Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Typical Week In The Life Of - Day 3

Today we're going to touch on layout and hydraulic calculations.

Prior to 1985 most hydraulic calculations were done by hand but today they are done by special computer programs that can do in a few minutes what used to take hours to do.

Below is a sketch of our 70'x100' building. Sprinkler heads are the red circles, pipe is red, walls are black.

Since this is an Ordinary Hazard Group II Occupancy we will use a design density of .20 gpm over the hydraulically most remote 1,500 sq. ft..

What a designer does is lay out a system he *thinks* will work based on past experience. You do this enough and in a few years you'll be able to guess and get it pretty close.

I don't think the layout I sketched will work, I think that second piece of 1" pipe from the end kills our chances, but we will try it anyway.

Click image to enlarge.

With sprinklers 12'-6" apart on lines and lines 10'-0" apart each sprinkler covers 125 sq. ft..

The number of sprinklers needing to be in the calculated area is 1,500/125=12. If heads were spaced 124 sq. ft. we would need 13 heads in the calculated area. We always round up to the nearest whole sprinkler.

Our hydraulic remote area has to be 1,500 sq. ft. and must be rectangular in shape with the long direction being at least 1.2 * sqrt of the area of application.

Rectangular length: 1.2*sqrt 1,500 or 46.47 feet. The long side of the rectangle must be parallel to the lines and you add sprinklers until the length is equal to or exceeds 46.47 feet.

The calculated area is located in the lower left corner of the building and is bounded by two walls and two green lines. The green numbers are "Nodes" or identifiers we will use in our hydraulic calculations.

The 12 heads we will calculate as open will be #1 through #4, #9 through #12 and #17 through #20. Sprinklers used will be Viking VK100 1/2" orifice brass upright sprinkler having a K-Factor equal to 5.6.

A K-Factor is a coefficient of discharge used to find the discharge of a sprinkler head at varying pressures. The formula is:

Q=K*P^.5 or Q=K*sqrtP

Where Q=Water in Gallons Per Minute, K=K-Factor and P is the Pressure at the sprinkler head in pounds per square inch or psi.

Sprinkler #1 covers an area of 125 sq. ft. and in order to provide a density of .20 per square foot over the area of sprinkler coverage it must discharge 25.0 gpm. 125*.20=25.0

Using Q=K*sqrt P we can determine the pressure required to discharge 25.0 gpm by:


In order to discharge 25.0 gpm a sprinkler with a K-Factor=5.6 must be supplied with 19.9 psi.

When hand calculating we will round our numbers to the nearest tenth.

When calculating sprinkler systems we proceed from the end sprinkler inwards. We will start with sprinkler head #1.

Ever connect two or three identical yard sprinklers together in series fed by a garden hose only to notice the sprinkler farthest away discharged the least water? When water travels through pipe it encounters pressure or friction loss.

In accordance with NFPA #13 Section this head loss loss is calculated using the Hazen-Williams formula shown to the right.

For wet pipe systems using black steel or galvanized pipe the friction loss coefficient or C-Value we use is 120.

For our purposes we will use schedule 40 black steel pipe that has the following inside pipe diameters:

1 1/4"=1.380"
1 1/2"=1.610"
2 1/2"=2.469"

For calculating friction loss the Engineering Toolbox has a little online calculator or you can do what I do and that's use a small scientific calculator similar to the Casio fx-115MS which I am using right now and can be purchased at K-Mart for around $20.00.

There is another way to calculate pressure loss in pipe besides using the
Engineering Toolbox and that is using Pipe Table B shown here.

On most wet pipe sprinkler systems C-120.

To calculate friction loss through 1 1/4" pipe Sch. 40 pipe while flowing 32.5 gpm use a scientific calculator for 32.5^1.85*1.34x10^-4

The answer is 0.084

Using the Engineering Toolbox how much head or friction loss will we encounter through the 1" pipe flowing from Node #1 to Node #2 while flowing 25.0 gpm?

I got a head loss of 0.197 psi per linear foot. For 12'-6" our total head loss between Node #1 and Node #2 will be 2.46 psi or we will call it 2.5 psi after rounding to nearest tenth.

What we are seeing is we require 19.9+2.5=22.4 psi pressure at Node #2 for us to be able to discharge 25.0 gpm at Node #1.

Now we have to add the flow of sprinkler Node #2 but we just can't add 25.0 gpm because we've already determined we must have 22.4 psi pressure at sprinkler Node #2.

How much water will be discharged from sprinkler Node #2 when supplied with 25.7 psi pressure?



q= 26.504 or 26.5 gpm after rounding.

Our minimum required flow from sprinkler Node #2 to sprinkler Node #3 is 25.0+26.5=51.5 gpm.

Remember, everything we do is backwards. With calculations we are moving from the farthest point on the system to the center which is the same way a system is drawn up or designed.

What is the head or friction loss with 51.5 gpm flowing through 1" pipe from sprinkler Node #2 to sprinkler Node #3?

I got 0.749 psi per linear foot or 12.5*0.749=9.4 psi for the 12'-6" length of 1" pipe.

At sprinkler Node #3 our system so far requires 35.7 psi (25.7+9.4=35.1 psi) at sprinkler Node #3 to adequately supply water to both sprinkler Node #1 and sprinkler Node #2 insuring each node discharges at least 25.0 gpm.

With 35.7 psi required at sprinkler Node #3 how much water will sprinkler Node #3 discharge?



q= 33.18 or 33.2 gpm after rounding.

Adding the 33.2 gpm to the required combined flow of 51.5 gpm the total water demand for sprinkler Node #1, #2 and #3 is 84.7 gpm.

Earlier was was talking about "theoretical minimum" water supply requirements mentioning it was always more in actual practice. For example a 1,500 square foot area with a minimum density of .20 gpm per sq. ft. with sprinklers spaced 125 sq. ft. would require 300.0 gpm but you can already see why it would be more. In what we've done with three heads, each requiring a minimum discharge of 25.0 gpm, we should only need 75.0 gpm but we require 84.7 gpm.

By this time you should be pretty well lost. It isn't something you master in a day, a week or even a year but once you've done it a while it does come easy.

It is more than most people realize and it isn't your normal everyday cad job.

We've only calculated three sprinkler heads and it's getting unwieldy. We do have a regular form we can use so let's go to that.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Typical Week In The Life Of - Day 2

Yesterday we conducted a flow test and obtained the following results:

Static Pressure: 54 psi
Residual Pressure: 48 psi
Rate of Flow: 1,113 gpm

An analysis of our water flow test is done using
N^1.85 graph paper.

Once plotted we can determine what water pressure will be available at any flow. For our project we can determine we will have approximately 52 psi available if your sprinkler produces a demand of 600 gpm. If we had a system that produced 1,400 gpm demand the city water supply would have 45 psi available.

The more water required the less pressure is available.

Yesterday we talked about how static pressure alone wasn't an indicator of the quality of an available water water supply.

Consider a few years ago I had a flow test that produced the following results:
Static Pressure: 115 psi Residual Pressure: 24 psi Pitot Pressure: 16 psi

(As you will see this supply sucks).

Using a coefficent of 0.90 what would be the calculated rate of flow if we obtained a pitot pressure of 16 psi?

d=Diameter in inches of discharge orifice
p=Pitot pressure in psi

Answer: 746*0.90=671 gallons per minute.

Static Pressure: 115 psi Residual Pressure: 24 psi
Rate of Discharge: 671 gallons per minute.

