4 minute read

Enforcement is Coming

Enforcement is Coming

By Natalie Bruckner

There’s good reason SMACNA and SMART are strongly encouraging the Fire Life Safety Certification.
Photo courtesy of Tony Kocurek.

Christopher Ruch, director of training for the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI), distinctly recalls being a young apprentice and crawling into building spaces where few would enter. What he saw in those spaces shocked him. So much so that he decided to devote part of his career to becoming an advocate for HVAC fire life safety training and certification.

“I can’t tell you the number of times I would encounter faulty fire dampers and tell the foreman, only to be told that this was an extremely common occurrence,” Ruch says. “To me, it didn’t make sense. My wife, my friends, my neighbors were working in these buildings, and just one weak link in the chain meant a wall was no longer fire resistant. Lives were at risk.”

It’s an all too common scene for sheet metal workers, and yet to date, very few states require an inspection from an ICB-certified HVAC professional. However, this is about to change.

“Increasingly, building operations managers are seeking to hire technicians who are certified to perform the inspection and testing of fire life safety systems,” says Duane Smith, director of certification (ICB/TABB) for NEMI. “The ICB is the only certification body in the HVAC industry that provides fire life safety certifications. So, the importance is realized when SMART members have valuable opportunities for work hours that serve a great concept—public safety.”

One sector that is paying close attention is healthcare, in particular hospitals. “In the medical field there are certain inspections that now require a fire life safety report and that has encouraged people to look into getting certified,” says Tony Kocurek, owner at Energy Balance & Integration LLC and vice president on the SMACNA executive committee.

However, it’s not just the owners and developers who are starting to recognize the benefits of ANSI accreditation. Insurance companies have also been enlightened to the fact that faulty ductwork can act as a freeway, circulating smoke and toxins throughout a structure, even to offices far away from the flashpoint.

“We’ve seen universities in New Mexico whose insurance companies now require it because of the legislation in the state,” Kocurek says. “These insurance companies realize the risks and want to see the certification of the installers, not just the ones doing the testing. Eventually, I think this will be nationwide.”

Ruch agrees, adding that it’s not just in states where fire life safety legislations are in place, either. “While there is more of a focus in New Mexico and Nevada where legislation has been passed, and in Hawaii which is enforcing it, we are also seeing insurance companies requesting documentation in California,” he explains.

According to Smith, to date one school district, five counties, 15 cities, and two states have passed legislation requiring inspection and testing of fire and smoke dampers, smoke control systems, and smoke management systems. “Other cities and states across the United States are aggressively seeking to pass legislation—imagine the profoundly-positive impact SMART members will have on public safety.”

While the certificate is not new (the first certification exam was actually completed back in April 2009), the ICB-Certified Fire and Smoke Damper Technician and Smoke Control Systems Technician (previously called the Fire Life Safety Level 1 and Level 2 technician) have gone through a transition over the years and have become more specialized.

The way the course is being offered has also changed. Kocurek says the idea is to make the certification accessible to all. “It can be hard to study when you’re working all day and have a family, so we’ve taken the course online to allow people to do it from home,” Kocurek says.

John Hamilton, TABB Chief Operating Officer, adds that online classes help people get certified remotely so they don’t have to wait for the Local to put on a course.

Then there’s the increasing number of apprenticeship programs that are even making fire life safety certification a mandatory requirement, with Local 49 being just one example.

Vince Alvarado, Local 49, Senator Mimi Stewart, and Isaiah Zemke, Local 49, at the governor signing of SB 143.
Photo courtesy of Tony Kocurek.

Around 40 hours of study time and hands-on training followed by a certification exam are required to become certified. “The exam is designed to assess the specific knowledge and skills required to Vince Alvarado, Local 49, Senator Mimi Stewart, and Isaiah Zemke, Local 49, at the governor signing of SB 143. perform the job,” Smith says. “ICB certifications are valid for a period of two years—an essential component for re-certification is continuing education. Continuing education units (CEU) earned during that period demonstrate that the certified professional is up-to-date on current industry knowledge and skills. By passing a certification exam you are demonstrating competence.”

While there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that ICB certification will be required for all sheet metal workers down the road, when it comes to fire life safety, some still have a “wait and see” attitude.

“It’s all too easy when business is strong to put things on the back burner, but becoming certified now means you are ready for when the market experiences a downturn,” Kocurek says. “It opens up more job opportunities.”

It also makes great business sense, as Ruch explains. “Part of the reason to be prepared is being ready for a market downturn and already having a specialization,” he says. “One way or another this enforcement is coming. You will want to make sure your technicians are installing the system correctly because a year down the line, when the periodic test happens, the last thing you want is someone coming in a building you did and saying it wasn’t done right.”

Being proactive rather that reactive does indeed make good business sense, and it will also save time, because, as Hamilton explains, once legislation takes place it can turn into a scramble to get people through the certification process.

“Fire life safety inspection legislation assures sheet metal industry customers of the quality advantages of hiring persons or entities certified by the ICB and verifies their competence in completing the work,” Smith says.▪

Natalie is an award-winning writer who has worked in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, the United States. and Canada. She has more than 23 years experience as a journalist, editor and brand builder, specializing in construction and transportation.