Proving proficiency is giving fire protection professionals a competitive edge
In many industries, there are certifications that mark professionals as exceptionally qualified. And when it comes to working with water-based fire protection systems, NICET (National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies) certification is the gold standard.
Requests for proposals (RFPs) and job specifications that demand proof of NICET certification have become commonplace. NICET certification is mandated in nearly three-quarters of U.S. states—and by a wealth of local jurisdictions in the others—for technicians responsible for the design of water-based fire sprinkler systems such as standpipes and fire sprinklers, and/or inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) of water-based systems. (See our table below for a complete list of which states require NICET certifications.)
NICET certification is also required to secure status as a U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) contractor performing ITM services on water-based systems for the federal government.
Carefully designed by industry experts to demonstrate a professional’s proficiency, NICET certifications can serve as a roadmap for fire protection careers, with certification levels moving from entry-level duties to senior management responsibilities. Valued by employers and clients, the nationally recognized program gives those who meet its standards a significant edge in hiring, retention, promotion, and contracting decisions.
The institute also invests in certificate holders with job placement services that support their professional development—and ensures that companies in engineering and technology fields have a competent workforce providing the highest degree of life safety protection to the public.
Let’s examine the impact NICET certification can have on careers in the fire protection industry, when it’s required, and what becoming certified entails. We also offer a snapshot of typical courses that arm technicians with everything they need to know to pass the test and maintain certification.
This article on NICET certification for fire protection professionals is one installment of a two-part series developed in conjunction with Quick Response Fire Supply. Learn how building owners and representatives can choose a qualified fire protection contractor at QRFS’s Thoughts on Fire blog.
NICET 101: What’s behind the certification?
Since this not-for-profit institute was founded in 1961, more than 150,000 professionals have met its rigorous certification standards for engineering and technology fields like fire protection, highway construction, construction materials testing, geotechnical engineering, and bridge safety inspection.
Originally accepted as the quality standard for professionals in civil engineering fields, representatives from fire sprinkler associations approached NICET in the 1980s about attaching its good name to their industry. The objective: establishing a certification program that could help boost the industry’s reputation for employing qualified personnel and delivering high-quality work.
Since then, more than 10,000 individuals have proven their technical mastery by becoming certified in two areas: Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems and Water-Based Systems Layout. And that number grows yearly as more customers, employers, and local and state governments rely on NICET certification to measure the qualifications of the fire protection professionals they hire. There is also a separate NICET certification for the layout of special hazard suppression systems, which typically rely on clean agents or gas to control fires.
NICET continuously unites industry leaders and subject-matter experts to analyze new challenges and changing codes in the fire protection industry, ensuring that its certification programs include all necessary technical skills and knowledge. For fire sprinkler, standpipe, and other water-based system technicians, programs generally combine computerized multiple-choice exams, documented work experience relevant to the specific testing category, and supervisor verification of proficiency at certain skills.
With the speed that technology and fire codes change, NICET also recognizes the importance of continuing education and professional development. Certified individuals must earn at least 90 “continuing professional development” credits during their three-year certification period to maintain their accreditation. Credits can be earned through activities that also advance a technician’s professional standing, such as work experience, training sessions, and association memberships.
Why NICET certification is worth the effort
Many training programs offer certificates that are simply based on basic principles or even mere attendance, giving them little meaning. Others do require a test that can serve as a helpful way of quickly obtaining specific job knowledge.
NICET’s professional certification goes further. It’s rooted in testing that covers a broad range of job knowledge, verification of job performance, and an evaluation of work experience that signifies a career level—not just a course outcome. Consider these eight big benefits of becoming NICET certified:
Career advancement. NICET certification stands as a verifiable, objective statement of a worker’s capabilities and initiative by an independent third party that includes committees of experts. It reassures potential employers that a candidate’s work—and ultimately, the quality of a company’s goods and services—can meet the highest standards.
NICET’s increasing inclusion in RFP and job-spec requirements eliminates those who lack certification from consideration for a growing percentage of jobs in the industry. In places where certification is voluntary, it shows employers and clients that technicians are dedicated to their profession and willing to go the extra mile to maximize their expertise.
Prove qualifications to potential clients. Certification from a highly respected third party like NICET offers assurance that technicians have the knowledge to do a job right.
Easily access the right codes. Not only do certified professionals understand which code or standard applies to a given situation, but they are trained to quickly locate and interpret the necessary information within the tremendous amount of available material.
Certification goes wherever you do. NICET is a national organization. Certification follows members whether they change jobs or states—many of which may require it.
Mitigate risk. In the fire protection industry, mistakes can lead to costly property damage—and in the worst cases, become a matter of life and death. While NICET certification can’t eliminate mistakes, it forces technicians to gain a deep understanding of code requirements. That significantly reduces the likelihood of code violations that form the basis of most serious errors and lawsuits within the industry.
Boost the industry’s reputation. When many individuals within a profession meet respected certification standards, it builds up the entire industry’s reputation for excellent work and customer service.
It’s the law in many places. A license is a credential granted by a state or local jurisdiction, and it’s required by law to perform certain types of work. Read this carefully: NICET does not grant licenses. That said, its certifications are required by many states and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) to qualify for various types of regulated work.
Click on your state in the table below to review its NICET certification requirements. In states that lack overall requirements, it’s wise to check with your local jurisdiction to see if NICET certification is required before working with water-based systems.
