National Apprentice Competition was the Highlight of AFSA41
The crowds began pouring in and rallied together this year to see men hard at work. On October 19, 2022, hundreds of onlookers rushed into the bustling exhibit hall at AFSA41: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition in Las Vegas to watch the 29th Annual National Apprentice Competition hosted by the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA). This annual competition gives seven hopefuls a chance at winning $5,000, tools, and bragging rights for the next year.
The competition consists of two phases—a written test taken in Spring to qualify as a top apprentice and written and practical exams taken in Fall during AFSA’s convention. After the initial written test and outscoring over 100 other apprentice hopefuls to secure a spot as one of the top seven apprentices, Jacob Hanson, Security Fire Sprinkler, Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, advanced to the competition finals in Las Vegas. From there, Hanson rose to the occasion, outscoring the six other contenders to emerge as the top apprentice in the 29th annual competition.
Like many who work in the industry, Hanson’s path to arrival was among paths less traveled. Hanson began working in the fire sprinkler industry because his brother was working for Security Fire Sprinkler.
“I knew there was more money to be made there. I was moving furniture before; it was kind of just a job at the time,” Hanson recalls.
Though after he filled out an application and began working for Security Fire Sprinkler, his journey would not be a short-lived one. Hanson has worked with the company for over three-and-a-half years. “I’m constantly learning things as I go. My duties haven’t really changed, I’m doing the same things that I was doing six months in, but I continue to learn a lot more every day.”
Eventually, Hanson learned of the National Apprentice Competition (NAC) and was intrigued. “Some of the guys at the office have heard [about the NAC] and wanted us to do it. I saw it as an opportunity to just learn more. I didn’t expect to win at all. I was just excited to test myself with the initial test, and then when I got in, I was really excited to see the convention and try to take in as much as I could and learn about the industry.”
LAS VEGAS SHOWDOWN
Securing his spot in the competition, Hanson was Vegas bound, and more importantly, he was 29th Annual National Apprentice Competition bound. There he would compete live among an audience of curious onlookers. Phase II of the competition consisted of two portions: a written test, based on all four levels of AFSA/ NCCER Contren® Learning Series Sprinkler Fitter curriculum, followed by a live competition practical in the AFSA exhibition hall.
For four hours on Wednesday, October 19, the seven apprentice finalists participated in the live competition constructing and pressure-testing a miniature sprinkler system in front of a packed exhibit hall. Each finalist was given a drawing of the system and all the required materials to install it. Finalists then constructed the system, comprised of five sprinklers, onto a 9-ft tall metal frame structure. Competitors had to measure, cut, thread, and use fabricated materials for the installations per the drawing they were provided. This exercise required pipe threading, math, and pipe make-up skills to complete the mini-system within the four-hour time limit. The CPVC section of the system was joined using one-step solvent cement. After the entire system was installed and allowed to set, it was placed under a static water pressure test of approximately 80 psi, with points deducted for any leaks or pressure drop. During the mini-installation apprentices were judged in the three areas—accuracy, craftsmanship, and safety—to form their practical score, which was then combined with their written score to determine the winner.
When preparing for the competition, Hanson notes, “I pretty much just went through the apprenticeship books from AFSA, and then I’m also involved in a study group with Security Fire Sprinkler. I’m coming up on my journeyman’s license. Our company will hold a study group to work on the guys’ knowledge for the journeyman’s test and obviously a lot of that stuff transfers over.”
AWARDS PARTY POOLSIDE
At the unforgettable Awards Party at the Bellagio Pool later in the evening of October 19, the hard work of the seven national apprentices was recognized, and Jacob Hanson was named the 2022 National Apprentice Competition winner.
“It’s pretty hard to believe that I got first. After doing the quiz and the hands-on thing, I felt pretty good about how I had done. I was thinking I was most likely going to be in the top three. But then when they announced third, and then second, I didn’t think I’d land first so then I didn’t really know anymore.”
In addition to joining a prestigious group of past winners, Hanson took home a $5,000 grand prize. Looking to the future, Hanson states, “I’ll be testing for the journeyman’s test in December so hopefully that goes well. If it does, then I will probably be talking to the owners of the company to see if it would be a good idea to start running work.”
Hanson continues, “Going to the convention really opened my eyes. It showed me how much opportunity there is. Before that, I just saw myself as becoming foreman and that was kind of the end of the road. Apparently, there are ways to get involved with AFSA and my local chapter. I don’t know much about that, but I’ll probably look into it. I’m just going to keep trying to learn as much as I can.”
When asked about Hanson, Schumacher comments, “Jake is very self-motivated. He wants to succeed and deliver a product that he can be proud of. He takes a lot of pride in the quality and quantity of work that he can do day in and day out.”
Schumacher continues, “Jake started with no experience and was referred to our company by his brother. He started fairly timid and unsure of what he wanted as a career. He was enrolled in the AFSA apprentice curriculum shortly after being hired and over the years he has found confidence in his skills and knowledge base and as a result has found more confidence in himself. He has developed into a dependable teammate who is willing to go the extra mile to see a task or project to completion. He has also worked his way into mentorship roles and has been valuable in developing those same talents in others.”
“When he was announced as the winner, I thought back to the text that he had sent me when I was encouraging him to enter the competition,” notes Schumacher. “The text said, ‘I don’t expect to do very well, but it’s worth a shot.’ Being our first time entering this competition as a company, none of us knew what to expect. We had a lot of confidence in his knowledge and abilities so I cannot say that I’m totally surprised that he did so well, but there was some great competition to contend with. As the days and challenges progressed, we started to get more excited about his odds.”
He continues, “I’m very glad Jake decided to take the shot on entering the competition and seeing it through to the end. As happy as I am for his result, I’m also very grateful that such a platform exists to reward and recognize the efforts of someone who works so hard to become the top in the industry. We’re very proud of all Jake has accomplished both with the company and in this competition.”
Antonio Rosario, Titan Fire Protection, Inc., Vista, California, won second place and a $3,000 cash prize, and Tyler Amundson, Rapid Fire Protection, Rapid City, South Dakota, took third place and a $2,000 prize. Honorable mentions received $1,000 prizes: Andrew Callahan, A & D Fire, Spokane, Washington; Matthew Comp, Diamond Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., Mt. Holly Springs, Pennsylvania; Daniel Kohler, Western Fire Protection, Poway, California; and Andrew Lynch, Johnson Controls, Inc., Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In addition to the cash prizes and an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to compete at AFSA41, each of the national finalists received a commemorative plaque, tools, and a complimentary convention registration for their employer to attend the convention.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Started in 1994 by the late Robert L. (Bob) McCullough, then chairman of the Apprenticeship & Education Committee, AFSA’s Annual National Apprentice Competition was created to promote apprentice training and give recognition to the apprentices who are actively enrolled in the AFSA apprenticeship program. Nearly 30 years later, the competition continues to bring fire sprinkler apprentices from AFSA local chapters and member training programs from all corners of the United States together in the association’s foremost showcase of excellence in training among future industry leaders.
Enrolling in AFSA’s apprentice training program not only offers excellent education and a fulfilling career, but it is also the gateway to competing in the national competition. Entry forms for this next year’s event at AFSA42: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition at Hilton Bonnet Creek in Orlando, September 6-9, will be available in Spring of 2023. For more details, visit firesprinkler.org/competition.
Enjoy additional photos of the apprentice competition and all of AFSA41’s events on AFSA’s Flickr photo page at flickr.com/afsa.