They Did What? Fire Sprinkler Industry Stunned by North Carolina Legislature’s Mistake in Removing Licensing Board’s Authority to Issue Critical Licenses

by Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC

Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC

North Carolina’s legislature mistakenly removed the authority for the State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating, and Fire Sprinkler Contractors (“State Board”) to issue certain crucial industry licenses. On July 1, 2016, the North Carolina legislature amended N.C. Gen. Stat. § 87-21 and, unbeknownst to them, removed the ability for the State Board to issue restricted fire sprinkler licenses.

For now, the State Board, stripped of its statutory authority to do so, cannot and will not issue new licenses to applicants wishing to obtain the following licenses:

  • Plumbing, Heating and Fuel Piping Technician
  • Residential Fire Sprinkler Contractor
  • Fire Sprinkler Inspection Contractor
  • Fire Sprinkler Inspection Technician
  • Fire Sprinkler Maintenance Technician

In North Carolina, these licenses are critical to maintaining public safety. Routine fire sprinkler inspections are necessary to ensure that all commercial buildings—including hospitals and nursing homes—have adequate and functional fire suppression systems. The Fire Sprinkler Inspection Contractor, Technician, and Fire Sprinkler Maintenance Technician licenses allow for license holders to quickly return to operation any system down for maintenance, repair, or surprise inspection. Without issuance of these licenses, restoring fire sprinkler systems can be done by previously licensed individuals or fire sprinkler installation contractors.

In response to the amended statute, the State Board has undertaken the following steps:

  • All contractor and technician licenses issued prior to October 1, 2016 will continue to be renewed unless and until a permanent fix is put in place by the legislature.
  • No new examinations for the affected licenses will be administered.
  • No new licenses in the affected classifications will be issued.

During this interim time period, the State Board adopted new procedures regarding applications for the affected licenses listed above. Those new procedures—as provided by the State Board in its memorandum entitled “Unintended Consequences of Legislative Action”—are as follows:

  • New applications for technician license. The Board will modify its usual procedure and will accept applications for technician license in the fire sprinkler inspection technician, fire sprinkler maintenance technician and plumbing, heating and fuel piping technician categories. No money will be accepted. However, the applications will be processed to the point of readiness for issuances once the legislative correction bill passes.
  • If the technician applicant makes application based upon NICET Level 2 certification, the Board will process the application up to the point of verification of eligibility, but not accept money or issue the license.
  • Licenses for plumbing, heating or fire sprinkler contractor are not affected.

While the legislature’s amendment does not affect any person/company who currently holds a valid license listed above, industry members are left with the question, what do we do now? Until the North Carolina legislature rectifies its mistake, the State Board recommends that:

  • Contracting firms retain personnel and minimize turnover of licensed employees.
  • Shift personnel schedules to ensure a licensed employee conducts fieldwork commensurate with their licensure.
  • Contracting firms should contact their relevant industry associations and the State Board for guidance on the best course of action to help correct this legislative mistake.

This mistake has not gone without notice and several industry members have voiced their concerns to appropriate members of the state legislature and industry associations already. Those industry members reportedly have received assurances that the legislature will work to rectify its mistake quickly. However, the North Carolina legislature cannot act until it reconvenes on January 11, 2017. Until that time, the State Board’s hands remain tied, and it will continue to enforce its new policies and procedures listed above.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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