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Get fired up about qualifications

Oct 2017 Fire & Security, Training | Comments Off on Get fired up about qualifications
Get fired up about qualifications

Four new qualifications from the FIA will enable successful learners to call themselves a professional technician, says Ian Gurling, FIA awarding organisation manager

The FIA, in conjunction with the new Awarding Organisation for the fire industry, the FIA AO, is going to be releasing not one, but four, new formal qualifications in fire detection and alarm systems.

The new qualifications were officially announced this summer, and the booking system is due to go live within the coming months. But before talking about the content of the qualifications – what is the FIA AO?

The awarding body

The FIA AO (Fire Industry Association Awarding Organisation) is a nationally regulated organisation that is externally quality assured by OFQUAL, QIW and CCEA specifically for the purpose of setting qualifications. The same regulators are responsible for the standards adhered to by the awarding bodies of GCSEs, A Levels and vocational qualifications studied through schools and colleges nationwide.

Learners and business owners looking to embark on the new qualification pathway can be assured of the quality mark of the new qualifications and that they are validated and properly approved with the relevant government authorised qualification bodies.

Ian Gurling, manager to the new FIA AO, explains how the qualifications were initialised: “To get the qualifications off the ground, we started off with gaining recognition to be an awarding body from the regulators – an awarding organisation as they call us – to essentially set up a new company within the FIA. The regulators wanted us to set it up outside of the FIA with its own offices, but I managed to persuade them through proving our integrity, and our corporate governance, that we could do this within the organisation and still have a training arm as well.”

The qualifications

The FIA AO has developed qualifications for the job roles of installer, maintainer, designer and commissioner of fire detection and alarm systems. The four qualifications are made up of four units, each of which must have a pass recorded against them in order to achieve the qualification.

“The first is a Foundation unit, which covers the common aspects of fire safety across all four roles including legislation and guidance, technology and how they relate to each other. We’ve also tailored them to account for regional variations, so if you’re in Ireland, for example, we include IS 3218 for the various standards and requirements,” explains Gurling.

The remaining units do not have to be completed in a particular order. There is a Health & Safety unit, and an Environmental unit, which looks at the environmental impact of a fire alarm system. The fourth is a role-specific advanced unit covering design, install, maintain and commission.

Once all four units have been recorded as a pass, you’ve got your qualification.

Course content

So what level of detail do the qualifications go into and what sort of technical content should you expect?

The qualifications call for an in-depth technical knowledge, so it’s not just a simple matter of knowing, for example, BS5839 or IS 3128, technicians will have to be able to apply that knowledge.

The qualifications also explore many other areas such as legislation and the different technologies involved in a fire detection and alarm system.

“A lot of depth of knowledge is going to be involved in the qualifications,” says Gurling. “The implications of the system as it is attached to the fabric of a building – how does it affect passive protection, fire stopping? How does it affect or be affected by evacuation strategies? All of that is brought out in the new qualifications.”

A key difference with this qualification is that technicians will be able to develop much further professionally than before because of the level of thinking required for the qualification. Technicians will be able to go beyond simply being able to perform the various tasks that they need to carry out – they will be able to use their knowledge of standards and legislation to understand why certain things need to be done a certain way.

The important thing to note is that the study required for the qualification is much broader and that the examinations are set externally by the Awarding Organisation, so it is impossible to ‘teach to the test’ – candidates taking the exam must really have absorbed the knowledge and understanding in order to pass.

Unlike during any other form of training, where assessments are just a test, the qualification examinations are a much more formal process. The benefit here is clear: a formal exam means that candidates must demonstrate not just that they can parrot out the information they have been given, but be able to analyse, apply, and answer the examination questions correctly.

Hopefully, this will mean that technicians will be able to do the same once they are out working in the field, using their new knowledge and deeper understanding to analyse and solve problems.

Training options

The other forms of training available from the FIA are still as relevant and beneficial to technicians in the fire industry as ever.

“The existing FIA units are incredibly valuable,” says Gurling. “They serve the industry very well and they remain just as relevant and current as they ever have done.”

Technicians undertaking current FIA training courses will still gain indispensable knowledge that will help them on the road to success. However, while they might receive a certificate of completion, that doesn’t make them a ‘qualified technician’.

This is a phrase that gets bandied around a lot within the fire industry, but as from the launch of the new qualifications, only those that have actually undertaken the qualifications and passed successfully will be able to use the term as a badge of proficiency and professionalism.

Current FIA training courses remain popular due to their high level of technical knowledge and recognition within the industry among employers and technicians across the board. The standard is high and well respected – but the new qualifications go one step further, increasing the amount of content delivered and the amount of time spent in the classroom developing that knowledge and understanding.

A higher bar has been set for the industry to increase the level of professionalism throughout. However, if you’re still wondering whether the new qualifications will be right for you, the FIA has a range of videos available on its YouTube channel, as well as a downloadable prospectus on the website.

For more information, go to or

  • The FIA is now taking bookings for the new qualifications – click here for more information.