Sprinklerfitter or Technician?

Al Schwartz, writing for the July 2010 issue of Contractor magazine, laments over the increasingly common use of the word "technician" in lieu of "plumber."

Those of us in the fire sprinkler industry have also seen this trend as more unqualified people enter this trade. Sprinklerfitting has been a specialty trade since the invention of fire sprinklers. As early as 1905, there were trade unions established to ensure training of apprentices and a qualified work force.

Cherokee Fire Protection belongs to the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) and is signatory with the United Association of Pipefitters and Sprinklerfitters Local 669. Since 1915, these organizations have worked in unison to improve the industry through development of codes, labor relations and apprenticeship training.

In order to become a journeyman sprinklerfitter, a person must apply to the Apprenticeship Board for admission as an Apprentice. The Board requires applicant be of good character, in possession of a high school diploma or GED, and be honorably discharged from the military if having served.

Upon admission into the apprenticeship program, the applicant receives On The Job (OTJ) training in the sprinklerfitting industry. This includes installing and servicing fire sprinkler systems of various types such as wet, dry, preaction and rate of rise. In addition to the OTJ training, the apprentice must also complete correspondence courses with Penn State University pertaining to the Sprinklerfitting Industry.

Weekends are sometimes spent in a classroom taking such hands-on courses as OSHA training, trenching, rigging or product demonstrations.

Prior to admission as an apprentice, and throughout his career, sprinklerfitters must pass a drug test and oftentimes a background check. The Apprenticeship Board also reviews the apprentice's progress at least every 6 months.

After 5 years of full compliance with the training standards of the Apprenticeship Board, the Apprentice is awarded his Journeyman Card. This Card can be presented to any contractor in the country as evidence of his qualifications to work on fire sprinkler systems.

Contrast these training standards with those of a "technician." Technicians are usually employed by fire extinguisher service companies or plumbing contractors entering the sprinkler industry. Many of these companies completely lack the expertise in engineering and manpower capabilities to install a fire sprinkler system. Yet, they often offer their services to inspect and service fire sprinkler systems.

A fire sprinkler inspector or technician usually receives between 16 to 40 hours of documented, accredited training. Contrast that with the 1700 hours an apprentice receives annually.
A fire sprinkler technician may have been a tire salesman a week before his new job as a "fire sprinkler inspector" or technician. Many have a background in the fire extinguisher sales business, which is largely a commission-based business in which extinguisher technicians are rewarded for selling extinguisher's and accessories to the building owner.

Many extinguisher companies will advertise that they can "Do It All."

A fire extinguisher technician will earn between $8 - $10 before commissions, with no benefits. A union sprinklerfitter earns nearly $34 an hour with union benefits. Sprinklerfitters are not paid on commission. They are paid to get the job done, the building inspected and the repairs made right the first time.

Building owners should insist on a union Sprinklerfitter to perform their inspections, repairs and maintenance. A technician will only cost them more money in the long term through faulty, inadequate inspections, substandard repair work and potential system failure.

Qualified companies can be found at: http://www.sprinklerfitters669.org and http://www.nfsa.org

For additional information, feel free to call me: Forest Wilson 937-376-2333

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