Fire Tech Tips

Fire Tech Tips

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Posted August 2018: by Jasen Buddemeier and Tom Doty

In May a Fire Tech Tip was shared on the Fire Tech Productions Website regarding underground piping. In a conversation we had as a follow up to underground pipes with our Instructor, Jasen Buddemeier, his advice was: First, “Never start an underground job on Friday!”
Once the job is underway it is good to know the following…
Every PIV has a handle, housing, a stem, a flag assembly, and a valve.
In the past, every stem was 1” solid square steel stock. Some manufacturers now make a stem that is hollow square stock. There are several possibilities that can contribute to a premature failure of this type of stem: rain, lawn sprinklers, snow melt, high natural ground water level (depending on your geographical location) etc., which in return causes the water to follow the ditch line (the path of least resistance). Then, the water seeps into the valve housing. With the hollow stem, the water eventually rusts through making it necessary to dig up and fix.
An Alternate Repair Plan:
Fix the problem without digging it up,
Pull the top off the PIV, take a piece of 1” solid square stock approximately 8’ long (equal to the length of your post) this will slide down inside the hollow square. Next, take a 4” piece of the existing hollow stem… then, slide the solid square stock into the existing hollow portion approximately 2” — drill through and pin. After that, on the opposite end, install the indicator drill and pin this end too. Finally, drop the assembly into the PIV casing, measure and cut to fit.
This repair will buy you some time!


Posted July 2018: by Tom Doty

After 40 years in the Sprinkler Industry, I’ve run across a few “leaky” situations. Let’s just say my experience has taught me to always perform an air test prior to the introduction of water into a system.Read More

Consider this job: Your crew installs a new sprinkler system in a building that is brand new. After the system install, you hydrostatically test the system and the team quickly figures out that one of the joints had not been tightened, which then blew apart causing a flood. You are now responsible for cleaning up the water, drying out the area, replacing the carpet, office furniture, office equipment, ceiling tiles, repairing possible drywall damage, re- painting, etc. And furthermore, your “REPUTATION” has been damaged. Those alone are enough reasons to perform the air test. But even beyond that, consider the fact that there is now a potential for black mold in your customers new building. Believe me, you don’t want to be the responsible party!
A solution to minimize water damage to a property: Perform an air test prior to introducing water to the system. I recommend at least a 20-minute test (one hour is preferred) at 100 psi. The air test reading should remain consistent, meaning there are no drops in pressure noted, to pass the test. Once the air test is successful, then, and only then, would I consider it safe for water to be introduced to the system. It is clear to see how one more step could not only save you thousands of dollars, but also save you a tarnished reputation–which can be even harder to repair.


Posted June 2018: by Shawn Lee

Occasionally I suffer from a mild form of Obsessive Compulsive Behavior (OCB).Read More

It generally has something to do with the way I use or process information relating to fire protection– or when I am attempting to repair an electrical system. Both situations usually produce the same reaction when they don’t go as planned. In the case of repairing an electrical system, everything is “supposed” to work the first time and everything is “supposed” to fit exactly as it should; however, many times it doesn’t. When it comes to fire protection subjects, everything is “supposed” to be standardized and make sense, but again, that is not always the case. Let me tell you about my latest issue.

A few days ago, I was updating one of my fire alarm system presentations. When I got to the section that explains how to perform voltage drop calculations, I ran into a little difficulty. It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to do the calculations or that the calculations are overly difficult. I just wanted to make sure I provided solid information that would help future students. However, as I finished my slides, with the two calculations I use when I do voltage drop calculations (point to point and a version of lump sum), I decided that it would be helpful to everyone (including myself) if I added one more formula to give everyone as much information as possible.

I did a little research to make sure I had the correct formula. I inserted a few more slides into my presentation for this third formula. I then took some time to do a few calculations using all the same wire size, amperages, and wire distances. The example circuits were run with #14 AWG solid copper conductors with three horn/strobe appliances– each with a current draw of 0.75 amps, 1.05 amps, and 0.75 amps respectively. The wire distances starting at the control panel to each appliance was 25 feet, 50 feet, and another 50 feet. I ran the numbers for each formula and got three different results!

