The decision to install a fire sprinkler system is generally made after significant research, preparation, and planning. While it is important to put thought into the system itself, it’s equally important to consider the individuals who will install it. After all, a great deal of how your system operates and performs depends on those who install it.
Installing a fire sprinkler system is not cheap or simple, by any means. For this reason alone, finding highly skilled, well-qualified contractors or fitters and designers is crucial. However, this discussion is two-fold: selecting a qualified fitter or installer and a designer. Generally companies employ a fitter or installer and a designer, but in the instances they are hired separately you must remember that their qualifications are different.
Just because a company states that they install fire sprinkler systems or a person bears the job title doesn’t mean they are actually the best choice. So how do you know what to look for when selecting a fire sprinkler contractor or company? What are the relevant questions to ask?
These are all relevant questions we aim to answer in this article! We’ll discuss the importance of background “investigations,” analysis of past jobs and customer references, and take a look at how some of the requirements might apply to your state.
Ready to get the ball rolling, but need some help locating an installer near you? Contact us, and we’ll help you find what you need.
If you’re not quite there and need to start the research portion, keep reading to make sure you check the right points.
Do a little digging into their background
As you search for the right fire sprinkler installer, begin by considering yourself a detective – you must uncover all the pertinent information to allow you to make the correct selection. In the past this might have been trickier, but with tools like Google today, researching a potential fire sprinkler installer or company is easier than ever.
Don't be afraid to check backgrounds (credit)
The more you look into their background, the better off you are, as a company’s history can tell a lot about how they operate. Start by looking for any OSHA citations, EPA citations, and IRS audits. From there, see if they have been involved in any lawsuits, legal disputes, or other forms of litigation (including human rights cases). Furthermore, research their permits and licenses to ensure they are valid and up-to-date. All of the aforementioned information is a matter of public record so it should be easy to obtain, if not, request it from the business.
Even starting with the company’s website can generally provide a peek behind the curtain – if customers have left feedback, is it bad or good? Other recommendation sites can be telling, too. Try looking at business reviews on Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, Facebook Ratings and Reviews, and the Better Business Bureau.
Uncovering any sort of information, good or bad, can help you decide if the company is one you’d like to entrust with your business. If you’re unable to find much on the internet, you may need to check their references.
Let their work do the talking
While checking references on a company might seem a bit “backwards” or odd, remember that you are essentially the employer in this scenario and you have every right to do so. Checking their references gives you the opportunity to hear about their work and the experiences past clients had with them.
You may ask the business or installer for a list of references, but be candid and ask them to speak to a few individuals who had less than stellar experiences. Speaking to these individuals can help you see how the installer or company handled the situation – did they make amends, did they try to salvage the experience, did they perform any acts of service recovery? Consider asking the references you speak with to give you a “number” or “star” rating to solidify their performance and provide you with a good oversight.
As previously mentioned, checking the company’s site or other review sites can shed a lot of light on the company. Individuals are more likely to share an experience with a business when they’re dissatisfied, which can help you prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Furthermore, if you found out about the business or installer via word of mouth, ask the person who suggested them to you about their experience. What was it about their experience that made them recommend the installer or company? Did they research them beforehand? If so, discuss their findings with them.
What should you look for? 
Deciding what to look for when selecting a fire sprinkler installer or company is mostly subjective to where you’re from. As the rules and regulations vary from state to state and even between local authorities, it’s important to have a good understanding of the specific rules and regulations in your area. Knowing the rules and regulations in your area helps you ask the right questions.
For instance, in Ohio, all companies and individuals involved in the service, or maintenance of fire sprinkler systems or other fire protection equipment is required to have a Fire Protection Certification.
The State Fire Marshall does not require specific work experience or training to become certified for those working with automatic sprinklers and standpipe systems. A company must provide proof of liability/completion insurance of at least $50,000 with their application and $200 fee. A company certification must be renewed once a year for a $150 fee, and the application must continue to maintain (and provide proof of) liability/completion insurance of at least $50,000. Individuals also must renew their certificate once a year, which is a $40 fee.