Plotting the test summary we obtain this graph:

By plotting two points on a curve (static pressure and residual pressure @ flow) we can determine what pressure will be available in the line at any flow.

When analyzing flow test results you want to keep in mind flow test results can vary hour by hour. The results you obtained today probably won't match the results you get tomorrow so when laying out a system make sure to leave yourself some "safety factor". I always attempt to give myself 10 psi.

Static pressure on a gravity flow municipality indicates the height of water level in the water tank. Water weighs 0.433 pounds per foot and we can use this to determine the height of water above our static pressure test gauge.

With a static pressure of 54 psi the water level is 54/.433=124.7 feet above the test gauge.

With a static pressure of 115 psi the water level is 115/.433=265.6 feet above the test gauge.

Caution is something you should always have.

Consider the water tower in the photo.

In large metropolitan areas the technician generally doesn't need to
be all that concerned because elevated tanks are generally much larger and there are multiple elevated tanks.

But in smaller towns and villages the techni
cian needs to be aware of not just the pressures available but the total water supply available as well.

From the two flow tests:

Test #1
Static Pressure: 54 psi
Residual Pressure: 48 psi
Rate of Flow: 1,113 gpm

Test #2
Static Pressure: 115 psi
Residual Pressure: 24 psi
Rate of Flow: 671 gpm

Which of the two flow test results do you suppose offers the "best" pressures as far as capable of producing the system with the smallest diameter pipes therefore the most economical system?

The answer is "it depends".

Let's superimpose the results of the second test on the graph with the first test.

The first thing we notice is that at 550 gpm 53 psi pressure is available at both tests.
We're going to concern ourselves with five occupancies as far as fire sprinklers are concerned.

Light Hazard Occupancies requires the least demanding fire sprinkler design. Light Hazard Occupancies include such occupancies as hospitals, nursing homes and office buildings. As can be determined from NFPA #13 the density for light hazard occupancies is .10 gpm over 1,500 sq. ft. with an additional 100 gpm for hose stream.

We can expect Light Hazard Occupancies to require not less than 150 gpm for sprinkler plus 100 gpm for hose allowance for a total water requirement of not less than 250 gpm.

Ordinary Hazard Group I Occupancies include those occupancies where storage does not exceed 8' in height and combustibility of product is low such as a light bulb factory or food processing plant.

The minimum density for an Ordinary Hazard Group I Occupancy is .15 gpm over 1,500 sq. ft. plus an additional 250 gpm for hose stream demand.

We can expect Ordinary Hazard Group I Occupancies to require not less than 225 gpm for sprinkler plus 250 gpm for hose allowance for a total water requirement of around 475 gpm.

Ordinary Hazard Group II Occupancies include those occupancies where storage does not exceed 12' in height and combustibility of product is moderate such as a shopping centers, drug stores, most furniture stores, shopping malls, machine shops and most factories.

The minimum density for an Ordinary Hazard Group II Occupancy is .20 gpm over 1,500 sq. ft. plus an additional 250 gpm for hose stream demand.

We can expect Ordinary Hazard Group II Occupancies to require not less than 300 gpm for sprinkler plus 250 gpm for hose allowance for a total water requirement of not less than 550 gpm.

Extra Hazard Group I Occupancies include those occupancies where storage does not exceed 12' in height and combustibility of product is greater such as die casting, metal extruding, plywood and particle board manufacturing. Printing (using inks having flash points below 100°F), rubber reclaiming, compounding, drying, milling, vulcanizing and saw mills.

The minimum density for an Extra Hazard Group I Occupancy is .30 gpm over 2,500 sq. ft. plus an additional 500 gpm for hose stream demand.

We can expect Extra Hazard Group I Occupancies to require not less than 750 gpm for sprinkler plus 500 gpm for hose allowance for a total water requirement of not less than 1,250 gpm.

And finally there are Extra Hazard Group II Occupancies which include those occupancies where storage does not exceed 12' in height and combustibility of product is high such as asphalt saturating, flammable liquids spraying, flow coating, manufactured home or modular building assemblies (where finished enclosure is present and has combustible interiors), open oil quenching, plastics processing, solvent cleaning, varnish and paint dipping.

The minimum density for an Extra Hazard Group I Occupancy is .40 gpm over 2,500 sq. ft. plus an additional 500 gpm for hose stream demand.

We can expect Extra Hazard Group II Occupancies to require not less than 1,000 gpm for sprinkler plus 500 gpm for hose allowance for a total water requirement of not less than 1,500 gpm.

You might be asking "What exactly is 'hose stream demand'?"

Sprinkler systems are designed to deliver a minimum quantity of water over the fire but what happens when the fire department rolls up, attaches hose lines to hydrants and starts spraying water on the fire?

They "rob water" from the overall system and hose stream allowances insures the system will continue to function as it should in spite of the disappearing water.

One can design most any sprinkler system given 20 to 30 psi but with these low pressures heads will have to be spaced closer together (more spinklers=more money) and pipes feeding sprinklers will have to be larger (bigger pipes=more money). While it is possible to design a system to work on 20 psi, assuming the building is not to high, the costs can get stupidly high.

The cost of running 4" pipe could run $4.00 per linear foot while the cost of running 8" pipe can easily exceed $30.00 per linar foot. Doesn't sound like much until you consider you could be easily dealing with a thousand feet of pipe. Lot of difference between $4,000 and $30,000.

Tomorrow we'll start hydraulic calculations so you can see this all start to go together.

A Typical Week In The Life Of - Day 1

It's Monday morning and we get a call from a developer 20 miles away who wants a price for having a sprinkler system installed at a new 7,000 sq. ft. drug store they are looking at building.

We don't know what the cost would be because pipe size is all dependent on the water pressure available. Larger pipe always costs more money not just in terms of material cost but labor to install as well. For example 6" pipe costs three times as much to purchase but can easily require twice the labor to install.

Before we can do anything we need to run a flow test.

Checking with the city we determine there's an 8" city water main running down the street in front of the proposed building and what we need now is two hydrants in front ideally "straddling" the property as shown above.

We're are going to conduct a flow test on "Hydrant A" using both "Hydrant A" and "Hydrant B".

The tools we need are a water pressure gauge with 2 1/2" NSHT (National Standard Hose Thread) adapter and a pitot tube which are shown in the photo to the right.

About the gauges. In my opinion the accuracy of the flow test we are about to conduct is the most important part of laying out any sprinkler system. We will want to use good quality gauges that have been lab certified for accuracy sometime in the preceding twelve months.

During my career I've made some mistakes; I've run into beams I didn't know were going to be there and I've missed heating ducts I didn't know were there and had to reroute pipe to go around obstacles but these mistakes are easily corrected in the field.
If you do this work you will make the same mistakes but these aren't really any big deal. Mistakes like this typically cost anywhere from a couple hundred to maybe even one or two thousand dollars but while nobody likes to lose money they'll happen.

The one mistake that has the potential to cost a lot of money, sometimes tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, is not using an accurate, up to date flow test in the design of your system. Being a certified layout technician carries a lot of responsibility and "missing it" is your mistake.

All the pipe sizes you use in designing your system will be based upon this flow test. If it is wrong your entire system is wrong and most likely a mistake like this will cost money to fix. Sometimes a lot of money.

You are also going to want a "Flow Test Summary" where you can document the flow test. I've included a copy of the flow test summary report I use to the left.

