City of Cleveland newest entity to ensure certified workers repair, inspect dampers

CLEVELAND – Five years ago, sheet metal locals in Ohio set a course to educate fire marshals and building inspectors in local municipalities on the importance of fire and smoke damper installation, inspection and maintenance by qualified, certified technicians. In June 2013, the first ordinance, requiring technicians and contractors to be certified by the International Certification Board (ICB), was adopted in Garfield Heights.

Since then, eight municipalities in the state have adopted similar ordinances. Ordinances in Lake County, Lucas County (containing Toledo) and the city of Columbus were all adopted in 2015. The city of Cleveland ordinance, passed in May, also requires the building owner to repair or replace faulty dampers within 60 days of inspection.

Smoke and fire dampers help first responders do their jobs by containing smoke in affected areas and keeping pathways clear in order for them to rescue occupants and fight the fire. It’s estimated that 50 to 70 percent of smoke and fire dampers in buildings may not work correctly because they haven’t been properly serviced or inspected.

From the time the ordinance passed, dampers in buildings, including many utilized by the City of Cleveland, will be inspected within 18 months. Cleveland is part of Cuyahoga County, which adopted the ordinance in 2013 for county-owned buildings. The recent ordinance was passed by the Cleveland City Council for city-owned buildings.

Two years into inspections in Cuyahoga County, the county brought four sheet metal workers on staff to complete the inspections. Repairs and replacements remain with signatory contractors. This year, the county appropriated $1.4 million to inspect and repair fire and smoke dampers.

All the adopted ordinances began with fire damper and smoke damper demonstrations to fire officials as well as elected officials. The demonstration illustrates what happens when equipment isn’t working properly – smoke backs up into a room, causing a higher probability occupants will suffer from smoke inhalation.

The visual presentation held at training centers across Ohio – along with additional information – has an impact.

“Once they see the demonstration actually happen – how if one damper isn’t working properly and how the smoke backs up into the ductwork system – they get it. Once they know the testing and inspection information has been in the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards for decades, the light bulb goes off.  Once they understand, they’re on board with you.

“It’s all about a safer environment,” said John Sickle, president of Duct Fabricators, Inc. in Cleveland. “The ordinances are going to help greatly. It’s going to make people aware.”

Because many municipalities across the state have adopted similar ordinances, the work is spread out so companies of all sizes with fire life safety departments can benefit, said Mike Coleman, business manager for Local No. 33 near Cleveland.

“That’s what really generated hours for us,” Coleman added. “We know it has an impact, a large impact. It’s not just one contractor. A decent number of contractors are getting a decent amount of work. It always leads to some other work once they get inside the building, so it’s been a good thing for our employers.”

Although Sickle has a small fire life safety department, the work keeps his employees busy. Having certified workers allows him to bid damper inspection jobs and serves as an incentive to other employees who have yet to be certified. If they take the class and complete the certification, they can get in on the work, too.

“The employees can see this is something that they need to get their certifications for,” Sickle said. “We’ll receive a last minute call from a building owner making a request for two, four, six guys to take care of fire life safety inspections and repairs immediately. When a building owner sees you can do it well and do it fast, and provide certifications, it builds relationships.”

With two certified supervisors and six employees in the fire life safety department at T.H. Martin, Inc., the company generated 2,800 fire life safety hours in 2015 – 3 percent of the total 100,000 total sheet metal hours. To Tom Martin, president of the company, the opportunities allowed by the ordinance don’t stop at fire life safety.

“The hours are small for a bigger company like ours,” Martin said. “We like it, though, because it gives us another customer. More importantly, it gives contractors like myself the opportunity to generate more customers, ones we never would’ve had the opportunity to approach before. It gives us the opportunity to prove our quality of work and to show them what we can do. That’s all we really want as a contractor. Once we’re in a facility, it’s our job to sell our services and hopefully maintain that customer.”

If dampers are proven faulty and repairs and replacements are needed, and if a contractor already has a building owner’s trust, the relationship turns into the work.

“You’re not going to lose money,” Martin said. “It’s profitable, and it can lead to bigger jobs, especially if they have issues with their fire life safety systems.”

HVAC Fire Life Safety training for journeymen, contractors and apprentices to secure certifications takes place at the local training centers. There, sheet metal workers and contractors also focus on educating to main sectors: the fire officials, fire departments, inspectors, facility managers, engineers and government entities that have yet to develop fire life safety services.

“It shows them what happens during a fire if the systems don’t work properly. I believe it’s as important as a sprinkler system. We’re able to educate people on how important these inspections are,” Coleman said. “Firefighters are embracing it, and so are the fire officials.”

“It’s fire life safety,” Sickle added. “It’s about getting people out and firefighters in. This is a good thing. It’s a real good thing, but it’s nothing that’s going to happen overnight. The education has been going on for four or five years, and it will continue.”

ICB/TABB is the first program to gain ANSI accreditation under ISO 17024 for certification in the HVAC testing, adjusting and balancing and Fire Life Safety industry. ICB/TABB certification is a statement that the technician, supervisor and contractor demonstrate the highest level of professional expertise.

ICB/TABB is a function of the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC), a not-for-profit organization jointly funded by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association). NEMIC identifies opportunities, seeking to create or expand employment for SMART members and programs that assist SMACNA contractors.

For more information on emerging market opportunities in the sheet metal and air conditioning industry, contact the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC) at www.TABBCertified.org call 800-458-6525.