Gauge company to extinguish need for 30 day inspections

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Thursday, May 1, 2003

ROCKLAND, Mass. - A pressure gauge manufacturer that supplies the industry’s top fire extinguisher makers is set to roll out a new gauge apparatus designed to monitor the extinguisher’s pressure and location through a monitored fire alarm or security control panel.

The product, known as EN-Gauge, could soon replace the National Fire Protection Association regulation that all commercial fire extinguishers be visually inspected every 30 days to verify the unit’s pressure, location and obstruction from use. NFPA 10 already makes mention of the use of electronic monitoring of extinguishers, but does not yet allow for using solely that method.

Although NFPA 10 is not up for review until 2005, a study published by the National Association of Fire Equipment Distributors found that only about 10 percent of all units were checked on a monthly basis and found to be in working order. That information is making some in the industry recognize that the need for a more efficient testing method is acute, said Bill MacDonald, vice president of sales and marketing for MIJA Industries, the manufacturer, based here.

Initially, MIJA plans to sell the commercial version of EN-Gauge to its existing fire extinguisher customers, such as Ansul, Buckeye Fire Products, Badger Fire Protection, Amerex Corp. and Kidde Plc., who will in turn sell the product through fire extinguisher and fire alarm companies. The company hopes to also sell to the security dealer through distributors and fire extinguisher companies in that market. The commercial version is slated to be rolled out in June, with the residential version to be released later in the summer. A sensor component of the system is awaiting Underwriter’s Laboratories approval.

“It combines the discipline of a fire extinguisher company and a monitoring company to kind of cohesively work together and develop a joint customer base,” said Kirk MacDowell, president of MacGuard Security Systems in Las Vegas. “This is a blending of the two technologies into a system that is really beneficial to both.”

One potential obstacle, MacDowell said, would be training the security installation community, but that could be solved through partnerships with fire extinguisher companies that recharge and provide maintenance on the units.

MIJA is hoping that security dealers will latch onto the product’s ability to appeal to both fire and recurring revenue disciplines, with the commercial product as well as the residential version. If an extinguisher is picked up to be used, the central station can be instructed to dial the premises first to verify if help is needed, MacDonald said.

“Those distinctions came out of market research with monitoring centers,” MacDonald said.

“This is an issue that hasn’t been addressed by anyone else,” said Shawn Robbins, a sales rep for American Home Security, a residential ADT dealer in Flidell, La., outside of New Orleans. “It’s in its infancy, but I think it will catch on.”

In a market with an estimated 100 million fire extinguishers, with 15-20 million new units introduced each year, MacDonald said the unit’s price - more than $200 - and attractive margins could woo some back into the fire extinguisher distributor market.

“The extinguisher distributor market is looked at as high volume and low margin, where fire and security dealers look for higher margins,” MacDonald said.

Fenwal has already purchased the fire suppression systems version of the EN-Gauge for their FM 200 system. The development of a version for the retrofit market is being explored.