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not installing fire alarm, just smokes - what's your liability
August 2, 2017
not installing fire alarm, just smokes - what's your liability
I have a question regarding putting smoke detectors for a small commercial customer in their business.  We doesn’t do fire.  If we put them in are we opening ourself up to liability and is there some sort of a disclaimer we could use that we are not liable and we are only putting in smoke detectors and not a fire system? 
Pardon my limited technical knowledge, but what category of system do you think "smoke" detectors are in, intrusion, fire or what?  You have a one in three shot at getting it right, and I have faith in you.  I suspect the correct answer is, fire.
You said you don't do fire, which I take to mean you don't do commercial fire.  That's why you didn't bother getting the Commercial Fire All in One.  Commercial fire, if done to code, requires a different skill set than intrusion alarms.  It's far more involved because the AHJ is involved and there are lots of laws that govern the installation.  The added exposure and liability risk naturally follows.  If you "don't do" commercial fire then don't do it.  If you decide to install and monitor any commercial fire equipment or system then you should be using the Commercial Fire All in One.  
That form is to be used when you are installing a fully compliant AHJ approved commercial fire alarm, and also when you are sneaking into the premises in the middle of the night to install something less than the fully compliant system without the knowledge of the AHJ.  You'll be checking the appropriate boxes in the contract to indicate what kind of system you are installing and whether it's to code.  
If you don't "do it right" is there a "disclaimer" you can use?  Well my first thought is, yes, it's called an insanity defense.  You are insane if you put in a fire alarm system or equipment, monitor or service it, without complying with AHJ rules and laws, and having a Commercial Fire All in One signed by the subscriber.  Be sure to read the Fire All in One because it does impose obligations that you should adhere to; make sure you do to reduce to avoid liability.
Residential customers is another matter.  Other than code requirements, generally in new construction or multiple dwellings, all you need are smokes placed in a few places.  But even that creates risks because the smoke zones need to be correctly identified so the central station knows it is getting a fire signal, not intrusion or something else.  The Residential All in One includes fire as well as all security systems; you can also use it for home automation and integration, especially if you are also installing security equipment [if no security equipment you are probably better off with the Home Automation and Integration Agreement]. 
If you install fire [or any security systems] be sure that you

  • are properly licensed
  • have the necessary skills to install and service
  • have the right Contract in place with the subscriber
  • have your alarm industry E&O in place
  • have my phone number handy
    I was about to end the article, but noticed the title included "what's your liability".  So let me take a moment to address that.  You're only going to install one smoke detector.  Let me see if this analogy drives home the concept.  You have the worst and briefest sex you can recall and she only got slightly pregnant.  Now she wants pre-natal and child support for the next 21 years.
    So your smoke detector, which will be called a fire alarm once the fire is over, can expose you to liability to your subscriber, your subscriber's tenants and others on the property, personal injury, death, property damage, exposure to neighboring properties for the same things.  Was it worth the extra $200 you got for the smoke detector or service call to the fire alarm component?  That's the risk.
    But I am not suggesting that fire alarm work is too risky.  I am telling you that it poses different and probably more significant risk and you need to take all appropriate measures to reduce your risk.  How?  See the list above.


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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
200 Garden City Plaza
Garden City, NY 11530
516 747 6700 x 301
516 747 6700
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