I want to take this opportunity to announce that Victoria Valentine has been selected to receive the grade of Fellow in the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). Vicky has been a great addition to the AFSA technical team, and this recognition for SFPE is well deserved. Congratulations! Your AFSA technical team is well stocked with talent from individuals who want to perform for our members. Feel free to use us for your needs.
As I write this column, I am sitting in Exton, Pennsylvania, at General Air Product’s training facility, where AFSA sponsored a five-day ASSE 15010 Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance Certification class last week and a three-day hydraulic class this week. No matter where AFSA is conducting training classes, several things are common.
The students come from varied backgrounds. Some work for small family-owned companies, some from larger independent companies, and a few from major companies. Some of these companies only have one office, while others have many locations nationwide. However, they all are eager to learn. They might be concerned about being in a new setting and situation, but once they realize they are among others in the sprinkler family, they open up. I watch recent high school graduates and those in their ‘50s become excited. Comments like, “I never knew that” or “I always wondered what that requirement was based on” are common. I have a saying (I stole it from Bob Caputo) that applies to the students I have taught. “The problems do not change, just the accents.” It doesn’t matter where I’m teaching. The issues and stories are all similar. I have learned so much from all the people I have worked with. Now, as an instructor and presenter, I am overjoyed to have the opportunity to participate in this learning.
I want to discuss the word “quality.” We each have our own definition of that term, depending on where we are coming from. A quick search shows definitions similar to a degree of excellence or a grade and superiority in kind. As professionals in the sprinkler industry, we often talk about our work being high quality. However, for quality to be achieved, we need to dedicate resources to achieve it. Quality does not happen by chance. Another phrase I picked up over the years is “Quality, speed, cost—pick two. You cannot have all three.” When a client wants a project in a ridiculous timeframe and wants the lowest cost, the quality will suffer. This thought process can also be applied to training. Training takes time, which adds cost. However, what does an untrained employee cost you? Cost cannot be an efficient way of performing a design or installation or not complying with the applicable codes or installation standards. Rework, inspection failures, or wasted time are all possible outcomes. However, what scares me the most is the liability if the mistake causes the system not to perform as required. The legal system does not tolerate inadequate designs or installation errors. There are “experts” who will second guess and tear apart even the good projects. In my opinion, having a properly trained workforce is essential to operating a quality contractor. Training never stops as the requirements in the installation standard are always changing with new improvements and technology. I always cringe when I hear someone with lots of experience state, “I have been doing this for over 20 years, and my area uses the 2013 edition of NFPA 13. I do not have the time nor need for training on the newer editions.” I answer, “Really? The lawyers will have a field day with you. You have no idea of what you do not know.” The quality of our work starts with the time we write the contract until we turn over the close-out documents. A few things to think about:
• Are you installing all the signage the installation standards require? Most contractors have no idea what the signage requirements are in NFPA 13. I know this because when I teach on this, I get blank looks when I ask about certain required signs. Not having these signs can be a huge liability.
• Are you receiving and submitting a signed Owner’s Certificate as required by NFPA 13? Again, trust me, I know the answer. There is a huge liability on the contractor for not obtaining this simple but important document. It was added as a requirement to document the design requirements and put the liability on the owner and not the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) or contractor.
• Are you sizing your air compressors for dry and preaction systems correctly? Are you providing Listed air maintenance devices when required? Do you know how to determine when they are required? What about air receivers? Are they required?
• Are air release valves required for all wet systems? If so, what type and where are they required to be located?
• Is a pressure relief valve required for all wet pipe systems? If so, how do you pick the relief pressure?
• Is a main relief valve required for all diesel-driven fire pump systems?
• How do you properly size a diesel fuel tank?
• What hazard is a diesel fire pump room considered when the tank is located in the room?
• What is the proper way to install a horizontal split-case fire pump assembly base?
• Are you required to use a torque wrench when tightening sprinklers? What about when installing grooved couplings?
• What hazard is a parking garage? Ordinary hazard group 1?
• Who does your fabrication? Are welds being performed correctly in full conformance to NFPA 13? Have you physically looked at and inspected the work? I have been amazed at the work being produced that makes it to the job site.
Hopefully, the above will make you think about the level of your training. Training is so important to the life of a quality contractor who produces quality work. As Manning Strickland taught me years ago, our reputation is our most important feature. Do not do something to destroy it. AFSA is here to support you in many ways. Offering training is our core mission. Utilize us. Training does not cost. It is priceless.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John August Denhardt, P.E., ET, FSFPE, CWBSP, is Vice President of Engineering and Technical Services for AFSA. He is a Professional Engineer (P.E.) registered in the District of Columbia as well as the states of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. He is a NICET Level III in Automatic Sprinkler System Layout and Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems and an NFPA Certified Water-Based Systems Professional (CWBSP). He is a member of the NFPA 13 Sprinkler Discharge Committee and is a Fellow in the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). Denhardt is a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Research Foundation trustee, sits on the University of Maryland Department of Fire Protection Engineering’s Board of Visitors, and is a member of the SFPE Board of Directors. A native of Maryland, Denhardt holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire Protection Engineering from the University of Maryland in College Park.