Bob Caputo Receives the 2017 Henry S. Parmelee Award
The American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) has named Robert (Bob) G. Caputo, CFPS, CET as its 2017 Henry S. Parmelee award recipient in recognition of his dedication to and education efforts in the fire protection industry. The association’s highest honor, the Parmelee award is given to a select group of individuals who have tirelessly committed to strengthening the fire sprinkler industry. This year’s honoree has truly made a positive impact on industry on a global scale.
Caputo is currently vice president of tech support and training for Fire & Life Safety America in Richmond, Virginia and is a private consultant in the industry. He unknowingly began his career in the fire sprinkler industry after some firsthand
experience in the United States Navy when he was assigned to the Magazine Fire Sprinkler Shop at San Diego Naval Station after a minor injury.
“Our crew would modify the sprinkler systems aboard ships while in port, using valves and equipment from ‘Automatic’ Sprinkler Corp. of America [ASCOA] and I got to know their representative,” recalls Caputo. “I had planned to go to law school and had been taking correspondence courses to finish my Bachelor of Science degree. I had taken the LSATs and also applied to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department as my interim plan. I had a family to support, so I applied to some local fire sprinkler companies to fill the time while I waited to see where I’d be headed, and landed at Sentinel Fire [an early AFSA member] where I worked in the field and in design with Lyle Hall.”
Caputo also looked for job opportunities in the Midwest as his wife had family in that area and the cost of living was lower. He interviewed for a design job with ASCOA and was offered a job in Kansas City. He then climbed up the ranks of several contracting companies until he found the right fit.
“I was a designer in Kansas City and was working for Jim Lewis at American Fire Sprinkler Corp. when Jim asked me if I’d be interested in starting a Service Department for the company. I’ve never said no to opportunity and I jumped in with a smile and a ton of anticipation. The truth is I hated being a designer!”
Two years later, Caputo took on the role of field superintendent. “I learned a lot during my tenure as superintendent –about fire sprinklers, people, management, leadership, and focusing on results rather than control. The job was demanding and I was working 10- to 12-hour days, six days a week in most cases,” Caputo says. “I noticed the vendor side looked like the greener side of the fence and I was really missing California, so I interviewed with Buck Buchanan at Central Sprinkler to become the western regional sales manager.”
During his time with Central, Caputo visited sprinkler companies in Southern California, Southern Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii. “Seeing how all of these different companies approached the work, who had fab shops and who didn’t, in-house designers versus free-lancers, different approaches to estimating and so on, gave me a unique perspective on how I wanted to start and run my own sprinkler company,” states Caputo.
Caputo was promoted to director of marketing at Central and also became involved in the residential sprinkler movement during this time, serving on the Southern California Sprinkler Advisory Board.
In 1987, Carroll Garvin with Garvin Fire Protection approached Caputo about opening a San Diego office. After realizing that manufacturing and sales were not the greener side of the fence for him, Caputo went back to contracting and back home to San Diego.
“By 1991 or so, Carroll was planning to retire and offered to allow me to buy the San Diego office, which we renamed and changed our labor force to an open-shop format to be more competitive in the marketplace,” remembers Caputo. “I started CFI (Consolidated Fireprotection, Inc.) in 1992 and along the way, we designed and installed some great work and had some fun doing it.”
In 2000 Caputo sold the company to Cosco Fire and shortly thereafter left the firm to become a consultant. For the next few years, he prepared high-piled storage reports, hazmat reports, testified as an expert witness, and did overflow plan review for local municipalities.
“My teaching schedule was taking more and more time which was perfect for me. I had been exposed and mostly successful in all aspects of fire- and life-safety functions. My perspective as an instructor was more unique because of my experience and, as such, more practical than many instructors,” says Caputo.
In 2006, Jack Medovich approached him about helping East Coast Fire Protection (ECFP), now Fire & Life Safety America, start a more formal Service Department across its footprint.