I do not carry a hydrant wrench, used to open and close hydrants, because if something breaks I don't want to be the one responsible. What I do is call either the water or fire department so they could have someone there to witness the results and operate the hydrants. If the hydrant breaks I want them to be the ones to break it.

Not to mention if you open a hydrant someone will notice and unauthorized operation of hydrants is against the law in all the municipalities I've done work in.

It is not good to spend an afternoon in jail.

After we get there the we'll connect the pressure gauge to our test hydrant, this is "Hydrant A", which is the upstream hydrant to obtain our static and residual pressures. Once connected we'll have someone from the fire department fully open the hydrant so we can obtain our static pressure.

The static pressure is going to look something like this... on this test we see a static pressure of 54 psi.
Static pressure is the pressure available in the line without water flowing. While most municipal water systems typically have from 50 to 80 psi available I've seen static pressures as low as 22 psi (almost always unusable) to as high as 240 psi as I found once in Akron, Ohio.

Now we need to flow "Hydrant B".

To flow the hydrant we'll have the water department remove the cap from the 2 1/2" hydrant opening then fully open the hydrant getting something like this.

I'm sure you've seen this before and now you know they're most likely conducting a flow test. Look for the guy holding a clipboard.

When the hydrant is fully open we're going to get two readings.

The first reading we'll get is the "residual pressure" or the pressure that is in the line with the downstream hydrant fully discharging.

On a gravity system, a gravity system is a system employing water storage tanks, the residual pressure will always be less than the static pressure.

With the hydrant fully open we expect to see a drop and we're right. Reading the gauge at "Hydrant A" we note the pressure has dropped 6 psi from 54 psi to 48 psi.

The residual pressure available for this flow test is 48 psi.

I've seen all kinds of residual pressure drops. I've seen those with static pressures of 60 psi drop to 58 or 59 psi and I've seen them drop from 60 psi to 12 psi.

You got to take your readings and you got to be accurate. Never guess

because if you guess it will come back to bite you.

I've always enjoyed conducting flow tests. They're different.

The last reading we need is the quantity of water being discharged from the open hydrant and we determine this by using the pitot tube to measure the force of water being expelled.

To obtain pitot pressure we place the opening in the center of the stream with the tip half of a diameter away from the hydrant butt. In the case of a 2 1/2" hydrant butt we would want to hold our tip 1 1/4" away from the opening as shown in the photo.

It's hard to see in this photo but our pitot pressure was 44 psi.

The formula for theoretical discharges through circular orifices is:


d=Diameter in inches of discharge orifice
p=Pitot pressure in psi

Commit this formula to memory because you will use it on every flow test you conduct.

The diameter of our outlet is 2.5 inches and our pitot pressure was 44 psi.

The theoretical discharge from the 2.5 inch hydrant butt with a pitot pressure of 44 psi is 1,237 gpm.

Wait, we're not done yet.

But the formula is for theoretical discharge from a perfect circular orifice and 2 1/2" open hydrant butts are not perfect. I guess this just goes to show nobody's butt is perfect. :)

We need to multiply the theoretical discharge by a coefficient of discharge which is recognized as 0.90 for relatively new hydrants which is most hydrants less than 60 years old.

1,237*0.90=1,113 gpm.

Looking at all that water coming out of the hydrant butt we viewing something real close to 1,113 gallons per minute.

Some insurance underwriters require a discharge coefficient of 0.80 so if this project was a Factory Mutual risk we would have to use a flow of 0.80*1,237=990 gpm.

For 90% of the projects you do you will be using a coefficient of 0.90.

So for our flow test we obtained the following results:

Static Pressure: 54 psi
Residual Pressure: 48 psi
Rate of Flow: 1,113 gpm

Using a coefficent of 0.90 what would be the calculated rate of flow if we obtained a pitot pressure of 20 psi?

Answer: 834*0.90=750 gallons per minute.

Using a coefficent of 0.90 what would be the calculated rate of flow if we obtained a pitot pressure of 40 psi? (It isn't double).

Answer: 1,179*0.90=1,061 gallons per minute.

Doubling the pressure does NOT double the discharge.

How accurate are the numbers? I wouldn't get all bunged up over a few gallons. 1,055 gpm is just as valid as 1,065 gpm but if truth be known it's probably within a few percentage points.

Professional Engineers, these are people with the initials PE after their names, are might cringe hearing me say this but we're getting awfully close to doing real engineering but it is important to recognize we are not engineers. We are highly specialized technicians.

Ok, now that's over and we'll talk a bit about what we did during the ride back to the office. It's getting close to lunch time and I'll buy, you listen.

Static pressure by itself doesn't mean anything to us. If you told me the line in front of a building had 140 psi of pressure I couldn't tell you for certain if that would be adequate to supply a fire sprinkler any more than if you told me the line had 45 psi of pressure. You can't tell from this one number.

I got an idea 140 psi would be a great water supply but I wouldn't stake my life and reputation on it until I conducted a flow test. While the guess might be good there's to much money and liability attached to go around foolishly guessing.

Sprinkler systems are designed using the "density area" method. The density for a shopping mall, grocery or drug store is .20 gpm over the most remote 1,500 sq. ft. plus 250 gpm for hose stream. Using the density area method the theoretical minimum amount of water a sprinkler system would have to have would be .20*1,500=300 gpm for sprinklers plus an additional 250 gpm for fire department use for a total of 550 gpm. This is the theoretical minimum and I can tell you now it will be more, probably 10% to 20% more, but it can not be less than 550 gpm.

What the density area means is we have to be able to prove the sprinkler system we install is capable of discharging a minimum of .20 gpm per square foot over an area of 1,500 square feet. We are not interested in what it will actually do but what we must show is it will do at least the minimum... anything over is just gravy.

This brings up an interesting point, does the size of the building have anything to do with the total amount of water required?

The answer is no.

Here's the deal, 99% of sprinklers don't go off like you see in the movies, each individual sprinkler head is individually activated by heat. Figure one shows a Viking VK100 1/2" standard response sprinker rated at 200 Deg. F. The green liquid in the bulb indicates temperature rating.

On the vast majorit of systems pipe connected to the sprinkler is full of water under pressure all ready to go. The only thing stopping water from being discharged is the glass bulb that holds the sprinkler seat (seal) in place. Once this glass bulb breaks water will flow instantly.

Sprinkler heads can easily be activated by holding a heat source to the glass bulb. In Fig. 2 I am going to break the glass bulb by applying heat from a common cigarette lighter.

It doesn't take much, it happens fast and if connected to a sprinkler system water is instant. Lots and lots of water, it isn't like the movies.

In just a few short seconds the liquid in the bulb expands breaking the bulb which releases the seat allowing water to flow.

Sprinkler heads are a one time operation deal. Once they operate you have to replace.

Ever wonder how much water one will put out? That depends on the water pressure.



k=discharge constant
p=pressure in psi
q=gallons per minute.

In the case of the VK100 1/2" sprinkler the k=factor=5.6.

If a sprinkler is supplied with 100 psi it will discharge 5.6*100^.5 or 56.o gallons per minute. 56.0 gpm is a lot of water and to put it into perspective it will fill a 55 gallon drum in less than a minute.

If supplied with 50 psi the 1/2" VK100 sprinkler will discharge 5.6*50^.5 or 39.6 gallons per minute. Just because you double the pressure does not mean you double the discharge.

