By George Potter
Nearly a year ago, George Potter wrote a brief article on important Spanish legislation that directly affected the fire protection industry in Spain. That legislation required that companies dedicated to the installation and maintenance of fire detection systems, automatic extinguishing systems, alarms, and other fire safety systems connected to central alarm consoles supervised by private security personnel, register their activities in the SECURITY enterprise registry of the Ministry of Interior (the Ministry responsible for public security). No specialized fire protection entities not included in this registry could install or maintain even their own systems. This put a number of companies in rather difficult situations, as the fiscal and technical requirements for security companies are far stricter than those for fire protection activities.
In the Spanish language, there is only one word that defines both security and safety – seguridad. For the majority of Spanish-speaking people, seguridad brings to mind access control, armed guards, closed-circuit TV, and even the police, which are quite often defined as bodies or entities of state security. In Spain, the vast majority of security specialists, supervisors, and managers receive their initial training in the military services or in the state police organizations. This is especially relevant in the financial sector, where, with only one known exception, all of the security managers and directors were previously high ranking officers of the Guardia Civil (Civil Guard, a police force with military structure and discipline) or the Cuerpo Nacional de Policia (National Police Corps). The exception is a former Catalonian regional fire service officer, who is the national fire safety supervisor for the nation’s leading savings bank, responsible for emergency response procedures in the entity’s more than 2,000 offices and agencies.
Apart from the financial sector, dozens of other industrial, commercial, and administrative sectors are comprised of numerous enterprises; petrochemical plants, nuclear power plants, automotive manufacturing facilities, logistical distribution sites, commercial malls and mega department stores, airports, and major office buildings and complexes, just to mention a few. Nearly all of these facilities need complex security measures–from perimeter protection and access control through package scanners, interior intrusion detection, and fire safety systems, which form parts of their overall security structure. Thousands of these systems are supervised by private security guards or specialists. Some are localized and limited to the facility’s physical site; others whose operations cover the entire country, are normally networked into one centralized and supervised control center. During recent years, some of the more sensitive activities have even established remote connections to the local police and fire services, giving them an added edge in regard to alarm confirmation and response times. All of these alarm systems are supervised at all times, more often than not by private security personnel.
New Spanish legislation concerning numerous aspects of the private security sector has introduced important modifications, and even cancellations, relative to the internal structure of security companies, including civil and judicial responsibilities and personnel accreditation, including training and formation or security alarm control centers. One of the most important modifications introduced this year, which directly affects the legislation published last year, pertains to the companies supplying, installing, and maintaining fire protection systems integrated into overall security systems connected to alarm control centers supervised by private security personnel. Essentially, these companies are no longer required to be included in the Interior Ministry’s private security entity registry. These companies–often small or medium sized and family-owned, and with up to maybe 40 employees–are exempted from going through the long and complicated registry process and can dedicate their entire efforts to what they do best–fire protection.
There is another aspect regarding the fire protection system business. The Spanish fire protection industry association, TECHNIFUEGO – AESPI, has for the past several years promoted a “registry” of suppliers, installers, and maintainers of fire protection materials that include portable extinguishers, detectors and alarm devices, fire hose stations, automatic sprinklers and systems, fire pumps, and other associated equipment and systems. This registry requires certification that these materials and components comply with European Community standards; that the entities have competent technicians on their staff; and that engineering design, system installations and delivery testing meet the established requirements. The Spanish insurers’ association, CEPREVEN, also maintains a List of Qualified Companies, a voluntary classification system in which the certified companies agree to abide by the rules of the European Insurance Committee. One recent example of the importance of these controls was the discovery of between 400,000 and 500,000 portable extinguisher cylinders brought into the country and fraudulently stamped with the CE kitemark, indicating that the cylinders supposedly complied with the established European certification requirements; in fact, they did not. The company that had imported the cylinders falsely stamped and labeled them and sold them to a host of smaller extinguisher assemblers and dealers. The importer, a long-established, well-known, and supposedly reputable company, was taken into court on charges of fraud and falsification of legal documents. The company has ceased doing business in fire protection.
Along these lines and in the not-too-distant past, there have been several cases where detectors had been affixed to ceilings with no wiring to alarm panels and made to look as if they were operative and of fire hose stations mounted on walls with no piping to any water supply and with pressure gauges that indicated “adequate” pressure.
George H. Potter is a practicing fire protection specialist who has lived in Spain for the past 45 years. He served as an Anne Arundel County, Maryland, volunteer firefighter with the Riva Volunteer Fire Department and the Independent Hose Company in Annapolis and as an ambulance driver with the Wheaton (MD) Rescue Squad. He served six years in the United States Air Force as a firefighter, an apparatus driver/operator, and a crew chief. He has been involved in fire protection system installation, mobile fire apparatus design, and construction and fire safety training. He is a Spain-certified fire service instructor and a hazmat specialist, and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Spanish Firefighters’ Association (ASELF).