how to get your C-16 license for fire protection contractors in California looking to install sprinkler systems registered with the CSLB

C-16 License for Fire Protection Contractors

Table of Contents

A green sign signaling stair access and floor 5. There is a red fire alarm on the wall. Insuring that fire alarms are functional is a key responsibility of fire protection contractors

Fire Protection is an umbrella term that can refer to:

  • Fire Safety
  • Fire Suppression
  • Fire Sprinkler Installation
  • Fire Extinguisher Training
  • Fire Alarm Installation
  • Maintaining Fire Protection Equipment
  • The C-16 License for fire protection is a prime license in the state of California as it deals with the direct safety of the public. 
  • Often times C-16 License holders may be retired firefighters.

This article will provide you with every single detail you need to know about how to get a C-16 Fire Protection Contractor License.

What Is a C-16 License?

“A fire protection contractor lays out, fabricates, and installs all types of fire protection systems; including all the equipment associated with these systems, excluding electrical alarm systems.” CSLB.GOV

The C-16 License is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to bid on the installation, design, or repair of residential, commercial, or industrial fire protection systems where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500.

Duties of a Fire Protection Contractor

Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Fire Protection contractors may offer various services.

Things you have to know include:

  • Design, Fabrication, or Installation of various types of fire protection systems
  • Maintenance and repair of fire sprinklers
  • Installing supply lines from water mains
  • Installing and maintaining fire hose systems, fire detectors, and fire department connections
  • Maintaining a safe job site
  • Bidding, estimating, and basic accounting/bookkeeping

To obtain the C-16 license, you will be tested on all aspects of fire protection systems installation, maintenance, and repair.

A fire protection contractor that holds the C-16 license is legally is not allowed to bid on a project that falls outside of the spectrum of fire protection

How to get your C-16 License for Fire Protection

To get a C-16 license in California, you must prove a minimum of 4 years of journeyman level experience and pass a two-part state exam with the Contractor State License Board.

To get an exam date you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
  • Not Currently be on probation or parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Qualifying Individual to sign off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation

What is Journey Level Experience?

Man testing and inspecting fire extinguishers

Journeyman level experience means that you have worked unsupervised full time as a firefighter, or for a contractor that holds the C-16 License.

  • A journeyman fire protection contractor can perform all of the duties associated with his or her trade.

The CSLB will want to see four full-time years over the last ten years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be four years in total. 

Signature of a Qualifying Individual

The following people may be used as Qualifying Individuals to sign off on your experience when applying for the C-16 license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-16 License Holder
  • Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
  • Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
  • Business Associate
  • Fellow Journeyman
  • Union Representative

Filling out the C-16 License Application

Your Qualifying Individual will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skillset.

The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted.

For example:

“Bill is an ex-firefighter and has installed our sprinkler systems” will not be enough for the CSLB

 The CSLB will want to see something like:

Bill has designed, installed, and maintained fire sprinkler systems, established supply lines from waiter mains to buildings, inspected hose systems, and fire hydrants” 

Work Experience for the C-16 License

two firefighters handling a hose putting out a blaze

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have. 

The Contractors State License Board gives you a few ways that you can prove your experience.

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something. 

The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.

Online Practice Exams and Study Guides

C-16 Application Processing, Fees, and Criminal History

The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year.

Typically you can expect:

  • 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
  • 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date

I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and somewhere they got their test date much later.

The most common reasons your application would get held up are:

  1. Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays) 
  2. Criminal History 
  3. Proving Experience
  4. Mistakes in your application 

Application Costs for the C-16 License

The Current CSLB fees are: 

Can you get a Contractors License with a Felony in California?

a wooden judge gavel and two law books. To get a C-16 license for fire protection all applicants must do a live scan background check

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-16 License.

I have personally helped guys with all types of criminal records obtain multiple licenses.

The key is, to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting. The CSLB handles criminal records on a case-by-case basis.

 Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public. In my experience, they are primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with Fraud, Embezzlement, and Forgery.

In the state of California, you are required to divulge any criminal charges when applying for any state license even if they have been expunged.

You will need to be prepared to submit anything they ask for regarding your criminal history. 