People often ask about high challenge fires, will sprinklers put out a plastics fire or a pile of styrofoam cups 20 feet high?

Yes, they will if properly designed. We have heads with k-factors of 25.0 with a maximum allowable spacing of 100 sq. ft. per sprinkler. You find these kinds of sprinklers in warehouses where you have high challenge fires such as foam rubber warehouses.

With something like a foam rubber mattress you will most likely have a large fire pump capable of pumping 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per minute at 125 psi.

From a single open k-25 sprinkler head:

q=25.0*125^.5 or 279 gpm from one sprinkler head. This sprinkler will fill a 55 gallon drum in under 12 seconds. That's a lot of water.

Imagine the amount of water if you had 12 of these sprinklers going off.

You put any fire under Niagra Falls and it will go out.

Sorry, kind of got sidetracked there.

With the 1,500 sq. ft. area of operation the idea is to either control or extinguish the fire before it grows out of that area.

If the entire building is on fire what's there to save?

A small 1,500 sq. ft. building will require a minimum of 550 gallons per minute.

A large one million square foot building will require the same amount of water.... 550 gallons per minute. In each case the area of operation is the same.

While 550 is the theoretical minimum it will be more... probably 600 gpm or somewhere around there.

When flowing water through a pipe the more water you flow the less pressure you have available. We saw that in our flow test; without water flowing we had 54 psi available but with 1,113 gpm flowing we had only 48 psi.

The reason we did this flow test was to determine how much pressure we have available to design our system to at 600 gpm or whatever our end demand will be.

Enough for one day. We'll talk about flow test evaluation tomorrow.

And here you thought high school algebra was a waste of time.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What kind of skills do you need to start?

Layout technicians spend most, I am guessing 75%-90% on average, of their time in front of a computer screen "building" systems using AutoCad but in my opinion AutoCad skills are a small part of the skills required for the job.

High school graduate is a must.

Must have math skills equal to at least high school algebra I and geometry certainly doesn't hurt.

In my opinion reading and interpretation skills will have to be better than average. We're a heavily regulated industry and just the NFPA #13 Handbook has 1,200 pages full of definitions like Section 5.4.1 having to do with Hazard Classifications.

5.4.1* Extra Hazard (Group 1). Extra hazard (Group 1) occupancies shall be defined as occupancies or portions of other occupancies where the quantity and combustibility of contents are very high and dust, lint, or other materials are present, introducing the probability of rapidly developing fires with high rates of heat release but with little or no combustible or flammable liquids.
5.4.2* Extra Hazard (Group 2). Extra hazard (Group 2) occupancies shall be defined as occupancies or portions of other occupancies with moderate to substantial amounts of flammable or combustible liquids or occupancies where shielding of combustibles is extensive.
5.5* Special Occupancy Hazards.
5.6* Commodity Classification.
See Section C.2.
5.6.1 General.* Classification of Commodities. Commodity classification and the corresponding protection requirements shall be determined based on the makeup of individual storage units (i.e., unit load, pallet load). When specific test data of commodity classification by a nationally recognized testing agency are available, the data shall be permitted to be used in determining classification of commodities. Mixed Commodities. Protection requirements shall not be based on the overall commodity mix in a fire area. Unless the requirements of or are met, mixed commodity storage shall be protected by the requirements for the highest classified commodity and storage arrangement. The protection requirements for the lower commodity class shall be permitted to be utilized where all of the following are met:
(1) Up to 10 pallet loads of a higher hazard commodity, as described in 5.6.3 and 5.6.4, shall be permitted to be present in an area not exceeding 40,000 ft2 (3716 m2).
(2) The higher hazard commodity shall be randomly dispersed with no adjacent loads in any direction (including diagonally).
(3) Where the ceiling protection is based on Class I or Class II commodities, the allowable number of pallet loads for Class IV or Group A plastics shall be reduced to five. Mixed Commodity Segregation. The protection requirements for the lower commodity class shall be permitted to be utilized in the area of lower commodity class, where the higher hazard material is confined to a designated area and the area is protected to the higher hazard in accordance with the requirements of this standard.
5.6.2 Pallet Types. When loads are palletized, the use of wooden or metal pallets shall be assumed in the classification of commodities. For Class I through Class IV, when unreinforced polypropylene or high-density polyethylene plastic pallets are used, the classification of the commodity unit shall be increased one class (e.g., Class III will become Class IV and Class IV will become cartoned unexpanded Group A plastics).
Protection requirements are found throughout the standards and below I've included a snapshot dealing with the protection of idle wood pallets using control mode sprinklers.

This represents just one page out of the 1,200 or more contained in the handbook.

It isn't the worlds easiest reading and you're not going to breeze through it in an evening.

It also needs to be recognized in addition to the NFPA #13 Handbook we commonly deal with NFPA #14 having to do with standpipes, NFPA #15 having to do with water spray systems, NFPA #20 having to do with fire pumps, NFPA #24 having to do with underground fire line and hydrant requirements and then there is NFPA #25 having to do with inspections and testing.

On top of the NFPA standards there are building codes that you would need to be familiar with, at least those sections having to do with fire protection, and then there are a number of insurance company standards.

In addition to the standards there's manufacture's literature that a technician is going to have to read and fully understand.

There are literally thousands of different kinds of sprinkler heads and nozzles available on the market.

For an idea of the number and complexity visit Viking Corporation.

I would have to say reading skills and comprehension rank right up there.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

There's more to it than overhead pipes

Of course there are site drawings, these appear to be similar to civil engineering drawings, but what happens if you're in the country without public water?

You can get creative with a water storage tank or (my personal favorite) laying out a vertical turbine fire pump taking suction from a pond, lake or even a well if water is available. For wells there usually isn't enough .

When designing something like this the designer has to work with a professional engineer because some things I can do and some I can't.

I can determine the size and depth of the pond needed, the size of the pumphouse, all the piping, size and layout of required screens, trash bars and water intake way.

But what I can'd do is engineer the concrete and I leave that up to the professional engineer.

The job on the drawing is a recently completed 1,500 gpm @ 120 psi 125 HP electrically driven vertical turbine fire pump. What I do is create what I want and then give a copy to the professional engineer who will detail the actual structure with rebar, mesh and calculate the loadings that are required.

Fire pumps come in all different sizes. You can get a vertical turbine as small as 250 gpm or as large as 5,000 gpm. They can be electric or diesel engine driven.

I'm just pointing out there is a lot more to this job than someone might at first think.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

How tough are NICET tests?

For most of it not all that bad really and for both layout and inspections there are a number of elements a complete novice can pass.

The Automatic Sprinkler System Layout PROGRAM DETAIL MANUAL requires passage of a minimum of 50 elements and depending on your abilities 2, 3 or 4 of the 50 required elements might require serious study or even tutoring.

There's a large number of NICET II certificate holders that can't get Level III certification just because they can't pass one or two elements. One of the stumbling blocks is the "advanced hydraulic calculations" element.

The Advanced Hydraulic Calculations is a Level III "core element" which means Level III certification will not be issued until this element is passed. It doesn't matter, you can pass every other single element NICET offers but until you pass this Level III will not be awarded. That's the way NICET works.

I was lucky I found this element easy enough because I started hydraulic calculations in the mid 1970's, before personal computers, when we were doing them by hand. Today our computers do the calculations for us, what used to take an hour or two or three now takes five seconds, which leaves someone new somewhat vulnerable. You are going to have to learn how to do this.

