FIRE/LIFESAFETY BY WAYNE D. MOORE
In the design and installation world,
we define competence as the mastery of
the skills needed to perform our work
efficiently and correctly. If you own or
manage an electrical contracting operation, what does competence mean to you?
Do you use it to define a technician’s skills
and abilities and, therefore, their value to
your company? Who or what determines
a technician’s competence? Are you in
control of your technician’s competence,
or is it a natural ability?
By focusing on your technicians’ educational and motivational needs, you are
able to control competance in your organization. The competency of today’s fire
alarm technician must exceed whether
he or she knows how to wield a screwdriver and a pair of lineman’s pliers. The
technician installing an addressable analog fire alarm system must understand
the essential programming requirements
of such a system.
To ensure this programming competence remains high, concentrate on
regular hands-on training and ensure
that you standardize on a specific manufacturer. Standardizing will also help
minimize the expense of stocking a wide
variety of system components for repair
I often hear arguments from owners and managers who oppose this idea
because of fear that the equipment supplier will feel he or she can charge more
based on the fact you won’t “shop” his
price. If you feel this way about your
supplier, find another with whom you
can build a better relationship based
By standardizing on a single (accept-
able) manufacturer, you will save money
on every installation. All of your tech-
nicians will become familiar with the
equipment’s installation requirements,
thus becoming more efficient when
installing it. Additionally, the fire alarm
control programming will become more
efficient because you will not have con-
fused the issue by switching products
every time someone has a lower price.
Better system operational reliability is
yet another bonus because of this installation consistency.
In our profession, communication can
mean many things, but here I am writing
about interpersonal communication.
Focus on telling your technicians everything they need to know to enable them
to do their job correctly and efficiently.
This communication includes providing the training your technicians need in
the National Fire Alarm and Signaling
Code and National Electrical Code to
keep them abreast of new requirements
and thoroughly understand existing
ones. But communicating this information is just one component of helping
them become more competent. Their
motivation is the other critical factor.
Sometimes, the only motivation
technicians need will come in the form
of a promotion or increased pay. But
many young technicians today look for
a different kind of motivation. For those
individuals, you may need to emphasize
the fact that they provide life safety to the
occupants in the buildings where they
install fire alarm systems.
Your communication ability extends
to your customers, too. In this case, effec-
tive communication begins with actually
listening as they express their needs.
Having listened carefully, communicate
back to the customer how you plan to
meet those needs.
You also need to better understand
what the customer believes is most
important. Does he or she want you to
install a code-compliant system? Prob-
ably, but does that desire represent the
customer’s most pressing concern?
You must communicate that you
will provide a code-compliant system
and ensure the installation will be com-
pleted on time and will not adversely
affect the owner’s expected occupancy
date. This explanation satisfies the cus-
tomer’s primary concern of opening
the operation on time. Once you com-
municate your understanding of the
customer’s needs, you can move the
focus from price to performance.
You also need to employ your commu-
nication skills when you write proposals.
Never assume you have provided all the
information the customer needs to make
a decision by simply giving a price and a
statement that you will meet code require-
ments. Set yourself apart by effectively
telling the customer how your competent
technicians and your standard equipment
will result in a cost-effective, proper, and
on-time fire alarm system installation.
Provide examples of other similar
projects where your performance ulti-
mately saved your customer money and
Make your ultimate goal to become
known for your clear communication
Competence and Communication
Two issues worth focusing on
RECENTLY, I READ AN ARTICLE in American School and University magazine by
Tom Tapper that discusses competence and communication. Although his article
focuses on education, it caused me to consider what the words “competence” and
“communication” mean in our fire alarm systems profession.
MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety
field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with
Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. TH