Now, I’ve been using the point to point method and “my” lump sum method for well over a decade. I am used to having two different results from the two formulas I use. I’ve never liked it, but I understand why it is that way, and I’ve learned to ignore my OCB on that subject. Therefore, I was not surprised that I had different results between “my” two formulas. On the other hand, I didn’t realize there would be almost a half volt variance between the two different versions of the lump sum voltage drop formula. Now, to be fair, all three formulas (there are more out there…I found ‘em) are valid formulas for figuring out voltage drop on a fire alarm circuit, and other circuits for that matter. I am not advocating for one formula or the other, as I do have a favorite, but I am advocating for something….

This might be opening a can of worms, but I believe that we should all work from one voltage drop calculation for fire alarm systems. I have three reasons why I think this is important.

1. Using a single voltage drop calculation means we are all on the same page. If we must review the system documentation years after installation, we would all have the same understanding of circuit operation. If we look at an as-built of a fire alarm system and it shows a specific number of notification appliances, let’s say 20, we are all on the same page. Twenty appliances are 20 appliances…period. However, with the numerous ways we can do voltage drop calculations, and the different ending voltages we can come up with, may cause us to not be on the exact same page. I can’t speak for others, but that leads me to question what we can expect from the circuits during the worst-case scenario.

2. The whole idea of the fire alarm and signaling code, or any code for that matter, is to standardize the requirements so that it doesn’t matter who is designing, installing, or maintaining the systems. The performance-based design calculations located in NFPA 72 (Annex B) will provide the same answers to anyone– so long as the designers are using the same information. The formulas do not change based upon the folks using them. Voltage drop calculations do not necessarily follow the same logic. As I stated earlier, even with the same information, I still got three different voltage drops for the same circuit.

3. Past editions of the fire alarm code, as well as the current 2016 edition, state we must perform voltage drop calculations; however, it doesn’t state any specific formula that must be used. Why would someone do that?

Now, I can imagine there may be some folks that would suggest that I just pick one and move on with life. The truth is, I am doing just that (more or less). I can continue to do it and adjust to my AHJs as needed. I freely admit that I have never run into an AHJ that mandated one voltage drop formula over another. Therefore, I might be creating a problem that generally doesn’t even exist for anyone; however, I still think my point is valid. Using one universal formula could fit the purpose of the fire alarm code and standardize everything we do, so that we all work from the same page. This is especially important when we review a system that may be decades old and the original installer is either no longer in business or we are unable to contact anyone who either designed or worked on the system.

Having a single standardized voltage drop formula is probably not in cards for the time being, so I will continue to teach the three calculations that I have in my presentation. Why wouldn’t I just pick my favorite and eliminate the others you ask? I considered doing just that, but then decided against it because I strive to provide as much information and training to my students as I possibly can, there may be students who are in a jurisdiction where one calculation IS the standard. Or perhaps their supervisor or employer dictates a specific voltage drop formula. I would rather give them the different options and hopefully those options will help them in their day-to-day jobs. It is important to provide the best fire alarm education and training I possibly can, even if that means teaching three different formulas. So, until the day we have one standardized voltage drop calculation, if ever, I will give as much information as I can to train others. I’d rather do that than take a chance that I am not providing the training they need.

But seriously, we need one formula.



Posted May 2018: by Tom Doty

“There are no cheap mistakes in underground.” -Tom Doty Read More

A brief history: Underground piping has changed through the years. It has gone from wood pipe to cast iron, which was specified by an architect, to ductile iron pipe, to ACP (Asbestos Cement Lined Piping), and to C900 PVC pipe (very popular now). Additionally, it used to be that kicker blocks or thrust blocks were the norm for securing the underground systems. Now a popular choice for retaining underground systems is mega lug systems. Regardless of your tools and materials, there are many things to consider when quoting and working with underground.