Understand thoroughly advanced hydraulic calculations as applied to looped and gridded systems, velocity pressures, etc. Perform Hardy-Cross analysis of flow in a simple looped system. (NFPA 13, Layout, Detail and Calculation of Fire Sprinkler Systems)
Click on the image to view a typical advanced hydraulic calculation problem. This is not easy for most of us.

If you aren't used to doing it I don't think you will be finding it easy.

Another element that stops people, especially those who last did an algebra or trigonometric problem 22 years ago in high school, is "Intermediate Mathematics".

Perform mathematical calculations utilizing basic algebra (fundamental laws, algebraic expressions), geometry, and the trigonometric functions of right triangles. (See basic textbooks on algebra and trigonometry)

This is a Level I core element and until this is passed NICET will not issue any certification.

I would also take exception to the description "trigonometric functions of right triangles". Unless it has been changed over the last few years the trinonometric questions I had involved triangles but they were not right triangles.

I had to take the test three times to obtain Level III certification and a fourth time to obtain Level IV certification. This is pretty well average because you are limited to the number of elements you can take in a single sitting.

For example you are required to have 50 elements for Level III but the maximum number of elements you can take in one sitting is 34. If you miss just one core element you'll end up waiting six months before you take it again.

The first three times I took the exam I seem to remember we started at 8:30 AM, broke for lunch for exactly one hour and finshed up around 3:30 or 4:00 PM. The fourth time I took the exam, this was getting the rest of elements I needed for Level IV, I had most passed and was out of the classroom by noon.

The tests are open book but they are timed. If you have to look more than one or two questions you will run out of time and won't pass anyway.

Computers and programmable calculators are not allowed.

Government issued photo ID required.

During lunch break people are clustered about the hallway, these tests are given mostly at community colleges by a proctor, furiously looking up answers to questions they remembered. Once your open book material is cleared for use in the classroom it can not be removed until the test is done. For this reason it is wise to have two sets of source material.

And that's the testing procedure, have fun!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

If "Layout" Doesn't Sound Like Your Cup Of Tea What About Inspections?

Up to this time I've been talking about Automatic Sprinkler System Layout but there's also Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems that you might interest you.

This certification program was designed for engineering technicians in the automatic fire sprinkler industry who are engaged in the physical and mechanical aspects of inspection, testing, and maintenance of water-based systems including foam and foam-water systems. (The program does not cover systems that deal with CO2, halon, and dry chemical.)
Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems comprises three levels of certification. Level I was designed for technicians who assist in the inspection and/or testing of fire protection systems, Level II is for those who perform standardized tasks under routine conditions as assigned, and Level III is for those who perform comprehensive inspections of complex systems without supervision. Certification at Levels II and III does not require prior certification at Level I. Certification at Levels II and III does not require prior certification at the lower level, but it does require meeting the certification requirements of the lower levels.
This sub-field is relatively new having only been around for 10 years and is fast becoming one of the most sought after technicians there are.

Using Google to search "nicet sprinkler inspector" brings up 50,400 pages of mostly jobs that are going begging. Right now certified inspectors are in even more demand than certified layout technicians. It is really amazing how much demand there is.

How much? I have little doubt if someone could magically drop of thirty NICET III certified inspectors at the bus Atlanta bus station with $500 in their pocket, a rental car and access to the internet they would all have jobs by the end of the week.

Like the layout technicians certified inspectors are even harder to find.

As of April, 2009 the Georgia has a total of 84 NICET III inspectors living in the state.


Enclose a non-refundable fifty dollar $50.00 application fee and an a non-refundable fifty dollars $50.00 filing fee in the form of a company check or money order made payable to the State Fire Marshal’s Office (personal checks are not accepted). In addition, provide a resume of your work experience, including dates directly related to the inspection of fire protection sprinkler systems. Furthermore, state your knowledge and experience of the inspection process. Include any education and /or certifications i.e. N.I.C.E.T III certification in Inspections & Testing of Sprinkler Systems which is directly related to the inspection & testing of fire protection sprinkler systems. Submit this information on an attached, but separate sheet of paper, along with this application. Include a copy of your current Inspectors License and a copy of your N.I.C.E.T test level met letter (REQUIRED) or N.I.C.E.T inspection and testing certification. In compliance with O.C.G.A. Chapter 25-11, I hereby request I be issued a Sprinkler Systems Inspector License or have my Inspector License renewed by the Georgia Safety Fire Commissioner. I intend to engage in one or all of the following: The inspection and testing of water based fire protection systems.
In Georgia sprinkler systems are required be be inspected, tested and tagged annually but before we research demand let's take a look at what a day in the life of a typical certified inspector might be like.

Having called the day before our inspector gets on the road at 7:00 AM to get to his first appointment shortly after 8:00 AM. This inspection is rather simple, a single wet pipe spinkler system it takes a little over an hour and a half to walk through the building doing a visual inspection, testing the alarms, opening and closing valves (the most physically challenging part of the job), performing a main drain test and filling out the required paperwork.

At 10:15 AM our intrepid inspector is at his second appointment of the day which is a small manufacturing plant having one wet system and two dry systems. Having worked through lunch it's 1:15 PM by the time he's completed all his required tasks.

Grabbing a quick bite to eat on the road our inspector is at this third appointment of the day by 2:00 PM it's just a single small wet pipe system and he's out of there by 3:15 PM and at his final appointment of the day at 4:00 PM which is a motel.

The motel is completed by 5:30 PM, all the paperwork is completed and our inspector finally heads for home arriving at 6:30 PM. It's been a long day but not unusual.

This represents an "average day" and our inspector inspected six systems. In my opinion this is more than "average" with the "average" number of inspections a day being closer to four (my opinion) but we'll leave it at six.

Let's do the math.

A conservative estimate of the number of sprinkler systems in Georgia would be 500,000. I actually think it is but we'll leave it at 500,000.

If each inspector did six inspections per day for 250 days an inspector would perform 1,500 inspections annually. Bear in mind I think the 1,500 inspections figure is high with reality being closer to 1,000 to 1,200.

With 83 inspectors each doing 1,500 inspections a year the maximum possible number of inspections that can be performed in a year is 124,500 or not even a fourth of what is required.

As dire as this picture is it's even worse because I serously doubt an inspector would be able to average 6 inspections per day for 250 days. The actually figure would be closer to 4 or 5.

Then, on top of all this, the insurance carriers of many large industrial plants require quarterly and not just annual inspections.

The point I am making is the industry is woefully short of qualified inspectors and it is only going to get worse as more states adopt laws requiring inspections.

Some states, such as Texas and Florida, only require a NICET II to obtain a license to perform inspections while others, like Georgia, require a NICET III.

Personally I think NICET II with two years is not enough experience but those decisions aren't up to me.

How many new inspectors are being added?

Not many.

The push for NICET III inspectors has been going on for about six years and in that time the number of Level III inspectors went from a literally handful to 83. That's an average of just 13.8 per year or a little over 1 per month.

But the big growth spurt has slowed considerably because many who had the required experience already have the certificate.... there are fewer coming up behind the ones that blazed the trail.

But I will know for certain the November 3rd when I purchased an updated registry. We know there were 83 on April 3rd and we'll compare that with the new numbers in November.

Getting certified.

A number of current inspectors came from the ranks of experienced sprinkler fitters (the guys who actually do the installation) but that's the hard way to get there in my opinion.

