Third party systems: A secret weapon in the fight against unwanted alarms?

Blog Post created by jcotton01 on Sep 22, 2016

The discussion continues; unwanted alarms are still a problem and we’re seeking solutions to not only assist our local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), but our industry and of course, our community. After reading, “The Unwanted Conundrum,” http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/publications/nfpa-journal/2016/may-june-2016/features/unwanted-alarms, published in the NFPA’s Journal on May 2, 2016, the final question I asked myself was, could third party, web-based Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance (ITM) tracking systems be a secret weapon in the fight for reducing unwanted alarms?


Reading the different perspectives in the NFPA’s Journal brought into play three key components of what we (i.e. everyone involved in fire and life safety) keep searching for: increased communication efforts, more tools and resources that are cost effective, and a way to educate our community members and place more accountability in their hands. If we can’t pin-point the issue, or solutions, of unwanted alarms we can most certainly look at what’s already available to assist in these efforts.


A few key points were first shared by the Automatic Fire Alarm Associations (AFAA) technical director, Thomas Hammerberg. To paraphrase, “Most of the problems boil down to money….Owners must be reminded that they are responsible for keeping their systems in working condition and tested per NFPA 72…There is also a lack of enforcement of the inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) procedures of fire alarm systems for a growing number of reasons…I have found that proper ITM, along with a good working relationship with fire prevention personnel, can help solve problematic systems.”


Hammerberg almost solidifies the exact reasons why third party, web-based systems were not only designed, but necessary for our communities. First and foremost, money or budget concerns. If this is an industry issue, the cost should be placed onto those involved in maintaining their systems. Most third party systems are not only a no cost option for our AHJs, they’re a no direct cost option for those whom we keep trying to place accountability back onto; the owner. While there are fees for the service providers performing the required ITM, these fees are often passed along to the accountable owner and in many cases recouped.


The discussion of accountability has been going on for years but until recently (within past five to ten years) there has not been an easy and effective tool or resource connecting the three most important entities in fire and life safety. If more information is sought to better respond and prioritize our efforts on all ends (i.e. AHJ, service provider and owner), we need a centralized way to communicate and share this information. The innovation of the “cloud” and modifying its platform to meet the needs of our industry is not only bridging the gap between the entities and opening the lines of communication, it’s proving to be an effective platform assisting in building sustainable prevention models. It’s allowing our AHJs to assist the provider in not only educating our owners but placing accountability back where it belongs.


I’m not surprised by Fire Marshal Anthony Apfeleback’s perspective, especially looking at the industry as a whole. Apfeleback’s attempt at early fire bureau intervention along with notification to business owners in hopes of more timely ITM follow ups is relative to the size and need of this particular jurisdiction. Most fire prevention bureaus are understaffed to follow up on ITM issues. This probably stems from the need to allocate resources where they are most needed at any given time.


While there is no overnight solution to reducing unwanted alarms, utilizing web-based reporting is an integrated, sustainable solution that positively impacts system reliability. The solution also easily integrates and compliments current agency fire prevention and life safety efforts.


It's apparent from the length of discussion and depth of scope of the problem of unwanted alarms that the fire service needs to build collaborative partnerships with multiple stakeholders such as service companies and business owners. Implementing a tool for all entities helps build a comprehensive solution and brings awareness to the problem at hand.


I guess it’s fair to ask, “could third party, web-based ITM systems be a secret weapon in the tool box for fighting the fight against unwanted alarms?”