“I joined the company in June of 2006 and we started the process with me initially as a full-time employee and later as a consultant, splitting my time between consulting and teaching,” says Caputo. “I am a detail-oriented guy and with my 20th anniversary on the NFPA 13 committee coming in January, I’ve been able to bring a broad range of industry knowledge and perspective to problem-solving and training. I say this with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, but with nearly 40 years of practice, I’ve become pretty good at this fire protection thing.”
Dedication to Education
In 1990, while working as the district general manager of the Garvin Fire Protection office in San Diego, Caputo joined the San Diego Fire Protection Association. He would come to serve as president of that organization and became very involved in continuing education.
“I’m often amazed at the people who rose out of that small market to become national and international industry speakers, including Lyle Hall, Russ Leavitt, Steve Leyton, and Ken Wagoner,” says Caputo.
Caputo found that he absolutely loved teaching and especially fire protection-related topics. “As a young man in the sprinkler industry, I’d had occasion to attend some training sessions and I made a promise to myself that if I ever got to be the guy in the front of the room, I’d try to be more energetic and share the passion and enthusiasm for what we do.”
Caputo met Russ Leavitt, who was also very active in the San Diego Fire Protection Association, and the two of them started presenting a local monthly seminar series for the local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) in San Diego, Riverside, and Orange counties.
“I don’t remember having a formal syllabus at the time, but we would just start reading Chapter 1 and answer questions until we got to the end of the book. Then we’d start over again. Over time, we expanded the programs to include multiple NFPA standards plus hydraulic calculations and plan review. That program still exists today with iOS being taught by Ken Wagoner. I stopped teaching the San Diego program after about 18 years.”
A year or two into that program in San Diego County, Lloyd Ivy, then AFSA’s Director of Member Services, attended a meeting of the Association’s and one of its AHJ seminars the next day. The team of Caputo and Leavitt impressed Ivy, and shortly thereafter, AFSA formally invited them to submit a plan to teach its weeklong seminar series nationwide.
“That class revealed to me that Bob was a valuable asset to the advancement of fire sprinklers because of his knowledge, delivery, interaction and humor with the firemen,” recalls Ivy. “His presentation was far from dull, pedantic reading from notes behind a podium. He was vibrant, moving around and funny. The AHJs loved it. So when the need arose for a seminar presenter, I remembered how impressed I was with his class and lobbied for Bob.”
Caputo and Leavitt modernized the seminar material from overhead projector transparencies to a sleek PowerPoint presentation. The two would often split up seminar weeks and each teach a few days. “We shared a lot of hotel rooms,” recalls Leavitt, executive chairman of Telgian Corp., Tempe, Arizona. “It was a great learning experience for me. Bob knew more about fire sprinklers than anyone I had ever been associated with. He was fun to teach with and I was in awe of his ability to hold an audience.
“We went from teaching seminars to representing AFSA on NFPA technical committees. Then we created seminars for NFPA, taking the sprinkler message wherever we could – even all over the world when you add in NFPA conventions,” Leavitt recalls.
“Bob loves the industry and is an absolute advocate of sprinklers. He put sprinklers in his new home when the homebuilder wouldn’t do it for him,” Leavitt says. “He’s a great sprinkler advocate. In fact, the Jared Allen Foundation reconditioned a home for a Telgian employee’s son who was injured during his military service and Bob arranged for a donated sprinkler system. That’s just Bob in a nutshell.”
Caputo and Leavitt still spend some of their time presenting seminars for AFSA, as well as other industry organizations. To this day, the two often team up to present at AFSA’s conventions.
Caputo joined the NFPA seminar teaching staff in 1999, and has presented seminars in 41 states and 14 countries. These seminars have included NFPA 3, NFPA 4, NFPA 13, NFPA 15, NFPA 16, NFPA 20, NFPA 25, NFPA 30, NFPA 72, NFPA 130, NFPA 750, hydraulic calculations; and others. “In many cases, I’ve been the program developer or part of a team for others,” comments Caputo. “This also led to my assisting NFPA staff with advisory services as a consultant for a few years, which gave me the greatest opportunity to really know NFPA 13 and other water-based standards more than anything else I’ve ever done.”