Because of prohibitive training costs you can forget being hired on as a trainee, for between two to five years depending on state licensing requirements, before you can be productive in bringing income to the company.

Once again the easiest route will be a technical school.

Bates College in Olympia, Washington offers an AS degree in inspections and I am pretty sure there's a few more but will leave the searching up to you.


Pay varies around the country but from what I have seen it appears to be between $18 and $22 an hour but almost all include some sort of performance commission of between 8% and 12% of sales. If the average inspection sells for $150.00 and an inspector does 5 per day total sales equals $750.00. 10% of $750.00 equals $75.00 which is added to the hourly wage. With these schemes it is not unusual for inspectors to receive $300.00 to $500.00 added to their weekly pay in bonuses or commissions.

I've known a number of inspectors to make in excess of $60,000.00.

Many states accept NICET II for inspections and I suspect pay in the states that do accept Level II would be a little less. Nothing to base this on just my gut feeling.

There's lots of road miles that come with this job with working in a rural area 100 or more miles a day being normal. Nearly all inspectors I know have company vehicles furnished.

A clean driving record is an absolute must for a job like this.

Job Security - First Hired, Last Fired

For obvious reasons companies that do fire sprinkler installations are probably the most regulated company in construction.

Many states require a NICET certified Level III or IV technician be employed full time in order to obtain or maintain a license.

Some examples.

South Carolina for example.

2. All qualifiers must be certified NICET Level III or above. After you have obtained the NICET Level III or above, submit your completed application, Doc#145 for license to the S.C. Contractors’ Licensing Board and include all of the following:

  • Fee
  • Certificate of Liability Insurance*
  • Verification of NICET Level III or above**

*The name on the certificate of liability insurance must read the same as the licensee and have the same address. The insurers affording coverage must be licensed to write insurance policies in South Carolina. The S.C. Contractors' Licensing Board must be listed as the certificate holder.

Doc# 145 states:
The two-year license fee for each business entity seeking licensure is $200. Each fire sprinkler contractor main office or branch office must be separately licensed and have a primary qualifying party assigned exclusively to that location. The name of the branch office must be the same name that appears on the license of the main office. The license fee for each branch office is $100.The fee for the main office and branch office includes one primary qualifying party. The fee for each additional qualifying party is $50.00. A qualifying party is an individual that has met the requirements established by the board to qualify the licensee to engage in business. A licensee may have an unlimited number of qualifying parties with one employee listed as the primary qualifying party. The applicant must submit a current certificate from the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) with this application indicating that the proposed qualifying parties(s) have passed the NICET Level III or IV Fire Sprinkler Technician Written Competency Examination. All qualifying parties must keep their NICET certification current for license renewal.
Then, if a qualifying party (must be NICET III or IV) leaves employment the the following rule applies:

If the primary qualifying party leaves employment the licensee, the licensee and the qualifying party must notify the department within fifteen days of the primary qualifying party's termination of employment. If the department is not notified within fifteen days, the department shall immediately cancel the license. If the licensee properly notifies the department within the prescribed time frame, the license remains in good standing for six months from the date of the departure of the primary qualifying party. If a primary qualifying party is not replaced within the six-month period, the department shall immediately cancel the license.
To make sure there is a qualifying party (a NICET III or IV certificate holder) both the company and the employee must sign notarized documentation stating the certificate holder is a full time employee at a given location. If a NICET holder leaves employment the company has six months to replace them or the license to do business is revoked.

In some states it gets even more stringent.

Tennessee is another example.


(4) "Fire protection sprinkler system contractor" means a person who contracts, offers to contract, or represents that such person is able to contract with a general contractor, subcontractor, or the general public for the undertaking of the sale, installation or service of a fire protection sprinkler system or any part thereof, or who actually installs or services a fire protection sprinkler system, provided that an owner of real property on which a fire protection sprinkler system is located, or a full-time employee of the owner of real property on which a fire protection sprinkler system is located, may perform simple maintenance of the fire protection sprinkler system, such as replacing a sprinkler head;
(7) "Responsible managing employee" means an individual who is, or is designated to be, in active and responsible charge of the work of a fire protection sprinkler system contractor; and

Prohibited activities.
62-32-104. Prohibited activities.
No person shall:
(1) Act as a fire protection sprinkler system contractor without a valid certificate of registration issued by the department; provided, that a partnership or joint venture may act as a fire protection sprinkler system contractor without a certificate of registration if and only if each partner or joint venturer is duly registered;
(2) Act as a fire protection sprinkler system contractor under a certificate of registration without having on staff a responsible managing employee who holds a valid license issued by the division. A person holding a valid certificate of registration may continue work in progress for ninety (90) days after the death or disassociation of its licensed responsible managing employee, or for such longer period as may be approved, pursuant to rules adopted hereunder;
(3) Act as a responsible managing employee for a fire protection sprinkler system contractor without a valid license issued by the department; or
(4) Sell, install or service a fire protection sprinkler system in violation of this chapter or the rules adopted hereunder.

Application for license as responsible managing employee.
62-32-106. Application for license as responsible managing employee.
(a) An application for a license as a responsible managing employee shall be submitted on a form prescribed by the department and shall be accompanied by a nonrefundable application fee in an amount not to exceed twenty-five dollars ($25.00).
(b) One (1) of the following documents must accompany the application to evidence technical qualifications for a license:
(1) Proof of registration in Tennessee as a professional engineer or architect; or
(2) A copy of NICET notification letter regarding the applicant's successful completion of the examination requirements for certification at "Level III" for fire protection automatic sprinkler systems layout.
In Tennessee a company has only 90 days to replace a "responsible managing employee" but, unlike some states, Tennessee does allow registered architects and professional engineers to act as a "responsible managing employee".

States I personally know about that have similar licensing laws, that require NICET III or IV be designated "responsible managing employees" include Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, Nebraska, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

It's the first hired, last fired regulation for NICET certificate holders.

In addition to the states mentioned there are many others and a full breakdown of each is provided at the Interactive Map at

A career where College is NOT required!

There are few well paying technical jobs left in the United States where at least two years of college is not required. A certified fire sprinkler layout technician is one of the few.

With experience I would estimate the average pay for technicians to be the following:

Level II with between 2 and 5 years experience: $30,000 annual or $15 per hour.

Level III with a minimum 5 years to 10 years experience: $55,000 or $27.50 per hour.

Level IV with minimum 10 years experience: $65,000 to $75,000 or $31.75 per hour to $36.00 per hour.

It's been my experience if a trainee starts at age 20 he should be Level II in two years when 22 years old, Level III by the time he is 26 and Level IV between 30 and 31 years old. $70,000 per year, more than likely with a company vehicle, at age 30 without a college degree isn't a bad living wage. Could be worse, you could be a school teacher.

Nearly all of these jobs are provided with a full range of benefits including health insurance, 401(k) plans, profit sharing, disability insurance and life insurance. It is what it takes to attract what few qualified technicians there are.

In addition it isn't unusual for many senior Level IV technicians receive company vehicles.

NICET requires a minimum of 2 years documented experience before they will issue a Level II certificate and there aren't any exceptions. For a Level III a minimum of 5 years documented experience is required with a minimum of 10 years for a Level IV. There aren't any shortcuts to the process and even if someone where to come out of college with a BS degree it will still take 5 years to a Level III and 10 years to a Level IV.

