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Offering opinion on fire alarm issue has consequences
July 2, 2022
Offering opinion on fire alarm issue has consequences
          We have a subscriber that is having problems with the power for the fire alarm.  Power is tapped in the ConEd "CT" cabinet which is locked by ConEd.  Two feet above the CT cabinet we have our Fused Disconnect for the fire alarm system.  We have determined that the problem is in the CT cabinet, we tested at the fused disconnect and when we put a load on the wiring from the CT cabinet the voltage drops, sometimes down to 60 volts with a 13 amp load (should handle 30 amps without an appreciable drop).  The subscriber has been trying to set up a vendor meet with Con Ed but it just isn't happening.  
          Yesterday afternoon the alarm panel started making noise and we went to see what was happening, it appears that the power transfer relay was chattering, voltage was border line and under its own load brought the voltage down and would transfer to battery, with the loss of load the voltage came back up and would switch back, and the process repeated itself causing the relay to intermittently chatter.
          We informed the subscriber the condition is not good and can cause damage to the panel (it was replaced last year due to this problem), but, powering down the panel leaves the building unprotected, what do you want us to do?
          The answer was, what is your opinion, what should we do?
          I answered that I cannot give my opinion, leave it and the panel may be damaged, shut it down and if something happens then what?  We will do what you want but not advise what to do.  The choice was to leave it on and they will contact ConEd again.  It is almost a no win situation, dammed if you do, dammed if you don't.
          This is a really good example of how you face issues and decisions daily and expressing an opinion, especially one “off the cuff”, can have consequences.  In the above scenario there can be false alarm fines, damage arising from false alarms and there could be undetected fire if the fire alarm isn’t working properly.
          Your customers rely on your expertise, and that means your opinion.  There’s a big difference with expressing an opinion in your area of expertise [whether you actually have that expertise or not] and just “shooting the breeze”.  Lawyers face this all the time when asked for an answer to a “quick question”.  When a client wants a formal opinion that will require an “Opinion Letter” and the time involved in providing an Opinion Letter and the consequences of that letter means it costs more; so should your opinion on the fire alarm system.
          The conversation with the subscriber regarding the above system needs to conclude with a written explanation, which may take the form of a disclaimer.  If the problem is the utility company you need to make that clear (and hopefully you’re right) and in writing.  The Fire All in One requires the subscriber to provide the electric service, something obviously out of your control.  Your written opinion [and that would include your “report” or “proposal” to the subscriber] should reference your contract; if you don’t you run the risk that your opinion stands on its own with the protection the Fire All in One affords.  Also, if the subscriber declines to follow your advice you need to document that in the Disclaimer Notice.

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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
200 Garden City Plaza
Garden City, NY 11530
516 747 6700 x 301