[h3]West Virginia residents gain new level of safety[/h3]

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to sign proposed legislation that will make West Virginia the first state to require anyone who installs fire and smoke dampers to be licensed.

Once the law takes effect, similar licenses will be required for work on heating, ventilating and cooling systems, with inspections and enforcement conducted by either the State Fire Marshal or the West Virginia Division of Labor.

Currently, only contractors who provide these services are regulated. The technicians who work for contractors are not regulated in terms of requiring formal training.

In a state with little to no building code, the new law is a major step toward insuring only properly trained individuals handle fire and smoke damper installation and repairs as well as HVAC work.

The push for the new safety legislation in West Virginia was led by the Sheet Metal Workers Local 33, with support from the brethren of Local 24 and Local 100.

Members of the Sheet Metal Workers union are committed to extensive training for all its members, insuring they are the best trained in the HVAC industry, said Mike Coleman, President and Business Manager for Sheet Metal Workers Local 33.

“With this bill, the safety of the public is insured because only properly trained individuals will handle these installations,” Coleman said. “The inspection component of this new law makes sure that safety continues to be a top priority.”

Journeymen who are members of Sheet Metal Workers International Association will likely be grandfathered in if they have logged a certain number of hours. Meanwhile, future members are expected to obtain the needed license through the course of the apprenticeship program.

From the beginning, the main argument for establishing regulation of HVAC/fire damper technicians was safety.

That was reiterated a year ago, before the bill was even introduced in the state legislature, when the proposal was first reviewed by the state’s “legislative auditor.” Any legislation that involves creation or changes to licensing or certification in West Virginian must be reviewed to determine if such a proposal will benefit the public.

“Improper installation of HVAC or fire damper systems can lead to injury, death, or destruction of property,” the application stated, “and since individuals performing this work are not required to be licensed, they are therefore not subject to knowledge or skills requirements.”

During the review process, the Division of Labor, State Fire Marshal, State Fire Commission, and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) all indicated that regulating HVAC technicians and fire damper technicians would be a benefit and enhance public protection.

“The proposed regulation/statute changes are indeed necessary to protect the safety and welfare of the public,” Acting State Fire Marshal Anthony Carrico said in a prepared statement submitted during the review process. “In particular, the installation and maintenance of “fire dampers” are a critical component of any building engineered to minimize the spread of smoke and or flame through the mechanical spaces and ductwork.”

The final report from the auditor agreed with most of the reasoning detailed in the application – allowing the bill to be introduced.

“State regulation would ensure that technicians have proven knowledge in relevant codes, standards, and regulations set by organizations such as the National Fire Protection
Association (NFPA),” the legislative auditor report said.

The read or download a copy of the report go to: www.legis.state.wv.us/Joint/PERD/perdrep/HVAC_11_2013.pdf

The importance of public safety and the value in licensing trained technicians was repeated at each step through the legislative process, which helped garner support in both the State House and Senate.

The bill now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.

In the coming year, the actual rules and regulations for how this new law will be enforced will be reviewed and negotiated. That also must go to the state legislature for approval next year.

If the process goes smoothly, the new licenses will be mandatory by Jan. 1, 2016.

HB 4392

The purpose of this bill is to regulate persons who perform work on heating, ventilating and cooling systems and fire dampers. It requires persons who perform work on heating, ventilating and cooling systems to be licensed by the Commissioner of Labor and persons who perform work on fire dampers to be licensed by the State Fire Marshal. The bill authorizes the Commissioner and State Fire Marshal to promulgate legislative rules. It provides enforcement procedures; authorizes interagency agreements; and the issuance, renewal, denial, suspension and revocation of licenses. The bill provides for criminal penalties. It also provides that no political subdivision of the state may mandate additional licensing requirements. .

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