The year was 2005, new construction in the United States was at an all-time high, and the fire sprinkler industry was in full swing to address the Voluntary Replacement Program affecting over 35 million installed sprinklers.
In this environment of increasing demand for technical knowledge and greater need to raise awareness on the effectiveness of fire sprinklers, one state’s legislature conceived a new law that gave birth to what many industry experts consider the model training program for other states to adopt.
It’s a challenging task for any AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) to facilitate a minimum level of expertise of those working in the fire sprinkler industry, but Washington State took that challenge a step further with their ambitious goal to provide on-going quality training each year at no cost to participants.
Ten years later in 2015, the training program is delivering 192 hours of training, packaged into twenty-one training classes strategically located throughout the state, accommodating up to 735 people with no more than 35 people per class. In addition to this impressive reach, the training program features instructors who are nationally recognized industry experts with a proven ability and passion for teaching.
So, how is such a quality training program being funded if there is no cost to participants, you may ask? Thanks to the Washington State Legislature a law was enacted that allows funds from the Fire Protection Contractor License Fund to be used for training. What a brilliant approach! A portion of the fees collected for fire sprinkler contractor licenses and certificate of competencies get “returned” in the form of no cost quality training available to the sprinkler industry, the public they serve and the AHJ’s they comply with.
During the early years prior to 2010 in-house instructors focused on the relevant state laws and rules for the AHJ audience. In 2010 the training program took a significant shift to keep up with industry needs and changes to the NFPA standards…outside subject matter experts were contracted with to deliver the training and more focus was given to the training needs of the sprinkler industry and interested public.
While this was a great step forward in expanding the content and reach of the training program after 2010, the state experienced several challenges with using different contractors to deliver the training.
Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Daniel E. Johnson, in charge of Washington State’s fire sprinkler training program, recalls, “Prior to 2013, we would use different contractors to teach the training classes being offered. The cost per class increased each year while the amount budgeted for training was being reduced. We needed to contract the classes to one contractor.”
Johnson further explains that working with multiple training providers resulted in a large amount of administrative burden having to coordinate with multiple vendors to setup contracts, coordinate scheduling of classes, provide class rosters, retrieve post training documents and process payments.
“Fire Smarts is the sole contractor used in 2014 and 2015 to provide instruction for all classes offered,” says Johnson. “Fire Smarts submitted a bid that was considered very fair in terms of price, included instruction for all classes and provided one point of contact to coordinate with and discuss any issues that may arise.”
Since contracting with Fire Smarts the training program has been able to deliver more training classes without increasing the programs budget. There has been a 33% increase in training hours provided from 2013 (144 hours) to 2015 (192 hours) while the programs training budget actually decreased 16% during the same period. In addition, Fire Smarts is a Preferred Provider with the ICC (International Code Council) providing those who attend 0.1 CEU for each contact hour of approved training.
Of course a major factor to a successful training program is delivering the training topics that people are most interested in at locations near those people. When asked how Washington State approaches creating the training schedule Johnson said, “Each year we send out a survey to the sprinkler industry and authorities having jurisdiction seeking input on what training they want to see the following year.” Based on the survey feedback the training topics are selected and facilities, usually fire department training rooms, are reserved as needed throughout the state.
Fire Smarts then creates the training class outlines and presentations based on direction from the state and assigns the appropriate qualified instructor for the topic. “We have received numerous positive comments on the instructors and training provided by Fire Smarts,” says Johnson. “One of the most recurring comments is that the instructors have been able to take technical information and break it down so it is understandable.”
When discussing what has made this program so effective Johnson shared, “Key factors for the success of the training program has been our approach that the training offered is free to attend and that we use subject matter experts to provide the training. Fire Smarts has allowed us to schedule more classes and reduce the administrative workload of the training program.”
For other fire authorities considering the adoption of a similar training model Johnson offers these words of advice, “Have a funding source such as license and certification fees and it is much easier to work with one contractor to provide the training than working with multiple contractors.”
While much has changed since 2005 the need for fire sprinkler training has not. As Russ Leavitt, Executive Chairman of Telgian Corporation and a member of the NFPA Board of Directors, has stated, “Staying up to date and understanding any changes to the NFPA standards is essential to success as a fire safety professional. Those most successful have made training a priority throughout their career.” Washington State has implemented a program that ensures the sprinkler industry, AHJ’s and the public have access to quality training at no cost each and every year. Further, they have developed an approach to fire sprinkler training that has been proven to work and is ready to be implemented in other jurisdictions.
About Fire Smarts, LLC: Fire Smarts, LLC is a nationally recognized provider of fire protection education and training services. With specialized expertise in the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards the company’s team of internationally recognized instructors create and deliver custom fire suppression and fire alarm training solutions for building and fire officials, contractors and business organizations internationally. Fire Smarts is a Preferred Provider with the International Code Council (ICC) to deliver approved training programs for CEU’s toward ICC Certifications.