Area: Installing underground piping can greatly vary from area to area based on the geological conditions. Years ago we were working on a job and the quote had been accepted and approved. When we were digging, at about 12 inches down, we hit blue granite – a very hard substance. We had to bring in a rock breaker, just to get through it, at the cost of $130 / hour (and this was many years ago). Moral of this story, know the area you are working in, don’t blow the joints and don’t blow the budget.

Use enough of and the right type of lubricant. For example, consider the situation when the team did not apply enough lubricant, and the rubber fish mouthed (the rubber got pinched in an area, which pushed it out of the fitting) — the water then sprayed out and ate a hole in the pipe until it finally blew out the whole joint.

Don’t forget the Thrust Blocks and/or Mega Lugs. Years back in Palm Springs, an all sand area, we were installing “dead man thrust blocks”. Dead man thrust blocks are installed about 3 feet below where the pipe is being installed. Concrete should be poured and then the rebar, or all thread rod (the dead man), should be added. Unfortunately, for the contractor, the team did not install the dead man and it eventually blew the piping out by pushing the pipe through the sand.

Undergrounds are difficult to install. There are many things to think about and consider. Keep these things in mind when considering a quote on an underground job:
• Water district regulations. You may need extra bonds, permits, and/or certifications.
• You may need to chlorinate and bacteria test your line (typical when tying into a city main or potable line)
• You usually need to:
• Hydrostatically test the line and flush the underground system
• Backfill (which would include sand or base materials)
• Replace, fill and compact the soil
• Repave or replace the concrete (or whatever your surface material is) and level/remove excess debris (whatever was dug up)
If you don’t work with underground on a consistent basis, it’s not very profitable. The potential problems are numerous and expensive. Furthermore, the equipment to install and deal with underground installations is also costly. One mistake could lead to a loss of all profit.


Posted April 2018: by Lisa Salzman

When preparing for your NICET exam, there are some things to keep in mind… Read More

      • NICET exams are open book. Specific Standards are recommended and allowed into the testing center.
      • Standards, Standards, Standards—Be very familiar with the referenced standards! We (and NICET) highly recommend you take the exact edition referenced in your exam. For example, if you are testing in Water-Based Layout, study and take NFPA 13 2013 into the test with you. Do not take the NFPA 13 2010 or 2007 edition.
      • Be familiar with the Standards, each chapter, and where to find information in the Standards. We recommend tabs—they must be permanent tabs, per NICET guidelines. You can make your own or visit: As Robert Homer, one of our clients, said, “Referencing NFPA Standards is a real pain without your tabs!”
      • When your exam allows more than one Standard into the test, the importance of knowing the Standards and being familiar with where answers can be obtained is very important. You typically have an average of 90 seconds to answer any given question. Therefore, you need to know where to look, so you can spend your time reading the correct section to answer the question correctly.
      • Practice, Practice, Practice—We can’t emphasize this enough. Go through lists of sample questions and look every question up in each of the Standards. You will achieve the highest chances of success by learning and understanding the training material. Do not attempt to solely memorize practice quiz questions. As in the case of Fire Tech Productions, the sample questions are examples only and do not reflect actual NICET test questions– this is compliant with NICET guidelines.
      • Pearson-Vue test centers provide an online calculator (TI-108) for the NICET exam. Spend time becoming familiar with how to use this online tool by taking the Pearson-Vue practice test. Additionally, NICET provides calculator information at: : (note: You may need to select the “CBT Calculator Preview” option after entering this URL)
      • Certain Standards are available online during your exam. Be familiar with PDF navigation. Practice on your own computer prior to taking the exam.
      • Take time to review the NICET site. Read the outline for the exam you are taking.
      • When you sign up on the NICET site, you are given a three-month testing window. Schedule your exam, mark it on the calendar, and start studying.
      • Once you complete your study and exam, you should be more qualified—that is the final goal for everyone. The NICET certification was put in place to represent a highly knowledgeable technician.
      • Always remember, Practice makes Perfect!


