And the Winner is…

Meet the 26th Annual National Apprentice Competition Finalists

The American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) is excited to host its 26th Annual Apprentice Competition this year at AFSA38: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition in San Diego, California. This event allows apprentices representing member companies from across the country to compete in two phases of testing, written and hands-on, for the chance at national recognition and cash prizes! However, winning is no easy feat as the competition culminates in a hands-on, live test October 4 on the bustling floor of AFSA38’s exhibit hall—an exciting, albeit nerve-wracking, experience for all!

AFSA’s National Apprentice Competition, started in 1994 by the late Robert L. (Bob) McCullough, then chair of the Apprenticeship & Education Committee, was created to promote apprentice training and give recognition to the apprentices who are actively enrolled in the AFSA Apprenticeship Program. Twenty-six years later, the competition continues to attract more fire sprinkler apprentices from AFSA local chapters and member training programs from all corners of United States bringing them together annually for the fire sprinkler industry’s foremost showcase of training excellence.

Becoming A Finalist Eligibility for apprentices to compete is based the following criteria: their employer must be a member of AFSA in good standing, the apprentice must actively be participating in the AFSA apprenticeship courses or enrolled in NCCER/AFSA Contren Learning Series Sprinkler Fitting Training Series, and they must have at least one year of field experience with a minimum of six months combined hands-on experience in cutting, threading, and installing steel pipe and CPVC pipe.

The first phase of competition consists of a two-hour multiple-choice, written exam provided by AFSA. Last year for the first time in the history of the competition, AFSA distributed the exam through online testing for Phase I of the competition. The initial qualifying took place online, instead of in a proctored location at a designated time as in years past. The addition of this new testing system continues to provide a whole host of new, convenient benefits for those competing this year. First and foremost, the system has increased the convenience of testing for those who participated. Apprentices only had to schedule a time during the testing window and be available to test online during their scheduled time. This change also allowed, for the second year, apprentices from all 50 states to be eligible to compete in Phase I testing.

The top seven scoring apprentices in Phase I receive the following: a full registration to AFSA38 as well as a second full registration for their employer, an expense-paid trip to San Diego to compete, accommodations at the Embassy Suites, and a brand new set of hand tools to use in Phase II.

Phase II entails a more thorough written exam, followed by a live practical in the exhibition hall at AFSA38 in San Diego. The Phase II exam is based on all four levels of the AFSA/NCCER Contren Learning Series Sprinkler Fitting curriculum. Following the written exam is the live practical exam where finalists cut, thread, and install a steel and CPVC piping system with sprinkler heads and perform a water pressure test.

The mini fire sprinkler systems are graded on accuracy, craftsmanship, and safety. The combined results of Phase II’s written and hands-on tests determine the year’s winner. Much is on the line for these apprentice hopefuls as prizes are awarded based on finishing rank: first place takes home a $5,000 cash prize, second place receives $3,000, third place receives $2,000, and all other finalists receive $1,000.

Get to Know the Finalists This year the nation’s top seven apprentices will make their way to San Diego to try their luck at becoming the next AFSA National Apprentice Competition champion. To help you get to know the finalists before attending the live competition at AFSA38 to cheer them on, Sprinkler Age caught up with each finalist for a quick Q&A.

Fernando Arias, A & D Fire Sprinklers, Inc., Anaheim, CA

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? I enjoy what I do. This industry is one that I could say I don’t see as work! What we do makes a difference in everyday life. Somewhere out there is a system that a fitter installed that could save someone’s life. I’m glad to be a part of an industry that focuses on fire, life, and safety.

What advice would you give someone thinking about entering the fire protection trade? I would tell them to get ready to get their hands dirty and to be ready to go home smelling like cutting oil. I would advise them to be sure to look for a company that is going to have an apprenticeship program so that they could learn the trade by doing hands-on at work and getting as much knowledge from the books as from at school.

Brian Feeney, Piper Fire Protection, Clearwater, FL

Why did you choose to pursue a career in fire protection? My father was in the industry and I thought it would be a good career for me to have as we will always need to provide life safety for the protection of property and people.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? I love the satisfaction of saying we put the fire sprinklers in building and knowing that we did it with integrity and moral ethics.

Joe Headrick, Rapid Fire Protection, Bismarck, ND

What does the future of the industry look like to you? The future of fire protection looks to be advancement in fitting techniques and materials which will create more opportunities in the industry for all.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about entering the fire protection trade? I would tell them to work hard and be safe. It is important to have a good attitude and know that with every job that passes, you will have more experience to add to your own qualifications.

Federico Martinez, Jr., Western Fire Protection, Inc., Poway, CA

What is the key ingredient to your success? The key to my success has always been my family. My family is not just home, but it’s also my co-workers who I am on the job site with. My family is always there to support me and keep pushing me to the next level, even if the job is hard. I’m happy to say my family is the main reason I am who I am today.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? I honestly believe it’s the people I work with. Co-workers and superiors alike, we are all in it together as a team. I consider this team a part of my family. Not only do we have the chance to better ourselves as individuals, but we also deliver safety to the people of our community. We go through both the fun times and the hard times, but in the end, we succeed as a team.

Ricky Sutter, JPI Development Group, Inc., Murrieta, CA

What does the future of the industry look like to you? The future of the industry looks quite promising, and I look forward to continuing my career in fire protection.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about entering the fire protection trade? It may be a physically demanding trade, but it is a rewarding one.

Kevin Trella, Central Connecticut Fire Protection, Meriden, CT

Why did you choose to pursue a career in fire protection? I chose to pursue a career in fire protection because I wanted to save lives and be a part of a cause larger than myself.

What do you enjoy most about the work that you do? I enjoy that I get to problem solve and work with my hands to install systems that protect life and property.

Jared Whitten, Sunland Fire Protection, Jamestown, NC

What is the key ingredient to your success? The key ingredient to my success is perseverance and attention to detail.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about entering the fire protection trade? I would say to be prepared to work hard and to always be open to anyone you can learn from.

Join AFSA in San Diego Which of our seven highly qualified finalists will emerge on top at AFSA’s 26th Annual National Apprentice Competition? Watch the competition live at AFSA38: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition on Friday, October 4 from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the exhibition hall. The winner will be crowned at the Apprentice Awards Party at SeaWorld San Diego Friday evening.

AFSA wishes all of our capable finalists the best of luck in the competition! For more information about the competition, or all things AFSA38, visit

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