Don’t Let the Smoke Get in Their Eyes!

We live in changing times. It seems as soon as we get comfortable, or at least used to a situation, things change. The price of gas goes up again. Property evaluations and, therefore, taxes increase. Somebody commits suicide by blowing himself up to kill and maim others. These are the types of things that are making the news today. But many other things are happening that kind of fall under the radar. Things that may not affect us or our way of life right now, but may have far-reaching consequences as time goes on. Not so recognizable at the present time, these are the things that we must remain on the alert for.


For instance, many jurisdictions have been reducing their inspection department staff or trying to combine duties because of the notion that inspections or inspectors are not needed. No one is being killed by unsafe electrical installations. An inspector relayed to me recently his experience with his city manager. He had gone to him asking for additional inspectors. The manager listened to his appeal then turned to look out the window at the city and asked the inspector what he saw. “A beautiful skyline,” answered the inspector. The manager asked if he saw any smoke or any buildings on fire. “No,” said the inspector. “What do we need inspectors for?” asked the manager. The electrical inspector quickly answered, “To keep that beautiful skyline just as you see it today.”

Our safety systems have served us well since the introduction of that thing called electricity. We have learned the difficult lessons and if we remain diligent, we can keep that skyline without smoke and fire and not electrocute ourselves. Uncontrolled and unmanaged, things could be a lot different. We must remain diligent for the little things!

Some places are questioning the need for independent third party evaluation of electrical material, de-vices and equipment. We have grown to expect that these things have been evaluated and are free from electrical shock and fire hazards. Some seem to think the requirement for electrical products to be evaluated for safety is too great an expense. There is no great loss of building or lives attributed to electrical equipment. No fire – No problem. No loss of life – No problem. We must remain diligent for the little things that could become big!

Some places are advocating more “self-certification” and are only doing spot-checking. This seems to be brought on when the untrained or uninformed think that if there is no smoke or fire on the skyline there is no problem. Many designers, manufacturers, and installers are doing the right things and the finished design, product, or system meets or exceeds codes and standards. There are those who train their people and continually train them in the proper and safe way of doing the job. If this were true throughout the industry, then maybe self-certification and spot-checking would be a viable alternative. BUT! We must remain diligent for the little things that could become big!

Some don’t see the necessity of qualified and well-trained inspectors. Those designers, manufacturers, and installers that are conscientious and are practicing their profession with the goal of having a safe and useful system want the people, the AHJ, to be as knowledgeable and qualified as they are. That AHJ, that other set of eyes, must be well-trained and remain well-trained and qualified to keep the smoke and fire from the skyline. We must remain diligent for the little things before they become big!

What can we do as individuals, groups, (Chapters and Divisions), and IAEI? As individuals, we can become active in the local neighborhood by speaking to our golf or fishing buddies; carrying the safety message to our Masonic Lodge, Kiwanis Club, and the Rotary; and volunteering to teach our children about electrical safety in the schools. The more people are aware of the dangers of the improper use and control of that thing we call electricity, the better chance we have of keeping the skyline free from smoke and fire.

As IAEI Divisions and Chapters, we can prepare each other by conducting workshops and seminars on properly applying codes, standards, and local, state and federal laws. Division and Chapter can speak up as one body when something comes up that may seem little but can become big.

The International Association of Electrical Inspectors can continue participating in the code development process, developing training material and presenting those materials. IAEI can continue representing all enforcers at various forums and committees that further our electrical safety system and the electrical industry.

Well, enough rambling for this edition of the News! Remain diligent for the little things before they become big!

James W. Carpenter
Former IAEI CEO and Executive Director, and Editor-in-Chief for the IAEI News, James Carpenter was previously the chief electrical engineer, state electrical inspector for the Engineering Division of the Office of State Fire Marshal, North Carolina Department of Insurance. He had been with the department for twenty years, with twenty years electrical experience prior to coming to the state. He was a member of CMP-2 from 1987 to 2002 and was chairman for the last three cycles. He has been a member of IAEI since 1972. He was also a member of NFPA and is serving as the TCC chair and on the Standards Council. He was on the UL Electrical Council.