Posted March 2018: The following Steps were delivered in a 5-week series by Truth at Work, Summarized by Lisa Salzman, Fire Tech Productions, Inc.

1. Out Hustle and Out Work Everyone.  Read More

As Paul Bryant said, “It’s not the will to win that matters, everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”
2. Do the right thing, even when no one is looking. –Proverbs 10:9
3. It’s the little things that make all the difference.  That is, Major on the Minors.
4. Focus on the Process and not the Results.  For example, We can’t control whether or not our customer buys from us. However, we can develop a process that helps them understand so that they make a good buying decision.
5. Stay Positive – Especially when others are negative. –Philippians 4:8

Tips for staying positive:
a. Hang out with successful people
b. Keep the question in mind: What can I learn from this situation?
c. Focus on what you can change
d. Invest in other people
e. Give yourself a positive self-talk everyday
f. Practice an Attitude of Gratitude


Posted February 2018:  The following is a story presented to Fire Tech Productions from Justin Strousse. He is the Director of Global Sales for Clarke Fire Protection Products where he works in the fire pump industry and travels around the world Read More

visiting various facilities, meeting government officials, and attending different seminars and exhibitions. Justin had quite an experience in Mexico and this is his story…

I arrived in Mexico on a Sunday with my co-worker, Luis Alvarez, as we were going to be attending the AMRACI conference. After arriving in Mexico City, doing a little sightseeing, attending some seminars, and meeting up with other attendees– we decided that the next day we would visit one of the pump dealers before going to the opening day of the expo. The company we visited in the south-central part of Mexico City was in a concrete building. Luis had left to give some training while I stayed and spoke with the owners. It was around 11:00am when an alarm went off and an owner told me not to worry, “it was just an annual test of an earthquake alarm,” that they test every year on the anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake.

About 1:15, I was in a second-floor conference room and my chair and the table started to shake. I could see out the window that trees were swaying and power lines were moving back and forth. People were leaving the building and, as some of us were trying to exit, the whole building began shaking violently. I could not even walk to get outside—the whole building was rocking back and forth, so I stayed inside leaning on a vertical I beam covered by concrete.

Finally, everything stopped. Myself and others walked out of the building and were told that we could not go back into any of the buildings, as they might be very unstable and possibly collapse—especially with the possibility of aftershocks. We walked to a nearby soccer field and as we were walking I noticed one of the streets had water seeping out of it from a broken underground water main. Eventually our building was cleared and we were able to go back inside. We stayed there for a while, as our hotel was seven miles away. Unfortunately, it was getting hotter, with no air conditioning or electricity, so we decided to make our way to a closer hotel. Once there we caught up on the news and had dinner, while waiting for the roads to clear, so we could get back to our hotel.

We eventually returned to our hotel later that evening. Not all of Mexico City was severely affected by the earthquake, so the Expo was not canceled for the next day, but as we traveled around the city we saw devastation caused by the earthquake. Although our company president thought we should return to the states right away, Luis and I decided to stay and attend the expo. While at the expo we were able to see customers, and sit in on a press conference regarding the need for Mexico to push for country-wide fire regulations.

The earthquake happened on Tuesday and I was in Mexico until Friday. While I was there I noticed how well the Mexicans worked at mobilizing right away on clean up, repair, and delivering supplies (along with food and water) to areas of need. It makes one stop and think. I always push using a diesel fire pump driver versus using an electric motor set with a gen set because I sell diesel fire pump drivers. However, I truly push diesel fire pump drivers in regions which can get hit by natural disaster—like earthquakes, as diesel fire pump drivers are totally independent of what is going on outside of the building. After the earthquake we lost power, water and total communications. Our gen set ran out of fuel. I can tell you, first hand, there are no fuel deliveries during an earthquake. You can’t call anyone. If by some miracle you could get a fuel delivery, since there was no power, you could not even pump fuel to your tank. The only thing I could think of the entire time was – if there was a fire in the neighborhood, and the building was protected by an electric only fire pump set supported by a gen set, which would not be operational, everything would burn down. Now, I am an even stronger believer in using diesel fire pump drivers for areas which could suffer a natural disaster. Believe me—when a region is hit by the same disaster—you and your facility are truly on your own.