C-16 Contractors License Test

Contractor licenses are broken down into 4 categories:

A)-General Engineering

2) B-General Building

3) C-Specialty classes

4) D-Limited Specialty classes

Each category of license except the D-Limited Specialty license class requires that you pass a TRADE exam in addition to the California LAW examination which is the same for all licenses.

The test will consist of:

The Fire Protection (C-16 License) Examination is divided into five major sections:

1.    Planning and Estimation (25%)

  • Planning fire protection projects
  • Estimating fire protection projects

2.    Installation of Underground Fire Main Systems (9%)

  • Trenching and shoring excavations
  • Installing pipes and thrust blocks
  • Installing fire hydrants and FDC

3.    Installation of Fire Protection Systems (36%)

  • Installing fire sprinkler systems
  • Installing pre-action and deluge systems
  • Installing storage tanks and fire pumps
  • Installing fire suppression systems
  • Testing various fire protection systems

4.    Fire Protection System Maintenance and Repair (9%)

  • Conducting inspections of fire protection equipment
  • Testing fire protection equipment
  • Maintaining fire protection equipment

5.    Safety (21%)

  • Personnel safety
  • Job site safety
  • Underground work

Recommended Courses

CSLB Test Locations

Fire protection contractors are governed by the CSLB which is the governing agency in california for anyone construction tradesman looking to charge over $500 for their services

If you have found this article helpful feel free to drop a comment below and be sure to check back for updates!

Currently there are CSLB testing facilities in:

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego

The CSLB will grant you 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations.

You must wait three weeks before retaking the state exam ( $60 per retake ) A 70% score will be required to pass.

Learn more about the Contractor LAW Exam.

C-16 License Practice Tests and Study Tips

a red fire alarm on a wall

Some things to remember:

  • The questions you will see on the exam may use outdated terms
  • Processes may be completely different from how things are done on the job site
  • You will see questions about things you may have never done before
  • Questions will be presented to you as if you are running a large scale construction business with several employees and jobs happening all at once. 
  • Know all aspects of your trade

It will be essential to study a standardized resource that will give you the information that you need, which is to pass the state exam.

For schools and C-16 study guides designed to help you the state exam, check out my post on the best resources to pass your state exam.

Fire Sprinkler Apprenticeship Program​

An industrial level sprinkler system

Apprenticeships are an excellent way to learn the fundamentals of your trade

If you don’t have the 4 years required journeyman level experience to obtain a C-16 license, not to worry. Your journey begins here.

Fire protection is a multi-million, dollar industry and highly skilled tradesmen are always in demand.

Whether you are brand new to the trade, have dabbled over the years, or are coming back and want to brush up your skills, there is a myriad of resources available to help you learn the basics or get up to speed.

For a detailed explanation of this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman.

After gaining the necessary experience, the apprentice could attempt to look for a job working unsupervised with a C-16 contractor, company, or union at which point experience recognized by the Contractors State License Board would begin.

For information on courses in your area or books to get you on the right path click here.

Blueprint Reading Course

a yellow pencil and ruler laying on top of a construction blueprint

Being able to read blueprints and identify where fire protection mechanisms are supposed to be installed is critical.

Anyone in a supervisory role on a construction site should know at least the basics of construction blueprint reading. 

Blueprint Reading Skills are also critical to pass the General Contractor exam.

Check out this Blue Print Reading Course for a basic introduction to the concepts you will want to know about.

EPA Certification

logo of the united states environmental protection agency. if you are a fire protection contractor making alterations to structures built before 1978, you may encounter lead paint and you will need to know how to safely contain it

Understanding how to safely contain lead-based paint when altering structures built before 1978 is required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The most profitable glazing contractors are ones that position themselves as the experts and are the most knowledgable and helpful to their clients. 

Becoming EPA Certified can help you expand your business and can be completed in a one-day 8-hour course.

Staying EPA compliant is not only important to the survival of your business but also to the safety of your customers.  

For a complete guide on how to get the EPA Certification, check out this article.


Fire Protection Contractors that hold C-16 Licenses who offer excellent customer service can quickly build a viable business offering a valuable skill set to millions of homeowners and businesses. 

Getting the C-16 License can be a huge step up in your career if you are looking to transition from being a firefighter to a more consultant-type role!

The key is to take action and follow these steps from beginning to end.