Train Well, and Often

Train Well, and Often

How to succeed within the fire alarm market

Training is an essential priority for any security dealer or integrator seeking to enter the fire alarm market, while continuing education is important for dealers who already install fire alarms systems. Training provides important continuing education units (CEUs) to keep employees’ industry certifications up-to-date as well as information about industry changes.

Trends toward the use of fire alarm systems that incorporate mass notification, carbon monoxide (CO) detection and IP or cellular communication require fire alarm technicians to update their skills to accommodate the expanded functionality of these new technologies. More Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) are requiring voice evacuation in larger facilities, and the latest editions of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code contain a lengthy chapter of prescribed requirements for emergency communication systems.

Keeping staff up-to-date and informed about market trends and technical changes can enable dealers to maximize their business, meet the increasing demand for these systems, and stay on top of today’s and tomorrow’s trends.

Training Options

Many training courses qualify attendees for CEUs that may be required as well as fire alarm, lowvoltage and/or electrical licenses. Fire alarm systems training helps dealers meet CEU requirements and maintain their certifications at a low cost. Requirements for CEUs vary by location and certification but could specify a general mandate, such as 16 hours of continuing education every two years.

It is recommended that dealers within the fire alarm market have staff that is certified by the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET). Available sources of training include the Electronic

Security Association’s (ESA) National Training School (NTS), the American Fire Alarm Association (AFAA), and many other not-for-profit organizations that provide classroom and online courses for the evolving electronic security and life safety industry.

In-person programs. Many get their training from manufacturers, who tend to offer a variety of training curriculum delivered in a number of ways at little-to-no cost. Manufacturer-supplied training can cover subject matter from fire alarm basics to sophisticated applications design and programming. This training includes plenty of in-person opportunities that are especially useful when learning hands-on skills related to the installation, programming and maintenance of a specific brand of fire alarm system.

For example, a training class might teach an attendee how to install, program and service a 25-point addressable system including installing the hardware, connecting the system and troubleshooting. The manufacturer might provide addressable systems, smoke detectors, pull stations, relays, annunciators and other equipment for the training session, and attendees might work in teams to install the systems during a course. It is truly a hands-on experience and offers a great forum for new and seasoned technicians.

Online programs. In addition to in-person training, some manufacturers have taken to the Web to provide a range of training options from Webinars— both live and on-demand—to video demonstrations of installation basics. Most online training resources are free, and some provide certificates for those who complete a Web-based course. Online courses are also a good resource to gain familiarity with basic fire alarm terminologies before attending a more technical or hands-on course, as well as a simple, no-cost way of getting administrative and other office staff more informed.

Online training offers dealers an opportunity to become educated about fire alarm systems before they commit to enter the market and without investing in travel or other expenses. How-to videos on various manufacturers’ websites and YouTube cover general topics such as programming a system, checking battery voltage, aligning a beam detector and synchronizing notification appliance circuits. Usually under three minutes and easily searchable, these videos can help installers get quick clarification on a common, technical support issue and limit wasted labor time.

On-site programs. Security equipment distributors, electrical wholesalers and other suppliers also play a large role in training their local dealers and integrators. These trainings can be technical in nature, but suppliers have become very proficient at teaching the features and benefits of a product from a sales perspective—a benefit to technicians and salespeople alike.

Suppliers often provide on-site programs about the fire alarm market to dealers interested in entering the sector. “Getting Into Fire” is one such program that Fire-Lite Alarms offers through its various suppliers. These types of introductory courses open doors to new opportunities for dealers, providing details on technology, business development and marketing options. Attending these courses allows new dealers to better understand the challenges and opportunities involved.

Courses, Content and Attendance

Providing training to the marketplace represents a substantial investment for fire alarm manufacturers. For example, Silent Knight provides more than 50 hands-on courses per year, keeping three trainers busy traveling the country providing a one-day introductory course and a two-day advanced, hands-on, technical course. The two-day training offers more in-depth programming and overall system troubleshooting for experienced installers while covering some of the latest software tools this particular manufacturer makes available for free on its website. Interest in new technologies, such as carbon monoxide detection and emergency voice systems, also appear to be driving up attendance.

Another manufacturer, Fire-Lite Alarms, trains about 2,000 attendees annually and is seeing registrations increase as well. Dealers are showing interest in learning more about newer IP and cellular fire alarm communicators as well as mass notification systems. Fire-Lite is reportedly developing a new course on mass notification—a hot topic in the marketplace, especially in the hospitality, multi-dwelling and education markets.

Although local jurisdictions often have specific fire alarm requirements, national codes, such as those prescribed by the NFPA, are typically touched upon in trainings. Manufacturers like Fire-Lite Alarms and Silent Knight have traditionally offered brief overviews on new or upcoming fire alarm mandates through a combination of seminars, webinars and/or whitepapers. Local AFAA chapters are another good source of information on new codes, as is the local AHJ, which will be ensuring system compliance. Keeping up-to-date with code requirements is an essential aspect of the fire alarm market, and training is one of the best ways to stay abreast of the changes.

Attendees at these trainings are mostly people who install, program and maintain solutions, but fire marshals and other local authorities many times attend as well to learn about new products and gain a more thorough understanding of what is being installed in the field. Smart dealers make sure their sales staff is also trained to improve their product knowledge and respond effectively to customer needs. No matter what a person’s role is within an organization, it is highly valuable to have the basic knowledge of fire alarm systems and aligned technologies to best serve customers.

Knowledge Provides Opportunity

Knowledge is power, and various forms of training are great tools to empower current fire alarm dealers, security dealers and integrators to take advantage of growing business within the fire alarm market. Fire alarm systems can also be a good recurring revenue source on the monitoring side of a dealer’s business.

Training provides a direct route to success within a market that is full of opportunity. Every building needs a fire alarm system, so knowledge about installing and servicing the latest technologies can help expand a dealer’s current customer base while increasing business prospects with existing customers.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Security Today.

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