Council Will Review Fire Sprinkler Inspection Certifications

After A Complaint,

Council Will Review

Fire-Sprinkler Regs

Bernie Zeh, AMB Fire Equipment, reads a letter asking Oneonta Common Council to review an ordinance on which inspectors can look into fire sprinkler systems in the city. (Ian Austin/

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to

ONEONTA  – Almost exactly a year after ABM Fire Equipment owner Bernie Zeh raised concerns with Common Council over a January 2016 ordinance that restricted his company’s ability to do business in Oneonta, he brought them up again – this time, with better results.  He said the city never responded to his complaint last year or calls he made to the mayor and Steve Yearly, the Zoning Code Enforcement Officer.

But after listening to Zeh tonight, Common Council members said they would consider reviewing the ordinance, which requires companies like ABM to obtain a specific certification called NICET Level II certification in order to do fire sprinkler system inspection in the city.

“It’s not even necessary,” Zeh said in response to Council member Dave Rissberger’s questions about it.  “I can get statements from sprinkler manufacturers…that I’ve talked to today that will put their 25 years or more experience over a NICET exam.”

NICET stands for the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies, an organization established in 1961 “to create recognizable certification for engineering and technological fields”.

“I think it’s just for the organization to make money,” Zeh said tonight.

He said the NICET Levels I and II exams, which he would have to take and pass to obtain the certification, cost $200 each and take hours to do, money and time most small companies can’t afford, and the certification has to be renewed every three years.  Zeh currently holds a Level I certification.

In last year’s meeting, Zeh wrote in a letter which he read out loud to Council, “The review process for each level can take up to 6 months.  If you fail any portion of the exam, you have to wait 6 months before reapplying.”

Last year, Zeh told Council via his letter that the January 2016 ordinance represented a conflict of interest because an Oneonta company, Fyr-Fyter’s owner was a member on the Plumbing Board, which brought the new regulation to the Council in it meeting.

Zeh raised another problem last October.

”There is currently only one company that has a NICET Level II certified inspector…Jeff Back of Fyr-Fyter,” he said.

In tonight’s meeting, Zeh, again reading out loud from a letter he wrote, said, “I do not think it was a coincidence that …Back…who claimed [at the Nov. 6, 2018 Common Council meeting] to know nothing about this new ordinance before it was signed already held NICET certifications….”

He added that “Fyr-Fyter has been sending employees who hold no NICET certifications to perform fire sprinkler inspections in the city of Oneonta….A NICET certification obtained by one person does not cover the entire company, but only the individual who obtained it.”

As he did last year, Zeh said the next closest company that held NICET Level II certification, HJ Brandles Corp in Utica, was 60 miles away from Oneonta, “forcing property owners in the city to use Fyr-Fyter or pay outrageous milage fees for other companies to travel for their inspection.”

Luisa Montanti, General Manager of Southside Mall, spoke in support of ABM’s qualifications and work in the meeting.

“ABM is my fire sprinkler systems contractor and I attest to the quality of work they performed,” she said.  “I found it concerning when they brought it to my attention of the monopoly that exists, just based on one Commission’s review ordinance that was passed.”

A certification doesn’t mean anything; experience of 37 years from a company that is nonstop does,” added.  “they don’t have time to take tests for certification when they’re already the masters at what they do.”

Back did not attend the Council meeting.

Mayor Gary Herzig said that “if any Council member wants to explore this [issue], I suggest they do it in the Legislative Committee.”

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