A Brief History of the Premier Fire Sprinkler Association
Before there was ever an American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA), there was the Independent Sprinkler Training Committee (ISTC). During the 1981 NFPA convention in Dallas, ISTC held its third meeting, with over 60 people in attendance. At the time, the ISTC’s goal was to establish a national apprentice training program for non-union, or merit shop, fire sprinkler contractors. Until the founding of AFSA in New York City on September 16, 1981, there was no organization to meet this growing need. In November 1981, the association’s early leaders published their first newsletter, which they named Sprinkler Age, announcing “a major new force in the fire sprinkler industry.”
AFSA’s first Executive Director, Joe Mulrine, located the association’s headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut. In the beginning, Mulrine, with his staff of two, worked to receive permission from the Ministry of Education in Ontario to utilize the Canadian Fire Sprinkler Fitter Correspondence courses to train fitters in the United States. On November 17, 1981, the AFSA National Apprenticeship and Training Standards were submitted to the National Bureau of Training in Washington, D.C., for approval. On January 7, 1982, these standards were granted approval and issued the National Registration number of N-92021. The first batch of apprentice correspondence courses, officially titled, Automatic Sprinkler Protection: Basic Training Series, was made available for sale shortly thereafter. It was official: AFSA was a training association.
In 1983 Frank Riseden became the second executive director, a small staff was hired, and the association’s headquarters were moved to Dallas, Texas, where they remain today. As the association staff grew, Riseden’s title was changed to president. During this timeframe, nationwide seminars and the first designer series of correspondence courses were also introduced.
Soon, people all over the country were taking notice. AFSA gained legitimacy on a national scale when the first representative of AFSA was appointed to serve on a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee in 1983. Seeing the importance of involvement, the association’s leadership soon expanded the membership benefits to include technical services in 1984, with the hopes that AFSA would increase its technical role to include NFPA committees. In 1986, Willie Templin and founding AFSA member Ed Smith had gained the association’s first seat on the NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, committee. The Technical Services Department of today offers expert technical advice through informal interpretations and has a prominent presence on 35 NFPA technical committees, and is a leading authority in the standards-making process.
As AFSA’s focus on education intensified, it expanded its offerings to include basic and advanced fitter and designer training. In 1985, the association launched the first session of its “Principles of Fire Sprinkler System Design,” an early precursor to AFSA’s popular two-week Beginning Fire Sprinkler Planning School. Building on its apprentice training, the AFSA National Apprentice Competition debuted during the 1994 AFSA Convention & Exhibition in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and years later, it is still the premier sprinkler fitter competition with hundreds of apprentices sitting for the qualifying exam annually.
From one apprentice training course, AFSA has grown to offer a variety of correspondence courses for every type of professional in the fire sprinkler industry, classes at AFSA’s training center, nationwide traveling seminars, online courses, and webinars. The association continues to expand upon its mission of providing training for the fire sprinkler contractor, launching its Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance Inspector Development Program in 2016.
In 2019, John August Denhardt, P.E., FSFPE, joined the staff as its Vice President of Engineering & Technical Services and he, along with his staff, expanded and updated many of the association’s technical trainings, including several free webinar series such as Sprinkler Challenge and Fitter Zone. During the pandemic when travel was limited for some, the Technical Services team took AFSA’s Beginning Fire Sprinkler Planning School on the road, crisscrossing the United States from San Diego to Tampa with stops in between.
In 2020, AFSA named industry veteran Bob Caputo, CFPS, as its president, further reinforcing its focus on education and technical excellence.
Getting the Word Out
AFSA’s third President, Steve Muncy, who succeeded Frank Riseden in 1992, led the association into the world of technology, helping to create the association’s first website, membership database, and email system in 1995.
Seeking to get the fire sprinkler message out to the larger public, AFSA announced its first annual national High School Senior Scholarship Contest during the 1996-97 school year, with the goal of educating high school seniors about the life-saving benefit of sprinklers. The high school scholarship went online at afsascholarship.org in 2006 and now educates nearly 70,000 entrants annually. In 2009, the program expanded to include the Second Chance Scholarship. This award was different from many scholarships in that all those seeking to pursue a college degree or trade school education—including returning military, parents returning to the workforce, and anyone with a high school diploma or GED—were encouraged to apply.
At the same time, AFSA was also gearing up its member communications. In 1996, AFSA introduced its SprinklerForum, a first of its kind in the industry email-based discussion group still in use today. Over the years, AFSA has expanded the ways in which it communicates with its members introducing several e-newsletters, like Contractor Network and Tech Update. In 2008, AFSA launched into the social media forefront with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube pages, adding Flickr in 2010, followed by Instagram in 2016. In 2009, its member publication Sprinkler Age began publishing a digital edition, complementing its long-standing print publication, and in 2015, it went a step further, joining the blogosphere at SprinklerAge.com.
In 2014, AFSA founded its young professional group, the NextGen Initiative, to engage and develop professionals, 40 and under, in the industry. Focusing on mentorship, pathways to jobs, and career development, the group hosts an annual NextGen Day at AFSA’s annual convention and a popular quarterly webinar series.
40 Years Strong – 1981 to 2021
Over the past 40 years, AFSA has grown from a handful of dedicated volunteers who saw an opportunity to better the industry through collaboration and education to a nationally recognized organization with over 1,000 member companies, 32 local chapters, and two state affiliates. Throughout the years, AFSA leaders have kept the association on a successful path with a bright horizon ahead. We congratulate our founding fathers for their hard work and look forward to working with future generations to secure AFSA’s place in history as the fire sprinkler industry leader. Visit firesprinkler.org.