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Self Regulation in the Fire Sprinkler Industry

Self Regulation

Are we victims of government regulation? What happened to our independence?

When I started in the fire sprinkler industry 33 years ago as a designer I had no idea who the fire marshal was. I seldom if ever submitted any drawings to the local government. When I did it was usually to the fire department and all they wanted to know was where the fire dept connection and alarm bells were.

Prior to that time the fire protection industry was self regulating. Now days it seems that not a news broadcast goes by without some call for more government regulation. But it was not always so. And without the development of a system of self regulation, there would be nothing available for today’s government to use to regulate us. There were many important developments that paved the way for government.

The National Board of Fire Underwriters was founded by fire insurance underwriters in 1866 to work for fire prevention and loss control. The board helped standardize the fire insurance policy, and wrote some of the first fire sprinkler rules.

The foundation of the Mutual System is the idea that losses should be prevented rather than distributed. Insurance is obtained at cost, no profit being made from the business. Every policy-holder is a member of the system and each company is conducted by its members, who are manufacturers. A New England manufacturer started the system in 1835. He interested other manufacturers in the idea; it was agreed to share losses in their factories on a mutual plan. They studied the causes of fires, profited by each other’s experiences and, through this live interest, reduced the cost of their insurance materially. A Mutual Insurance Company was formed, and later other similar companies were organized. This is the Factory Mutual we know today.

The National Fire Protection Association got its start at a meeting held in New York City on March 18 and 19, 1896. Of true significance from this meeting was the release of sprinkler installation rules entitled: “Report of Committee on Automatic Sprinkler Protection”. Eventually becoming “NFPA 13”. Also included as a topic of discussion, and of even greater significance, was the creation of an association to administrate sprinklers. A subsequent meeting was held in New York City on November 6, 1896 at the offices of the New York Board of Fire Underwriters. Aside from the sprinkler installation rules, the Articles for a new Association were reviewed. Of the twelve Articles of the Association, Articles 2, 4, 6, 9, and 10 were amended at the meeting, and the entire set was subsequently adopted as amended. Of these, Article No. 1 is worth repeating: “This organization shall be known as the National Fire Protection Association.”3 So it was –– and so it is.

So even though the government now oversees the design and installation of our industry, they use a set of rules developed by and maintained by our industry. So it seems we are still a self regulating industry to some extent.

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