Posted January 2018, by Tom Doty, Co-Owner, Fire Tech Productions and Craynon Fire Protection

Some years ago, our service department invested in a freeze machine. For those of you who don’t know what a freeze machine is, it is a Velcro sleeve that Read More

wraps around a pipe and has a chart that defines freezing procedures based on water pressure.

For example, if the water pressure is 100 psi, charge the sleeve with a 30 second blast of CO2 initially, followed by 10 second blasts every 30 seconds thereafter to maintain the frozen pipe. This eliminates the need to shut down and drain a system and then refill the system when work is completed. It has worked great, especially for small arm-overs.

Our crew arrived at a job to relocate two sprinkler heads, not knowing at the time it was a tri-water system. At the time, the cost of copper was going through the roof and someone in their infinite wisdom came up with a tri-water system. This system essentially eliminates the need for supply and return lines to the air conditioning by running an extra sprinkler main. With one main being supply and one main being return, the system alternates the sprinkler lines — one from supply and the next from the return. The problem is there are also two shutoffs and the water circulates, which causes the chart that comes with the freeze machine to become obsolete.

Need I state the obvious? The tenant’s office got flooded, we got reamed, and the big mess had to be cleaned up. The popularity of tri-water systems did not last too long as the air conditioning people wanted to use (flammable) rust inhibitors to maintain their units.


Posted December 2017, by Shawn Lee, Fire Tech Productions Developer & Trainer

What brings this post to life was a discussion I had with a coworker about a quiz question on one of our online training courses.  The quiz question had a trick answer that could be Read More

taken one way or the other.  Unfortunately, if the person taking the quiz took it the “wrong” way, then the answer is deemed incorrect.  This happened and the person who got the answer incorrect asked for clarification on why the answer they chose was wrong.  As they were studying for a NICET exam, I consider this a very valid question.  After I provided some clarification to our customer, my coworker and I spoke about if we leave the quiz question and answers as they are, or make our questions and answers almost word-for-word out of the codes and standards.

As you may know, helping our customers prepare for the NICET exams is the bedrock of what Fire Tech Productions does.  It’s not all we do, but it is a large part of it.  When it comes to helping others prepare for the NICET exams, we feel it’s important to mimic some of what an exam taker will experience.  That can include some questions and answers that might be a little tricky.  Not every question and answer will follow this guideline, but there could be a few.  An argument for this is that the person studying for the exam would (potentially) get a taste of what the exam will be like.  This can be useful for someone who has never taken the exam before.  Making our quizzes and exams in this way could help shape the way the person studies, which in turns helps them pass the exam.

However, as often happens in life, there is more than one side to any story.  Studying to take an exam and using test taking strategies to pass the exam doesn’t always equate to learning and retaining the material.  For me, and I freely admit this is just my opinion, studying for an exam and practicing test taking strategies doesn’t make me learn the material.  It gears me to do well on the test itself.  In most cases, within a few weeks of taking, and hopefully passing the test, the information I studied is pretty much on the way out of my brain.  It’s not committed to my long-term memory.  I know everyone isn’t me, but I would guess that I am not the only person like this.  In contrast, when I make it a point to learn something from NFPA 72 for my own personal knowledge, it tends to stick.

