At this year’s Illinois Fire & Life Safety Education Conference, Iowa State Fire Marshal Director Ray Reynolds gave the Keynote address and emphasized that the fire service “is about people, especially the children of our community whose lives we need to protect.”
Director Reynolds also reminded those gathered about doing what’s right to make sure commercial buildings and homes are safe, and not just what’s easy or following the path of least resistance.
Across the nation, fire prevention bureaus face this daily of challenge of trying to maximize protection from fire loss in their jurisdiction with less staff: a reality of the current economic climate and budget pressures.
On the other side of the coin, Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance Companies (i.e. contractors) are trying to keep their businesses afloat in an ultra-competitive environment as are the property owners whose businesses they inspect.
New inventions are often born out of some pain that exists, and, thus, a question arises: are we using every tool and resource available to ensure the buildings our children and adults inhabit are as safe as possible?
Within the last ten years, a number of technological resources have been introduced to the fire service to help create efficiencies and help our professionals do things faster and more accurately. Having razor slim margins when responding to an incident or performing a fire and life safety inspection, fire service professionals have an obligation to review any advantage that technology can provide to reduce human error.
Some of the more recent introductions include Toughbook laptops in vehicles, tablet-based inspection software, and cloud-based operating systems. New technologies can be expensive and there is a learning curve for how to best incorporate its capabilities into a fire professional’s previous processes. We often hear frustrated requests for software programs that are easier to use, include better customer service, and are not cost prohibitive.
At the intersection of trying to do more with less in ensuring our communities are safe and finding technologies that are more cost effective and straight-forward to use, one can find The Compliance Engine, a simple, internet based tool for Fire Departments to track and drive code compliance, reduce false alarm activity, and provide a safer community.
After discussions with the Executive Board of the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association in 2010, Matt Rice and Bryan Schultz, the co-founders of Brycer and The Compliance Engine, developed the technology to help create a solution to address the pain of the manual, time and labor intensive, and frustrating process of tracking paper based code compliance documentation.
As Matt and Bryan conducted national research to determine the precise need for The Compliance Engine, they learned that approximately 30-50% of buildings nationally are not being regularly inspected and maintained as a result of reduced resources for the Authority Having Jurisdiction responsible for enforcing the code requirements.
The question Brycer wanted to answer was: if we can help the AHJ become more efficient in tracking and reviewing testing and maintenance information, while also offering a proactive notification service to help them drive compliance, would more commercial buildings and their fire protection systems get inspected, and would the community be safer as a result?
Along the way, many more pieces to the puzzle came into view. In talking to Leigh Fabbri, Fire Marshal of Itasca Fire Protection District, Brycer identified that false alarms resulting from system malfunctions was a huge, avoidable problem that impacted the Fire Department and the community as a whole.
Anytime firefighters respond to a call, their lives are at risk. According to the US Fire Administration, the single cause of injury seeing more than a four-fold increase in firefighter deaths during 2012 was vehicle collisions (including aircraft), with 18 deaths.
The International Association of Fire Chiefs also recognize the problem as they recently released a white paper on the reduction of false alarms, in which one of their focuses was ensuring that alarm systems are maintained by an approved professional.
Through The Compliance Engine, the AHJ is able to monitor the code required inspection, testing, and maintenance of the fire protection systems. With the hard and soft copy notifications it generates, with the AHJs approval, The Compliance Engine provides an administrative tool to help ensure the appropriate upkeep occurs, without having to make multiple trips to a property to ensure completion.
As time is the most precious resource we have, this time saved can be spent on other responsibilities falling within fire prevention such as plan reviews, public education, and investigations.
With almost a third of false alarms occurring as a result of system malfunction that could be abated from increased testing and maintenance, using The Compliance Engine to reduce untested and unmaintained systems can help a community save on false alarm fines and the tax burden of gas and wear and tear on fire department vehicles as well as decrease the exposure to firefighters responding to alarm calls.
The AHJs being only one leg of the code compliance stool, participation of the contractors and property owners is necessary to ensure the maximum outcome in terms of operating fire protection systems and a safer community.
In the current economic environment, Brycer appreciates the competitive landscape as well as balancing cost and value and has researched the revenue and cost recovery benefits of driving compliance to contractors and property owners, respectively.
Referring to their national research on untested and unmaintained fire protection systems, Brycer calculates that on average, $60 of revenue is untapped for each building in the United States, creating significant market opportunity for contractors.
Many of the companies already submitting reports via The Compliance Engine recognize the value in providing the AHJs a tool to help ensure all buildings are in compliance, both from a revenue and life safety perspective.
To the property owner, the most significant financial benefits accrue in terms of cost savings to the tax base from reduce false alarm runs and multiple trips to the occupancy for testing and maintenance reminders.
Additionally, an unforeseen cost is the potential for unpaid insurance claims if a system is improperly tested and maintained and is unable to prevent a partial or total property loss during a fire incident.
The ultimate cost, in terms of life safety, is incalculable. When any constituencies make a pro-business decision to the determinant of life safety, they are gambling with the lives of the children and adults who could be jeopardized if occupying a building that is out of compliance.
These days, the problem has more layers than just tracking and driving code compliance. In budget negotiations of any type, data is king. According to a fire service industry professional, law enforcement is years ahead of the fire service in leveraging data to justify the need for resources.
Brycer wanted to create a vehicle in which the raw data of compliance can be converting into meaningful reporting information that can be used to provide confidence to city officials as to the level of testing and maintenance in a city, a realistic appraisal of resources needed to ensure 100% compliance (including the possibility of self-inspection programs), and the untapped revenue opportunity for contractors.
In order to demonstrate value to the users of the application, Brycer recognized the need to go beyond a paperless file cabinet and have created an indispensable and accessible code compliance tool.
Already, The Compliance Engine has produced results: more time for AHJs to perform their myriad of duties, an increased percentage of compliance for testing and maintenance, greater revenue opportunities for contractors, and, most importantly, a safer community. Brycer and The Compliance Engine want to partner with AHJs, contractors, and property owners who put life safety and code compliance first. If you are interested in learning more, please contact 630-413-9511 or email@example.com