Russ Leavitt in his blog has this to say about the shortage of certified technicans.
Over the years, obtaining NICET certification has certainly become necessary in the fire protection industry. A number of state and local jurisdictions now require certification to obtain a fire sprinkler contractor’s license, qualify for a Certificate of Competency, or be named as a Responsible Managing Employee. Many jurisdictions require working plans to be signed by a certified layout technician, the contractor to have a certified technician on staff or individuals to be certified in order to obtain a permit or license to perform inspections and testing. The objectives behind these rules are worthy and I agree with most of the arguments for having such requirements. However, all of us involved in the industry must be mindful there are unintended consequences–some of them serious.

As the CEO of a large organization that has NICET certified technicians in all the fire protection sub-fields I deal with some of these unintended consequences on a regular basis. In addition, I occasionally serve as an expert in litigation which often involves certified technicians and as a result see consequences that others face.

One consequence includes exasperating an already serious shortage of certified technicians and the high costs of developing and training to meet this shortage. For example, several states have enacted requirements for all inspectors of water based systems to be certified (level 2 or 3). This has created and continues to create a serious challenge to keep inspection costs as low as possible for the building owner because an inspector cannot work alone until certified (up to 5 years depending on the certification level required). This will force contractors to often use two inspectors (one certified and one trainee) on even the simplest inspections where one inspector could do the job. The increased costs will be borne by the contractor or passed on to the customer. In reality, this requirement and the associated costs could cause even fewer companies to invest in training because of the long payback time (up to 5 years) thus creating a more severe labor shortage as contractors resort to poaching certified inspectors from each other.

I agree, there's a severe shortage right now and it is only going to get worse in the next coming 10 years.


Two ways to get started.

The traditional method is to be a trainee at a company but these positions have all but been eliminated as to expensive and time consuming.

A new trainee will be learning for the first six months not doing a bit of work that would contribute to the income of the company. Pay is going to be $10. an hour and cost a minimum of $13 once payroll taxes and benefits are figured in. That's a bare minimum of $13,000 training before the trainee can contribute his first nickle to the income of the company.

In the second six months he's going to get a little more money and while will start to contribute some I doubt it will offset what he costs during the second six months. What a $12 an hour trainee takes 40 hours to do I can do in 4.

After a year the trainee finally starts to pay his way and here the company has $30,000 invested and no guarantee the trainee is going to stick around. At one to two years the trainee starts to become valuable and there's danger of him being picked off by a competitor who wants to avoid the first year training costs.

Thus very few trainees in the industry today. If I were to need someone I would rather use the $30,000 to get someone I can use right away.

So if you want to get into the field what do you do?


I find this really exciting but there's now three community colleges, that I am aware of, in the United States that offer a two year Associate of Science degree in the layout of fire sprinkler systems! If I missed one on the list let me know and I will add it.

In alphabetical order.

The first one is Bates College in Olympia, Washington and is the only school I am aware of that offers courses in both Layout and Inspection of fire sprinkler systems. I haven't touched on Inspections yet but will later on in my blog.

The second school is Delaware Technical College and I think that campus is in Wilmington, Delaware.

The third school is a recent newcomer but I know the people who are putting the program together and it promises to be an outstanding program. The is Parkland Community College in Champaign, Illinois. I recently received a brochure concerning Parkland that I would like to share here. Front Side. Back Side.

To give you an idea how tight the industry is on the back of Parkland College's brochure you'll read where part of the program is paid internships where you can earn while you learn! This is unheard of in a community college situation.

If searching for a community college closer to you keep in mind the following.

There are many "fire technology" courses but most of them are for fire fighters. Fine programs but if you want to go into sprinkler system layout you need to look for NICET on the course offering or description.

We work with CAD a lot and if I had to put a percentage of time on it I would guess 75% for the average layout technician.

But taking CAD classes is not an alternative.

A NICET Level III designer who didn't have any CAD experience could be throughly trained in a short time of anywhere from two weeks to two to three months.

An expert who knew everything there was to know about CAD would still take five years to obtain his Level III. In my estimatation CAD is 3% of the program.

Technician Jobs and the Impact of the Recession

The table to the left gives a breakdown of the total NICET certified sprinkler layout technicians as of April, 2009.

As I write this the country is in the worst recession since the great depression with unemployment at 9.5% with some parts of the country unemployment is hitting 15% or greater.

Commercial construction is sharply down with many skilled workers, foremen and project superintendents facing unemployment. In nearly all areas of the country it's pretty bad out there.

Among the hard hit are drafting technicians working for architectural firms, these are the people who do the actual drafting and detail work, because there just isn't enough work available.

But for NICET certified layout technicians this is not the case. As far as I can determine this little niche group enjoys 99% employment. Those very few who aren't working is because they don't want to.

Sound hard to believe? Check for yourself, a Google Search using "nicet sprinkler jobs" through Google this morning shows 10,400 jobs that are gong begging even now.

Like this one:

Our organization is committed to our employees. Our long standing success is built on the teamwork of our workers contributing around the world.

At xxxxx you’re valued.

We are actively seeking applicants for the following positions. If you feel that your skills and interests fit xxx but you don’t see a position below that fits you – please contact us.

Sprinkler Designer NICET III

Company: xxxxxxx

Location: Salt Lake City, UT

Requirements: NICET III or IV certification in fire sprinkler system layout. Proficiency with HydraCAD design software.

Responsibilities: Design fire protection systems for a wide variety of projects. Responsibilities include CAD work, coordination work, site survey work, hydraulic calculations, stocklisting, etc.

Pay Range: Pay depends on your level of experience and education.

Benefits: Medical, Dental, Life Insurance, Long-Term Disability, 401K, Profit Sharing.
The benefits offered are pretty well standard across the industry.

Pay depends on level of experience but anyone who holds a Level III or IV certificate has a good amount of experience. For pay we can use to find the average pay for a NICET III certificate holder is $50,000 per year. Salt Lake City is an area that generally pays less than the rest of the county while Dallas Texas brings an average of $62,000, Omaha Nebraska brings $56,000 , $66,000 in Columbus, Georgia and $55,000 in Little Rock Arkansas.

For holders of a NICET IV certificate you could easily add $10,000 per year to the listed salaries with most LEVEL IV certificate holders earning between $60,000 and $90,000 depending on where they are in the country.

A Detailed Salary 2006 Survey for all NICET certifications provided by ASCET. Chart 14 on page 9 indicates over half the national salary range in 2006 is between $45,000 and $74,999 per year.

How many NICET Certified Layout Technicians are there?

In Utah, not many.

Fact is the list is so sort we can put the entire list of fifty (50) on this blog. If Utah had a job and 100% of the people who were qualified did apply you would have fifty applicants.

Last Name, First Name, Middle Initial, Town of Residence, Certificate Number and Level of Certification.

