They Did What? Fire Sprinkler Industry Stunned by North Carolina Legislature’s Mistake in Removing Licensing Board’s Authority to Issue Critical Licenses | Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC

North Carolina lawmakers incorrectly revoked the State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating, and Fire Sprinkler Contractors (State Board) from issuing certain important industrial licenses. On July 1, 2016, North Carolina NC legislature changed Gen. Stat. Section 87-21 and, without their knowledge, removed the ability for the State Board to issue restricted sprinkler licenses.

For the time being, the State Board, which has been deprived of its legal powers, cannot and will not issue new licenses to applicants wishing to obtain the following licenses:

  • Plumbing, heating and fuel line technicians

  • Fire sprinkler contractor

  • Sprinkler system inspection contractor

  • Technician for the inspection of sprinkler systems

  • Fire sprinkler maintenance technician

In North Carolina, these licenses are vital to maintaining public safety. Routine sprinkler inspections are required to ensure that all commercial buildings – including hospitals and nursing homes – have adequate and functional fire extinguishing systems. The Fire Sprinkler Inspection Licenses as Contractor, Technician, and Fire Sprinkler Maintenance Technician allow license holders to quickly get any system that has failed for maintenance, repair, or surprise inspection back up and running. Without these licenses being issued, sprinkler system restoration can be performed by previously licensed persons or by sprinkler system installers.

In response to the amended statute, the state executive has taken the following steps:

  • All contractor and technician licenses issued before October 1, 2016 will be extended until the legislature determines a permanent solution.

  • No new checks are carried out for the licenses concerned.

  • No new licenses will be issued in the classifications concerned.

During this transition period, the state board has decided on new procedures for applying for the above-mentioned licenses. These new procedures – as envisaged by the State Board in its memorandum entitled “Unintended Consequences of Legislative Action” – are as follows:

  • New applications for technician license. The board will change its normal process and accept applications for a technician license in the sprinkler inspection technician, sprinkler maintenance technician, and plumbing, heating and fuel line technician categories. No money is accepted. However, after the amendment of the law has been passed, the applications will be processed until they are ready for grant.

  • If the technician applicant submits an application based on NICET Level 2 certification, the board will process the application until eligibility is verified, but will not accept any money or issue the license.

  • Licenses for installers of plumbing, heating or sprinkler systems are not affected.

While the legislative change does not affect a person / company currently holding a valid license listed above, industry members are left wondering what do we do now? Until North Carolina lawmakers correct their mistake, the State Board recommends the following:

  • Contractors retain staff and minimize the fluctuation of licensed employees.

  • Postpone workforce plans to ensure that a licensed employee performs fieldwork according to their license.

  • Contractors should contact their relevant industry association and the State Board for information on the best course of action to resolve this legal flaw.

This mistake did not go without notice and several industry members have already raised their concerns to relevant members of the state parliament and industry associations. Reportedly, these industry members have received assurances that lawmakers will work to correct their mistake quickly. However, North Carolina lawmakers cannot convene again until January 11, 2017. Until then, the State Board will have its hands tied and will continue to enforce its new policies and procedures listed above.

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