Caputo continues: “I believe that live seminars are the greatest opportunity for practitioners to learn directly from instructors who, in most cases, sit on the committees for the standards they teach. Participation is invaluable and I always appreciate participants who ask a lot of questions and make the seminars about what they need, rather than what we think they want.
“At its core, training is the single most important thing (after earning profits) any fire protection firm or professional can participate in,” he says. “That ‘we save lives and property’ isn’t just a tag line or a motto… it’s what we do and it’s really important. It matters and what we do has to be right – and it needs to be right when no one is looking or checking. Consistency comes from training programs. Trainers may not have direct responsibility for profits and losses in many cases, but without a trained staff of designers, estimators, service technicians, fitters and inspectors, companies can’t ever take advantage of growth opportunities which directly impact those financial statements.”
A recent training program Caputo developed with Russ Leavitt is the ITM Inspector Development program for AFSA. This program allows participating companies to introduce new inspection, testing, and maintenance candidates to a training program that produces NICET Level 2 certified inspectors in about 19 months.
“This program will have created a whole new category of professional in our industry, in the segment we believe is the most important area we serve: ITM of existing systems. I think that’s pretty cool and kind of a nice legacy,” Caputo says.
AFSA At-Large Director Jack Medovich, Fire & Life Safety America, Hanover, Maryland, notes that Caputo has a talent for educating and connecting with people. “What he’s done for the industry as a whole in our country and throughout the world is unprecedented. He’ll go anywhere to teach anyone about fire sprinklers and fire protection. Worldwide, we are in a safer place because of Bob Caputo.”
“The relationships that Bob has created with his seminar attendees are amazing. When people meet Bob for the first time, they don’t ever forget him. He’s still there 10-15 years later to help everyone solve his or her problems on fire protection. He just keeps giving to anyone and everyone who asks for his guidance. He will always provide support to our industry, our members, and anyone who has a question. Also, with the knowledge he’s amassed over his career, he always has the right answer, too! Just ask him!”
In addition to his instructing and consulting time, Caputo is a contributor to the NFPA 13 (2013 and 2016 editions) and NFPA 25 (2014 edition) handbooks, and authored AFSA’s Project Management Tools – A Complete Guide to Organizational Structure and Management of Fire Sprinkler Contracting. He is a past member of the NFPA 3, NFPA 4, and NFPA 20 Technical Committees. Caputo is a current member of three NFPA 13 Technical Committees (Installation Criteria, Discharge Criteria, and Hanging & Bracing) and the NFPA 25 Technical Committee for ITM. He serves as chairman of NFPA 16 Technical Committee for Foam-Water Sprinkler Systems. He is also a member of the California State Contractor’s License Board Rewrite Committee for the C-16 Exam. Caputo is also a past member of the board of directors of the San Diego Burn Institute; past member of the board of directors of the Boys & Girls Club of Carlsbad; and past member of the California Unilateral Apprenticeship Committee (sprinkler fitter training).
Caputo and his first wife Janet have three sons: Chris, Corey and Danny. Chris, 44, is married to Danielle and they have one son Dominic. They live in Northern California where Chris is a service technician and inspector for Sciens Building Solutions. Corey, 42, is a single dad and lives in Vista, California, spending as much time as possible with daughter Wednesday and working at Low Voltage Integrated Systems, a fire and security alarm company with a full-service department. Danny, 32, is an entrepreneur and lives in Carlsbad.
Although it appears he works 24/7, Caputo does find some downtime. He and his current wife Bonnie, a photographer, enjoy spending time with family and friends. Bonnie’s daughter Makenna is the quality assurance/quality control team leader at Fire & Life Safety America, and is returning to school via distance learning programs to work on her Bachelor of Science degree. Bonnie’s son Garrett is 22 and a college student who is planning to learn sprinkler design (in Dallas at AFSA’s Beginning Fire Sprinkler System Planning School) and then seek a position in the industry.