Developing quiz or mock exam questions for customers sometimes gets a little complicated.  My main goal when providing training is to make sure that the knowledge you gain from our courses is knowledge you will be able to apply both to your day-to-day jobs and to an exam you may be studying for.  I believe it is important for any fire protection instructor to make sure that his or her students know the information in the code and how to find it when needed.  That way, it doesn’t matter if the student is preparing for an exam or preparing to discuss a code issue with the AHJ or the boss.  Either way, the knowledge is at their fingertips.

My advice to anyone who is preparing to take a certification exam with NICET or any other certification granting entity is to know the code, make sure you are familiar with the layout of that code, and know the general information located in the different chapters.  Don’t try to memorize all of it because unless the code or standard you are studying is very small, it will be difficult for most of us to retain all the information.  If you concentrate on where the information may be located, you can cut down on the amount of time to find the information you seek and you can start to retain some of the information that matters most to your day-to-day jobs.

All that being “said,” I still need to decide if we will change the quiz that brought about this discussion.  I can see both sides of the argument and I am on the fence.  As I wrote earlier, we are committed to helping our customers pass their NICET exams.  It’s what we do.  And I might have to concede the best way to do that is with a mixture of slightly tricky questions and answers along with some questions and answers that are almost word-for-word out of the codes and standards.  I’ll think on it for a little while longer and then do whatever the boss says.


Repost from

Nov 2017 – by Wills LaCrosse, Fire Tech Fire Pump Instructor.  Wills LaCrosse is the owner of LaCrosse Engineering. LaCrosse Engineering specializes in Fire Pump testing and maintenance.

Fire Pumps are a critical safety item in facilities across the world. Their purpose is to make sure a building has Read More

enough water pressure in case of a fire emergency. Of course, the hope is that they are never needed but if they are they need to perform reliably.

Fire Pumps are typically tested on an annual basis. In addition to flows and pressures the mechanical integrity needs to be verified. I typically see the same pumps year after year, however, I am also often called out on pumps I haven’t inspected previously.

There are two standards currently in use for Fire Pumps.

NFPA 20 for new construction
NFPA 25 for ongoing maintenance

Section 6.5.2 NFPA 20 states that pumps and drivers that are coupled should be aligned in accordance with manufacturers specifications and the Hydraulic Institute Standards for Centrifugal, Rotary and Reciprocating pumps. Section NFPA 25 indicates that angular and parallel (offset) alignment of the pump and driver shall be checked during the annual test and that any misalignment shall be corrected.

Here is an example of an alignment check done before the annual flow test. The coupling manufacturer’s maximum allowance was 2.6 mils/in angular and 16 mils offset. The initial check revealed that the misalignment was over 3X the manufacturer’s limit. A precision shaft alignment using the Fixturlaser GO Basic laser system was performed and took less than 30 minutes. The final alignment was left within widely accepted precision tolerances for an 1800 RPM machine (0.7mils/1” angular, 4.0 mils offset) and well below what the coupling manufacturer called for. Both results are shown below.

Initial Check

Final Alignment

I also utilize the Hawk Supervisor to check the mechanical condition of Fire Pump Systems. The Hawk allows me to check the initial condition and the final condition of the system. I receive a diagnosis at the machine in about 10 minutes. Data is compared to ISO specifications and the over health is reported. If problems exist I am given a diagnosis, what it thinks is wrong and recommended corrective actions.

In this example, the initial diagnosis was a bad outboard bearing which required replacement.

The thrust bearing was replaced and the system aligned and a final scan showed everything was acceptable.

In summary, the alignment condition of fire pumps needs to be checked and corrected, if needed, anytime a Fire Pump is serviced. New tools also allow us to not only determine the health of the fire pump but give recommendations on corrective actions.

Save Time. Save Money. Save the Machine.

This  articles original post can be found at:


October 2017, Submitted by Priscilla Duggins, Project Systems Specialist – SimplexGrinnell

When marking up drawings, use this standard multi-color pen system:  Read More

      • red – incorporate items (add)
      • green – delete items
      • blue – comments for information only, not to be added to drawing.
        (Don’t use black, it doesn’t show well on a black and white drawing.)
      • yellow – items marked as “correct”
      • orange – items addressed by drafting (pickups) – to check your own work.

