2010 edition. This accommodates future changes and expansion without having to relocate existing text.
The administrative chapters include Chapter 1, Administration; Chapter 2, Referenced Publications; and Chapter 3, Definitions. Chapter 3 has numerous new and revised definitions.
The three new chapters include Chapter 12, Circuits and Pathways; Chapter 21, Emergency Control Functions and Interfaces; and Chapter 24, Emergency Communications Systems (ECS). Chapter 12 has eliminated all references to Styles of circuits and now indicates the performance of circuits or pathways using Class A through X designations. Chapter 12 also has defined levels of “Survivability” for communications systems riser circuits. Chapter 21 includes all of the previous control and interface requirements for connecting other systems to a fire alarm system but now includes a new section covering the requirements for “Elevators for Occupant-Controlled Evacuation.”
The most notable change to NFPA 72 is the development of Chapter 24, Emergency Communications Systems. It contains all of the previous requirements for “In-Building Fire Emergency Voice/Alarm Communications Systems (EVACS)” that were in the Protected Premises Chapter of the 2007 edition, and it also includes all of the new requirements for Mass Notification Systems (MNS).
The last item listed encompasses “Area of Refuge (Area of Rescue Assistance) Emergency Communications Systems.” This is the first time the Code has addressed this communications system that is required by building codes for high-rise applications.
A new emphasis has been placed on designers to ensure both audibility and intelligibility as stated in section 184.108.40.206.2.1, “The following requirements shall be met for layout and design:
A. The speaker layout of the system shall be designed to ensure intelligibility and audibility.
B. Intelligibility shall first be determined by ensuring that all areas in the building have the required level of audibility.
C. The design shall incorporate speaker placement to provide intelligibility.”
Another new concept developed in Chapter 18 is required performance in Chapter 24. Section 220.127.116.11.2.2 states that the “System design shall incorporate designation of Acoustically Distinguishable Spaces (ADS) within the occupied areas as required in Chapter 18.”
And designers will need to understand the concepts of risk analysis to comply with section 18.104.22.168.1 that requires “Each application of a mass notification system shall be specific to the nature and anticipated risks of each facility for which it is designed.” And for the first time in the history of the Code, MNS signals are allowed to take precedence over fire alarm signals should the risk analysis warrant it.
It appears the trend in fire alarm installations in both new construction and retrofits will be to include MNS as part of the package, and designers and installers will need to be aware of the many changes in the Code that affect ECS and MNS. â€” By Wayne D. Moore, P.E., CFPS, SET, FSFPE, F.NSPE
Moore, a licensed professional fire protection engineer, is a principal with the fire protection engineering and code-consulting firm, Hughes Associates Inc.
Moore currently serves as a member, and immediate past chair, of the National Fire and Signaling Alarm Code Technical Correlating Committee. He also serves as chairman of the NFPA 72-2010 Emergency Communications Systems (ECS) Technical Committee and is the editor of the 1993 edition and co-editor of the 1996 through 2007 editions of the National Fire Alarm Code Handbook ®.
NICET Certification as a DifferentiatorStrong competition in a condensed market is causing many dealers and installers to capitalize on certification as a differentiator.
“The new codes are driving an increase in education requirements in the industry, and people and businesses are also looking for ways to differential themselves in a competitive market,” says Bryan McLane, vice president, National Training Center (NTC), Las Vegas. “Between the two, there is a huge increase in certifications such as NICET (National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies). It is good for the industry because it is driving up professionalism.”
McLane reports the NTC is receiving more calls about training and is experiencing increased demand for classes. Likewise, Brian Gifford, director of quality management at NICET, reports the last two years have resulted in NICET’s best numbers â€” both for the number of people testing to be certified and the number of people certified.
Certification by NICET is not only gaining momentum in 2010 alongside changes in the industry, but it is seeing its own changes as well.
Earlier this year, NICET unveiled a computer-based testing (CBT) program. The new format was designed as a quality improvement to allow for more convenient test scheduling (more times and locations) and receiving scores before leaving the testing facility. Work elements are no longer associated with the computer-based testing. Previously, certification at different levels required you pass a certain number of work elements (specific areas of fire alarm knowledge) from different areas and specific work elements for higher certification. The new exam is pass/fail; level of certification has a separate exam that must be passed in order to earn that level of certification.
“We are continuously working with the newest standards and responding to changes in the industry,” Gifford says. “The biggest change this year is the style of testing. We are moving towards a computer-based testing program. Two of the four fire programs are live now, and we expect to have the remainder finished by fall, followed by sprinkler certifications by end of year. We have put a lot of effort into this â€” and the new tests are really a step up in quality and efficiency.”
In preparing the current CBT programs, NICET has run workshops, involved more than 40 industry experts, done statistical analysis and beta testing, and written more than 5,000 questions. While the test is harder, it is more detail-oriented and efficient, according to Gifford, taking two to three hours to complete instead of the five to seven hours the previous format required.
“NICET’s change to computer based testing makes the test more accessible, but it hasn’t made the test any easier,” McLane observes. “Additionally, now they limit the references you can bring in â€” only allowing the code books in. Installers have to have a lot more knowledge in their brains.”
Preparation for the test and training mean more than ever. Thankfully, plenty of companies across the industry are offering NICET training â€” and NTC is one of them. The company offers a PDF explaining the new testing and a sample test of 20 questions for free on its Web site. Additionally, it focuses on helping people learn to use the code.
“We focus on teaching people how to use the code, showing them through example how to find information in the code,” McLane says. “Not only does the training benefit them in the NICET exam, but it benefits them in the real world as well â€” if they have a question about fire alarm, they can find the question quickly and accurately.”
Additionally, McLane points out that NTC’s training is helping avoid interpretation errors.
“The code is written by engineers, not real-world people, so the language is complex,” says McLane. “It is amazing how often people misinterpret the language of the code or find out they have been using the wrong term the whole time because the code and language in the field is different. A classic example is the term “pull station.” We use the term everyday in the field, but you will not find the term in NFPA 72. There it is called a manual fire alarm box.”
For information on and training for NICET, visit
www.nationaltrainingcenter.net and www.nicet.com.