AFSA Graduates First Female Inspectors

Two Women Find Their Passion Through ITM Program

The American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) recently graduated its fifth class in its Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance (ITM) Inspector Development Program. This class holds a special place in AFSA history for several reasons. First, they pulled off the first 100 percent class pass rate on the first attempt of the NICET Level II exam. Second, it is the largest graduating class to date. Third, it is the first class to have female graduates.

If you have ever seen the Roger & Hammerstein’s musical, “Oklahoma!” you may recognize the lyrics: “Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you.” Two women proved just that, graduating with two of the highest grade point averages. With both being new to the industry, it is proof that you do not need experience to enter the ITM Program and become a professional inspector.

An occupation is deemed “non-traditional” by the Department of Labor if its workforce comprises less than 25 percent of one gender. While the fire sprinkler industry has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, we are seeing more women enter the industry and research surfacing that touts the benefits of a diverse workforce in the trades industry. Employers are making concentrated efforts to recruit employees who will better represent a diverse workforce.

Meet the Graduates

Lisa Montague (right) manually resetting the clapper on a dry pipe valve, after conducting the internal inspection at SPP Pumps’ lab with Instructor Jason Williams. 

For ITM Graduate Lisa Montague, the choice of a non-traditional career came by accident. She was working as an office assistant for MS Fire Protection, Inc. in Fresno, California, when her boss approached her with the opportunity to register in the AFSA ITM Program. 

“Within the first year of working with my current employer I knew I would pursue a career that is considered non-traditional for women,” comments Montague. “I’m a firm believer that a person can accomplish anything if they set their mind to it, such as a female working in a predominately male industry. I believe knowledge is power and can help to make a person’s strengths stronger as well as turn a weakness into a strength.”

Montague shared that she feels very honored that MS Fire recognized her as someone they wanted to invest in and see grow within the company. Prior to entry into the program, Montague had little knowledge of water-based fire protection systems. Since completing the ITM program she gained the knowledge and hands-on experience needed to become a confident inspection manager. 

 “It’s exciting to know that the service our company provides to our customers has a direct impact on protecting the lives and property of the building owner and the people in it,” says Montague. “Each day I come into work is an opportunity to learn something new or refresh and/or refine something I already know.”

Looking to the future, Montague is now motivated to continue her education, training, and working towards her NICET Level III & IV certifications for water-based systems. 

When asked what she would say to a young girl who might have that inner struggle of playing with Barbie dolls versus Legos, she replied, “I told all three of my daughters, you can be and do anything you set your mind to. My daughters are all different—two played with Barbies and one liked action figures, two loved dresses and one hated them. I believe in 2020, women can do it all; however, a good support system is essential and that goes for men as well.”

Ashley Olson calls her ITM program experience “amazing.” 

Ashley Olson, with Knight Fire in Tumwater, Washington, was struggling to figure out whether she would stay in her current job or seek a new career path when a friend asked if she was interested in a job. This began her journey to becoming a NICET II Certified Inspector. Olson knew from the beginning that this would be a non-traditional career and welcomed the challenge. She was more determined than ever to prove she could be successful in a male-dominated field. 

“When I started, I knew that it was a ‘man’s job,’” comments Olson, “and that made me want to pursue it even more! Being a woman does not mean I can’t do it!” 

 Investing in employees is the best investment an employer can make. When asked how she felt about her employer investing in her future, Olson answered, “It really makes me feel like a valuable asset to the company.” She also called her experience in the ITM Program “amazing.” She appreciated the insight and experience that ITM Technical Training Manager Jason Williams shared. “He made it easy to understand,” she comments. Learning how to navigate NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, was very helpful in gaining more understanding about her responsibilities as an inspector.”

 In the coming years, Olson hopes to become a well-rounded inspector who has knowledge in all aspects of the field and would like to continue her education in the industry for many years to come.

“I love that every day is different,” Olson says. “Different businesses, different towns, different people!” 

Olson urges women considering a career in the fire sprinkler industry to do what makes you happy, and not worry about what others think. She says the best advice she’s received was, “Do not let anybody tell you that you can’t!” 

Register for Spring 2020

The number of women registering for the AFSA ITM Inspector Development Program continues to grow. Take the opportunity to enroll your employees now as there are seats still available in the Spring 2020 ITM class that kicks off online April 15, 2020. The investment will pay off! AFSA’s ITM students continue to surpass the national average exam scores on both NICET Level I and Level II exams. AFSA students possess a 90 percent NICET exam pass rate compared to the national average of 65 percent! Seats fill quickly, so do not delay registering your students now. For more information or to register now visit

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jill Gamble is education programs coordinator for the American Fire Sprinkler Association. She attended the University of Oklahoma and has 20 years’ experience as an advisor in higher education.

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