Note: The table below is up-to-date as of Sept. 5, 2019, but it is subject to change. Be sure to contact the responsible agency in your state to verify whether NICET certification is required—a full list of state agencies and links to their contact information can be found at QRFS.
Water-Based Systems Layout
Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems
So, what does NICET certification involve?
Water-Based Systems Layout and Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems certifications are available in up to four levels based on experience and expertise. While the levels build upon each other, candidates don’t have to be certified at lower levels before applying to a higher one, as long as requirements for the lower levels are also met.
Level I – Minimal relevant experience or entry-level training. It’s designed for trainees and entry-level technicians who perform limited job tasks under direct or frequent supervision.
Level II – A minimum of two years of relevant experience. This is for technicians who perform routine tasks under general daily supervision.
Level III – A minimum of five years of relevant experience and a personal recommendation. For layout certification, technicians must be able to work independently with standards, plans, and specifications to produce complete plans for standard systems. For inspection and testing certification, technicians must be able to work independently to perform complete system inspection and testing jobs, and supervise other technicians.
Level IV – Only for the layout certification. This requires a minimum of 10 years of relevant experience, a personal recommendation, and documentation of a role in a major project. It’s applicable for senior-level technicians whose work includes complex or specialized systems and the supervision of others.
Water-Based Systems Layout
Water-Based Systems Layout is aimed at engineering technicians whose work addresses the layout and detailing of water-based fire protection systems within the constraints of stringent code and statutory requirements. The major responsibilities, tasks, knowledge, and skills associated with Levels I, II, III, and IV offer an outline of exam content. Two exams are required for Level III certification: General Plan Preparation and Hydraulics and Water Supply Planning.
Broadly, certifications cover such areas as plan and submittal preparation, application of various types of water-based systems, equipment selection and application, and technical management of layout projects. Technical areas include types of water-based systems and their components; water supply requirements; hydraulics; building features, hazards, and occupancy considerations; system installation, inspection, and maintenance requirements; codes and standards, and contract administration.
The closed-book exams are administered on computers at a proctored test center. They range from 101 questions on the 150-minute Level I exam to 70 (more-complex) questions on the 290-minute Level IV exam.
Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems
Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems is for technicians who perform ITM services for existing water-based fire protection systems, including identifying and addressing emergency and preplanned impairments. Once again, the major responsibilities, tasks, knowledge, and skills associated with Levels I, II, and III outline exam content. Two exams are listed for Level I. Level II candidates must pass three new tests plus the two listed for Level I. And Level III candidates must pass two new tests plus the previous five.
Broadly, topics include inspection, testing, documentation, safety, and work management. Technical areas cover the types of water-based systems and their components; types of damage and deficiencies that can impact system operation; basic building features; system inspection and testing frequencies, requirements, and procedures; use of appropriate tools and test equipment; working safely with minimal impact on surroundings; applicable codes and standards; impairment procedures; and reporting findings.
Each test takes about 80 minutes and averages 50 questions, except the final test for Level III. It has 79 questions and takes 110 minutes.
Passing the test
For both certifications, test results are delivered at the end of the exam. Once technicians pass the test, NICET evaluates the relevance of their work history to the certification they aim to achieve, as well as a supervisor’s verification of on-the-job performance. A decision about certification status is mailed within 90 days of the testing date.
NICET certification is no longer just voluntary—it’s the law in an increasing number of states and jurisdictions. Source: NICET
How to prepare for the challenging certification process
There’s no denying the degree of difficulty of the NICET certification process, but there are several tools available to help technicians prepare.
Tap into external resources related to technical trades at local universities, technical college libraries, and public libraries.
Shadow a more experienced co-worker for hands-on instruction.
Consider an online exam prep course provided by Fire Tech Productions. Recognized by NICET as an approved training provider, Fire Tech helps students through the rigorous NICET certification process with self-paced online courses. Our two major water-based courses prepare you for:
All courses include online study access for 90 or 120 days, simulated exams with hundreds of sample questions, continuously updated content that follows the NICET outline, detailed reviews of applicable standards, and effective tips, hints, and strategies for exam-day success. Prep tools for the layout exam can also include a video series covering 12 key subjects and a monthly instructor-led Q&A session.
Fire Tech guides participants through certification step-by-step, providing a thorough understanding of NICET and the overall process. We are so confident in our students’ ability to pass NICET exams after reviewing Fire Tech’s material that we offer a customer promise for those who followed the proper procedures but didn’t pass the test. This promise includes free test reviews, guidance from an experienced instructor, and enrollment in an appropriate prep course.
And once you’re certified, stay that way through …
Fire Tech’s online continuing education courses. Our CEU/CPD (Continuing Education Units/Continuing Professional Development) Automatic Sprinklers/Water-Based Layout curriculum includes 61 individual courses that range from 6 installation courses for standpipes to topics as specific as seismic bracing requirements for NFPA 13 sprinkler systems.
We also offer a CEU/CPD Inspection & Testing of Water Based Systems curriculum that includes 21 individual courses, as well as various state-specific classes that help contractors continue to meet their area’s requirements.
In addition, Fire Tech hosts free webinars and hands-on workshops that further a practical, continuing fire safety education. Note: free webinars cannot be used for CEU credit, but they assist in communicating relevant, practical concepts that broaden fire safety system knowledge and may assist in CEU-qualified coursework.