I have worked in the Architectural and Engineering industry for 20 years. The use of the markup color standard used to be the norm; I rarely see this system used anymore. It works and saves a lot of time and money in the end, besides not having the headache of trying to decipher a messy single color markup. It may seem like more work and a lot of hassle, but in the end it will save a lot of time. Also if you do this regularly, you will get used to it and it won’t take you longer. For those who don’t want the inconvenience of carrying and keeping track of multiple pens, there are several brands of multi-color single pens available.

Note from Fire Tech:  We did a little research on the marking system and found several different ways various industries use the marking system.  For a little more information matching the system above, see:


Posted September 2017, by Shawn Lee, Fire Tech Productions Developer & Trainer

When it comes to personal enjoyment in the fire alarm field, my favorite activity is troubleshooting and repairing systems. I enjoy troubleshooting because Read More

it’s a challenge. For me, it’s genuine fun (most times).

There were many times when the problem seemed clear as day.  Just like there were times when I thought it would be easy and it turned out it wasn’t.  Sometimes it was because of something beyond my control, such as building construction.  It made troubleshooting more than a little difficult.  Other times it wasn’t easy to troubleshoot or repair the system because I failed to follow my number one rule of troubleshooting: “Know the system you are working on”.  I want to relay a story about one of those times.

There I was.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was stationed on Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.  It was a very long time ago…1998.  I received a call to report to the base club.  The system went into trouble and the trouble alert was really bugging the club manager.  And since it was dinner time and the building was occupied, I was directed to repair the system.  I arrived, talked with the club manager, and set out to find the problem.  I looked at the circuit board to see how everything was configured (it was Class B) and then I started searching for the problem.

This system was a conventional fire alarm system.  So that I do not unintentionally endorse a manufacturer, I will not tell you who made this panel or what its model name is, but I will say this was a very reliable panel and I had been working with this panel for the last two and half years.  I was very comfortable with it and knew its capabilities well.  In fact, when I was first assigned to the Alarm Maintenance Shop on Kadena in 1997, I spent an extra hour after work each day for a month learning this and other systems.  One of the initiating device circuits was in a trouble condition.  Probably an open in the wiring I thought.  I was confident I would be able to find the problem and be on my way home in no more than an hour.

Two hours later I was still working.  Not able to find the issue.  Fuming.  Muttering to myself.  I was using my tried and true technique of splitting the circuit in half and working towards the problem.  Since it was an open, I knew at some point there would be no voltage on the circuit.  Only, no matter which direction I searched the voltage was always there.  At first, I was a little confused.  Then came agitation.  Later still flat out anger.  Mostly at myself for not being able to get this done.

When I calmed myself down and started thinking clearly again, I decided that maybe the problem wasn’t with the circuit, but perhaps the control panel was causing the issue.  At the very least, if it wasn’t, then I could scratch it off the list of potential problems.  I went back to the control panel and looked at it again to make sure nothing was damaged or looked out of place.  Everything looked like it should.  I checked every fuse with my voltmeter.  All good. I focused on the expansion card. I think I looked at that expansion card for about two seconds when I found the problem.  It wasn’t the circuit board, the expansion card, or even the circuit out in the field.  The problem was me.  I had failed to follow my own rule: “Know your systems”.

Yes, I knew what this model of panel was capable of.  I knew how it operated.  I knew where the fuses were, their ratings, and what they protected.  I knew the panel well.  But I didn’t know THIS system.  The one in the base club.  THIS system had a mixture of Class A and Class B circuits.  THIS system had expansion cards and the circuit I was trying to repair was on one of those expansion cards.  The main circuit board was configured for Class B operation for the bells and the detectors circuits.  Yes, there were bells in that building, not strobes or horn/strobes.  This was 1998, remember? I saw that the main board was configured for Class B when I first examined the panel.  The expansion card with my circuit was configured for Class A.  I didn’t remember checking for that when I first checked out the system.  I made an assumption and got to work.  In the end, that assumption cost me time and about a year off my life due to the mental anguish I caused myself!