In California, any individual installing, repairing, or inspecting fire sprinkler systems must be certified or registered with the State Fire Marshal. To take the certification exam in California, one must have completed an apprenticeship program with 3,500 hours and three years of experience for multi-family residential or 7000 hours and five years’ experience for anything else. Individuals can register as a trainee for one year after they’ve been hired, but they must be accepted into an apprenticeship program and register as such or cease working within the field. In the apprenticeship program, they must be enrolled in one of the State or Federal programs. Though the specifics go a bit more in depth, these are the high-level requirements.
Florida is another state where the requirements for those working within the fire protection industry are more stringent. Individuals must obtain a certificate, for which they must pass an exam and pay fees. Florida has three levels of contractor certification, all of which have specific requirements. Individuals employed by a level 1 or 2 contractor are required to carry a permit at all times. According to the State Fire Marshal, permit holders are required to have the National Institute of Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET). The insurance requirements vary by contractor level – for a Contractor 1, 2, or 3 the requirement is $500,000.
NICET measures job skills and knowledge beyond the typical certification. NICET certification requires that an individual holds a four-year engineering technology degree. For those at the advanced level, they must also provide work history and endorsements. In this respect, a NICET certification is comprehensive because it tests individuals on a wide array job knowledge, evaluates job performance, and verifies work experience.
As you can see, the rules and regulations vary greatly from state to state, which is why we cannot pinpoint specific requirements for you to look for in your search.
Note: these rules are all valid as of September 30, 2017. We make no guarantee as to their accuracy today, please consult your local fire marshal or governing authority.
 
What questions should you ask a potential candidate?
Although many of the questions you need to ask depend on the rules and regulations within your specific state, you can start to see some relevant questions from the section above. In general, think of it this way: you are the employer, and they are the applicant. Although you’re seeking out the fire sprinkler installer for the services they can offer, you are still paying them to complete a job.
To help you get started, here are some questions you can consider adding to your list (again, some may be dependent on state):
  • How many years has your company been in business?
  • Do you have on-staff and trained designers to develop the fire sprinkler system design?
  • What materials or brands do you regularly use when installing a fire sprinkler system? (Go as far as asking for specific models so that you can research the products, too.)
  • Are there any parts of the process you subcontract out?
  • Will there be a project manager assigned to the installation of my system?
  • How many of your staff have OSHA, first aid, and CPR certifications?
  • Do you perform a safety analysis before you begin the job? Do you have specific safety protocol or procedures that you follow? (You can even request to see a manual.)
  • How many engineers are on staff?
  • Do you require NICET certifications for your staff?
  • Do you require staff to complete additional continuing education, training, regular in-services, conventions or seminars?
  • Do new staff members have an initial training period or mentorship?
  • Do you carry insurance or are you bonded?
The questions you ask must help you gain a better understanding of the installer, their company, and how they operate. Furthermore, your questions need to provide you with insight about the standards they uphold, their values, and their dedication to quality and accuracy. When you set up a meeting to discuss your questions, it may be beneficial to visit their facility to see how they operate first hand.
Finding a fire sprinkler installer through QRFS
Selecting a fire sprinkler installer can be a daunting task to tackle on your own. At QRFS, we realize this, and our goal is to remove some of the guesswork for you.
When you contact us, we’ll draw upon our various industry contacts to help you find the right fire sprinkler fitter to help you get the job done. The benefits are two-fold when you contact us, you benefit from our quality customer service and our extensive industry expertise.
At QRFS, our customers are the center of all we do. We aim to educate you on innovative products and industry best practices so you can save energy, time, and money. Not to mention we value playing by the rules, which is why we place great emphasis on NFPA Code and industry best practices.
Have a question? Add a comment below for us, and we’ll reply as soon as we can to get you on the right track!
This blog was originally posted by Jason Hugo and Anna Hartenbach at QRFS.com/blog on October 5, 2017. If this article helped you find the right fitter, check us out at Facebook.com/QuickResponseFireSupply or on Twitter @QuickResponseFS.