Caputo’s brother John owns a small fire sprinkler company in San Diego and mostly focuses on small contracts and remodel work. His eldest brother Paul is a retired Rio Rancho police officer and heads up the Marine Corps League in New Mexico. Caputo’s parents Arlene and Joe, now in their 80s, reside in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
Caputo’s “other family” has to be his fire protection counterparts…. Caputo has been involved in the industry for so long that many have become like family. “This may sound corny, but I’ve been influenced by almost everyone I’ve ever worked with or for,” he comments.
Awards and Accolades
The highest honor AFSA bestows upon an individual, the Henry S. Parmelee Award was instituted in 1983 to recognize an outstanding individual who has dedicated him or herself to the professional advancement of the automatic fire sprinkler industry and to the goal of fire and life safety through automatic sprinklers. It is named for Henry S. Parmelee, who is recognized as the inventor of the first commercially successful closed sprinkler head. AFSA Chairman of the Board Mike Meehan, president of VSC Fire & Security, Virginia Beach, Virginia says: “Bob approaches all things with passion, none more so than his profession. On the NFPA 13 committee and as an instructor he consistently sees and hears competing thoughts and arguments, I have seen him many times articulate a position with sound logic and carry the day and yet, like many great thinkers, he is not afraid to shift and see it another way. He has dedicated his career to teaching others and to making the standards better. You will find few that know more and care more than Bob Caputo.”
Jason Gill, Fire & Life Safety America, Richmond, Virginia nominated Caputo for the award this year. “Bob’s involvement in the industry resonates globally with his tireless training and seminar schedules. His dedication to the advancement of the industry, as well as the individuals within it, has played a large part in my own desire to do the same.
“Bob obviously has a passion for what he does. He has a very unique way of delivering a message to someone, regardless of their position or experience that helps them better understand the NFPA standards, how sprinkler systems work, and even how to put them together. I truly believe Bob Caputo’s imprint on the industry will long outlast his presence in it,” Gill concludes.
Matt Klaus, principal fire protection engineer at NFPA, notes that Caputo has been one of the most visible volunteers in the NFPA codes and standards process over the last 25 years. “Whether it is chairing NFPA technical committee meetings, chairing task groups, serving as a principal TC member, sitting on Fire Protection Research Foundation panels or instructing for our training department, Bob has selflessly devoted himself to helping carry out the NFPA mission.”
“I think Bob is one of the best examples of the characteristics that define the Parmelee award,” says AFSA Senior Vice President of Engineering & Technical Services Roland J. Huggins, PE. “Bob has been significantly involved with educational efforts by AFSA for decades, and has traveled around the world as part of NFPA’s educational efforts to help others understand the standards that drive our industry. He’s also spent decades on multiple NFPA technical committees. It’s obvious that he’s driven to improve the sprinkler industry and has applied a lot of effort. What may be less obvious is that he has had a significant impact on furthering the goal of fire safety.”
“The best part about Bob is his humility,” notes Jack Medovich. “It’s hard to believe he’s as humble as he is, especially when you see him presenting a seminar. I sometimes have to explain to him why he gets the accolades and why people are consistently reaching out to him. I think his best attribute is that he’s so truly humble about what he provides to the industry, and this continues to push him to make us all the best fire protection professional we can be. We couldn’t do it without you, Bob!”
“In the spirit of our association’s primary objectives of training and education, I cannot think of an individual more deserving of this recognition,” comments Buck Buchanan, executive vice president, Globe Fire Sprinkler Corporation. “Bob has been a passionate instructor for AFSA and NFPA going back to 1989. His classes are always informative, organized, entertaining and full! He has been willing to take on any topic our Convention Committee requests of him, whether it be geared for contractors, manufacturers or AHJs. Sitting on both NFPA 13 and NFPA 25 committees, it is clear that Bob’s expertise and his ability to convey it with enthusiasm and humor has enabled our entire membership to benefit. We would all like to make a difference in our lives and in our industry… Bob has.” Caputo has no doubt left his mark on the industry with current and future generations as he continues to do what he loves. AFSA will
Caputo has no doubt left his mark on the industry with current and future generations as he continues to do what he loves. AFSA presented him with its 2017 Henry S. Parmelee award during the general session on Tuesday, September 26, at AFSA36: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition at the Bellagio Las Vegas.