Once I realized that I was working with a Class A circuit, I labeled and disconnected one side of the circuit so that system voltage could only flow in one direction.  I then went back into the field and reconnected a few wires I had taken apart.  Now that everything was reconnected except for conductors I purposely left disconnected in the panel, I went back to troubleshooting.  I found the problem within 10 minutes.  I’m not kidding.  It was a bad wiring connection inside a junction box above the ceiling in the kitchen area. The time it took once I figured out the circuit I was troubleshooting was a Class A circuit to getting back in my truck to leave was approximately 45 minutes.  That included talking with the manager to let him know I was done and calling dispatch to tell them I was complete.  If I had known my system, the base club’s fire alarm system, I would have finished the job in less than an hour.

I learned some valuable lessons that day.  Don’t assume you know what’s going on because you’ve worked with a particular system before.  Each system is unique.  Check the control panel thoroughly before going out to the field wiring to troubleshoot.  Make note of how the system you are currently working on is set up.  With today’s systems, that may mean reviewing the programming or the input/output matrix if there is one.  Either way, make sure you know how the system is configured and what it is supposed to do before leaping into the unknown.

As aggravated and upset as I was that day, I look back at that job as one of the best I’ve been on.  I gained some valuable experience.  At the end of the day, I got the system back up 100% and made sure the building occupants and the building itself had a functioning fire alarm system.


Posted August 2017, by Bruce Agan, USAutomatic Fire and Security, as told to Cheryl Ryan

Bruce Agan, a fire sprinkler contractor in Carmel, Indiana, often recruits young hires from high schools and technical colleges.  The following is a story he tells to make known the importance of the fire protection industry….  It is a story that is pertinent to many of us when we make the decision
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to place a loved one in a nursing home facility.  We want our loved one to be safe from unforeseen harm.  Here is Bruce’s story:

There comes a point in time in a person’s life where they need to make the tough decision to put a loved one in a nursing home.  We want to be thorough in seeing what our options are and in finding the place we feel will provide the best care.  One way to do your due diligence is to visit these nursing homes at night.  You will find there are fewer staff on site at 3am, and it is a good idea to see what it is like in the middle of the night.

Imagine you pull into a nursing home at 3am.  You are buzzed in and tell the person that you are there to see what the facility is like at night, as you are trying to find the right nursing home placement for your mother. You ask if you can look around and maybe peek in a couple of rooms to get a feel for the place. There are several corridors, A thru D, and the employee takes you to visit corridor D.  While you are looking around the fire alarm begins to go off– indicating there is a fire somewhere in the facility.  In this scenario, there are not many staff on duty and the facility does not have a sprinkler system.

The fire happens to be in corridor A’s laundry room.  The staff moves into action and they begin to get residents to safety.  The fire department has been notified via the alarm system.  However, keep in mind that there are many residents and not many staff this time of night.  It also takes the fire department, on average, five to fifteen minutes to get to the call.  Furthermore, with certain conditions, fire can double in size every thirty seconds.  So, the staff is having to determine which people to save because the fire is growing and spreading, and the fire department is still rolling to the scene.  Lives will be lost.

Now rewind the story to the fire alarm sounding off at 3am in corridor A.  This time there is a working sprinkler system installed in the nursing home facility.  As the heat from the fire reaches the sprinkler head(s), the sprinkler system activates and begins to douse the fire.  The fire department has received the alert and has been dispatched to the scene.  The staff is moving residents to safety.  A much different outcome—all lives are saved and the fire is contained and put out.  This is the ending to the story that we want.   Our purpose in sharing this story is to inform people about the huge importance of having working sprinkler systems installed in facilities for fire protection.  Share the story—it can save lives!!


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