Adams, Daniel N. Murray 76950 IV
Anderson, Lee S. Salt Lake City 100002 IV
Atkinson, Craig D. Murray 105885 III
Berry, Michael J. Salt Lake Cty 78526 III
Black, Edward C. North Ogden 84106 IV
Blue, Craig R. W Valley City 95307 III
Brey, Ronald A. American Fork 80492 III
Bump, David L. Riverton 93589 III
Carver, Kelly D. Pleassant View 106025 III
Chanthasen, Khathaname K. Taylorsville 94210 IV
Christensen, Bruce E. Highland 70517 IV
Darr, Jeffrey C. Tooele 68403 III
Dial, Lebron T. Highland 79070 III
Eyres, Tracy D. Eden 87134 III
Glaser, William A. Tooele 69661 IV
Goodloe, Robert F. Murray 70424 III
Hagen, Marc B. Draper 111359 IV
Hagen, Robert B. Salt Lake City 70982 IV
Hagen, Sean B. Draper 111360 IV
Haight, John A. Hurricane 98793 IV
Hancock, Clint M. Riverton 70026 III
Harris, Raymond G. Murray 63776 IV
Hatfield, Ronald L. Springville 70628 IV
Heiner, Brent D. Kaysville 75758 III
Housholder, Thomas W. Fruit Heights 96701 IV
Johnson, Craig L. Farmington 93912 IV
Johnson, Jeffrey J. Draper 69385 IV
Johnson, Steven W. Lehi 82151 III
Knuteson, Alan G. Payson 109270 IV
Lloyd, Ronald E. Salt Lake City 109185 III
Mann, Kent A. Salt Lake City 69331 IV
Martin, Randall W. Magna 64595 III
Mash, Frank L. Salt Lake Cty 93655 III
Mead, Michael Salt Lake City 98650 III
Merkley, David C. Woods Cross 67313 III
Montague, Frank B. Elk Ridge 109286 IV
Neilsen, Allan M. Highland 71009 III
Nicholas, Stan T. Corinne 99936 III
Olar, Boyd N. Pleasantview 72552 IV
Rasband, Craig B. Salt Lake Cty 78555 III
Robinson, Lynn R. Woods Cross 117914 III
Shepp, Stanley M. Saint George 98169 IV
Smith, Gordon D. Layton 69714 IV
Snow, Kelly G. Pleasant Grove 69715 III
Strong, Dennis R. Salt Lake Cty 64546 III
Tordiff, Joseph J. Farmington 63969 III
Warath, Jeremy G. Salt Lake City 107233 III
White, William A. Salt Lake City 66267 IV
Wilson, Bob L. Orangeville 69468 IV
Wilson, Brian S. Morgan 123139 IV

Here's the problem. NICET certificate numbers are issued sequentially; the lower the number the older the certificate. I have nothing factual to back this up with but I would estimate at least 90% of certificate holders with numbers below 90,000 are in their 50's.

NICET testing for sprinklers began around 1980 and the first certificates issued started around 63,000. Any number below 70,000 gained certification nearly 30 years ago and with the 5 years minimum experience required the earliest anyone would have taken the test was in their mid 20's which would put youngest possible age in the mid 50's.

In actual fact the large majority of those with certificate numbers below 70,000 are in their 60's, 70's or even 80's making a third of those who are qualified 60 years old or older.

Not nearly enough, nowhere near enough and for reason's I will get around to explaining it is only going to get tighter.

As of April, 2009 the total for Level III certification was 1,751 while Level IV certification is 1,054 for a total of 2,805 certified technicians in the entire United States. That's an average of just 56 per state.

Let's assume a job opening comes up in Nebraska (there are several open jobs right now) where the State of Nebraska requires a NICET III or IV certificate holder be the "Responsible Managing Employee". The problem with Nebraska is there's only 27 Level III's and 12 Level IV's in the entire state. If someone has a job opening that requires a Level III or IV the theoretical maximum number of applicants a company could possibly get would be 39 and that is only if 100% of everyone applied. I can assure you this would not happen. They would be lucky to get 2 and some jobs go begging for months on end.

California is even worse. California has 45 Level III's and 34 Level IV's so if everyone applied that fit the qualifications the theoretical maximum number of applicants a California company could receive would be 79. With a population of 33 million only 1 in 417,721 California residents would even qualify and even now all that do are working unless they don't want to.

Here's the problem the industry faces and why it is even going to get tighter in the next 5 to 10 years.

We're retiring. It is estimated over half the Level III and IV technicans currently registered are in their 50's, 60's and 70's and will be retiring sometime over the next 10 years.

I am in my 60's and I'll be one of them.

There are few come up behind us as replacements. Now it's down to poaching certified technicians from other companies and it's only going to get worse.

As it gets worse pay will go up.

Why? Training. Nobody is training and there are few schools, I know of three community colleges and two universities in the United States that offer the training, that offer it.

When I started in the 1970's there were a number of large companies that acted as training grounds. We had Automatic Sprinkler Corporation of America and Grinnel Fire Protection which was the big one. In the 1970's over half those being trained as technicians were coming out of these two companies and today they're mostly gone. Automatic Sprinkler no longer exists and Grinnel was bought out by an fire alarm company and does very little sprinkler installation anymore. The rest of the companies are smaller, $1 million to $30 million in annual sales each, and aren't doing the training. It's to expensive to train.

Nobody ever thinks about us.

Next time you go to the shopping mall, a store, visit a hospital, nursing home or maybe even at work take a few minutes to look up and find the fire sprinkler system.

It's probably there, up there at the ceiling or roof level.

If there's a suspended ceiling all you will see is the fire sprinkler heads but if you go out to a builders supply store, Home Depot is a good example, they generally don't have ceilings making it possible for you to see a lot more of the fire sprinkler system.

Take a good look, notice how sprinklers are laid out in a symmetrical pattern with specific spacing between sprinklers. Depending on the occupancy (use) of the building sprinklers are going to be laid out somewhere between 100 square foot per head and a maximum of 400 square foot per head. Generally speaking sprinklers are going to be spaced between 8 to 10' apart to a maximum of 20' again depending on the occupancy.

With sprinklers when we use the term "occupancy" we're not referring to the type of building structure or number of people that might be in it but the use, what is it used for? Motels, office buildings and hospitals are a "light hazard" occupancies meaning the combustibility of the contents is low allowing sprinkler systems to be "less robust" allowing greater spacing between sprinkler heads and smaller pipes.

Shopping malls and grocery stores are ordinary hazard occupancies that generally require closer spacing of sprinklers (130 square foot) and generally larger pipes while "big box stores" (Home Depot) and storage facilities require even closer spacing (100 square foot) and much larger pipe.

The questions are who does this work? Who actually decides a sprinkler need to go "right there" and "what size pipe" need to supply it? Who decided "how far down from a roof" a sprinkler has to be?

99% of the time these decisions are not made by the architect or engineer for the project. These decisions are not made by the people who do the actual installation. These decisions are made, and drawings prepared by, the Certified Automatic Sprinkler Layout Technician.

Layout Technicians are certified by the "National Institute for the Certification in Engineering Technologies" or NICET. NICET is a non-profit division of the National Society of Professional Engineers based in Alexandria, Virginia.

It's the certified layout technician that lays out sprinkler systems using architectural drawings of the project or by surveys conducted in the field for retrofit systems if architectural drawings are not available.

NICET certification in Automatic Sprinkler System Layout.
This certification program is for engineering technicians engaged in the layout and detailing of automatic sprinkler systems which must meet existing and proposed code and statutory requirements. Areas covered include knowledge of physical science, advanced hydraulics, applicable codes and standards, and contract administration.

Automatic Sprinkler System Layout comprises four levels of certification. Level I is designed for trainees and entry-level technicians who perform limited job tasks under frequent supervision, Level II is for technicians who perform routine tasks under general daily supervision, Level III is for intermediate-level technicians who, under little or no daily supervision, work with standards, plans, specifications, and instructions, and Level IV is for independent, senior-level technicians whose work includes supervising others. Certification at Levels II, III, and IV does not require prior certification at the lower level, but it does require meeting the certification requirements of the lower levels.