Third Generation and Still Thriving
As soon as Adam Levine, P.E., now president of Capitol Fire Sprinkler, Woodside, New York, could talk, his grandfather would ask him, “Adam, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Instinctually, Adam would proudly reply, “A fire sprinkler man, SIR!” (The ‘sir’ was because his grandfather was in the army during WW2.)
Sidney Levine, Adam’s grandfather, founded Capitol Fire Sprinkler in 1952. Come 1978, Richard Levine (Adam’s father) controlled operations until 2020. Adam, after years of training and gaining experience in various capacities, joined Capitol Fire Sprinkler full-time in 2009. Shortly after, he was fortunate to be joined by his sister and business partner, Jamie Levine. It was at the stroke of a new decade that Adam became president and owner of Capitol Fire Sprinkler in 2020. He is a proud family business owner who succeeds in honoring the legacy of his father and grandfather before him while also forging a path in his own right as a “fire sprinkler man.”
CERTAINTY IN SPRINKLERS
To illustrate Levine’s childhood would mean first examining his unwavering desire to work in the fire sprinkler industry. “I never seriously considered doing anything else. Childhood brainwashing aside, I wanted to do this,” says Levine with a laugh. “It always made sense to me. Running a business, particularly one that saves lives, is an extraordinary opportunity.”
Indeed, Levine’s days as a teenager encompassed working in the industry, helping his father out where he could. “During summers when I was in high school, my friends had fun jobs, like lifeguard or camp counselor. I installed fire sprinkler systems. I woke up at the crack of dawn, took the early train to Manhattan, and reported to construction sites in my work boots and hard hat. It was challenging work. I learned the fundamentals.”
Though a great drive for success is usually closely followed by great mentorship, Levine credits much of his success to the many industry gurus who have helped him along the way. He named his father Richard as his greatest mentor. “My father wanted me to learn about every part of the business. When I wasn’t working with my hands in the field, designing shop drawings, or managing construction projects, my father and I would travel around New York City to meet customers and assess new potential projects. My father would show me how to reuse an existing sprinkler system when making alterations, measure beams in a warehouse to determine sprinkler head layout, and survey storage arrangements to determine hazard classifications. The lessons weren’t only focused on fire sprinklers, though; he also taught me about business. By watching him, I learned how to motivate, communicate, negotiate, strategize, work both in and on the business, and lead—no matter how difficult the path ahead might be.”
“Fire sprinkler lessons aside, the business lessons started when I was a kid. One of my earliest childhood memories was going with my dad to a job site on a Saturday morning. We stopped at McDonald’s to buy breakfast for the fitters. It wasn’t a big deal, but I remember the fitters appreciated it. The lesson to ‘take care of your people’ has always stayed with me,” Levine recalls.
“Of all the things my father has taught me, though, the one that resonates with me the most is this: the only thing that stays the same is change. If you resist change, you will miss opportunities, and your competitors will blow right by you. I love my dad—he’s my biggest fan (besides my incredible wife, Ali!).”
“SAY YES” AND OTHER PROSPEROUS ADVICE
Foundationally, success arises for those who see opportunities and go after them. Levine exemplifies this belief when asked about what advice he would give to newcomers in the industry. “Simply put, ‘Say yes!’ I’ve always tried to do this in life, but it was not until I attended a panel discussion with Bob Caputo, James Golinveaux, Russ Leavitt, and Steve Leyton at the 2022 NFPA convention in Boston that I was able to recognize the sentiment as a ‘choice’ to be made. As the panelists shared the secret sauces to their successes, a common theme emerged: they did not shy away from new—and sometimes scary—opportunities. This mentality guides me every day, from taking on challenging fire sprinkler projects; to participating in industry associations, technical committees, and business leadership communities; to playing with my kids after a long, exhausting day. ‘Say yes!’”
Levine also advises industry newcomers to set clear goals. “I have a strong sense of direction of where I want to take Capitol Fire Sprinkler. I want to expand while maintaining an extremely high level of work quality and customer service. A huge part of working toward that goal is addressing and removing obstacles. Business equals challenges, and I do my best to act logically and decisively to overcome them.”
Ultimately, Levine has the desire and drive for growth. When it comes to Levine, he is anything but stagnant. “To quote an old proverb, if you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together,” he says.
He also emphasized the importance of humility and subscribing to the feeling that there is always more he can be learning or doing. “I have always strived to be in a constant state of professional growth. Recently, though, I’ve also made deep commitments toward my personal growth, which is not something I would have said 10, or even five years ago. There are so many ways to grow, and I am starting to appreciate how connected they all are.”
EXCEL WITH EDUCATION
Levine says that when it comes to education, you can never stop learning. He believes this is critically important when it comes to encouraging professionals within the industry. “Many people in our industry seem to think, ‘Well, why change? That’s how we’ve always done it.’ I disagree. There is always new information out there which can improve how things get done.”
Levine embodies this belief with his own education. He says it was important to not only have education in fire protection but business as well. “I am a proud fire protection engineer from the University of Maryland (’06). That said, I always envisioned my professional self as wearing two hats: fire protection engineer and business leader. To that end, it was important for me to obtain my MBA in entrepreneurship, which I did at Baruch College (’11).”
Still, even Levine looks back to earlier years and misses the knowledge he was readily surrounded by. “When studying fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland, I didn’t fully appreciate the incredible resources I had at my fingertips. If I could speak to an incoming class of students, I would urge them to soak everything up like sponges; after all, something that may not resonate with you today may be critical for you to know tomorrow.”
Fundamentally, Levine’s education has been a tool that has propelled him into one of NFPA’s technical committees. “I’m proud that our industry has so many amazing technical experts that are willing to volunteer to help maintain the NFPA standards. (Of course, I must give a shout-out to the greatest technical committee of them all—NFPA 14!),” Levine states. “As far as needed improvements in our industry, I wish there was a way to help potential customers distinguish between qualified, professional, and licensed fire sprinkler contractors versus the pretenders who have never opened an NFPA standard.”
SEE IT THROUGH IN SOLIDARITY
Conclusively, Levine’s synergistic attitude has been the bridge to his pillars of success; combined efforts lead to stronger results within the big picture. In particular, AFSA’s annual convention encourages this unity. “I attended my first AFSA convention in 2016 in Nashville, and it was eye-opening. I guess I lived in a bubble because I didn’t know there were so many people like me out there who wanted to dive into highly technical fire sprinkler subtopics like obstructions, rack storage, technology advancements, critical NFPA standard changes, etc. When you get older and busy with work and at home with your family, it becomes harder to make time to learn new things. Committing just a few days of each year to attend the conventions helps me stay current and confident about my fire sprinkler knowledge.”
Though sometimes the inevitable occurs—unexpected challenges that everyone must face. Namely, the 2020 pandemic created a difficult time for Levine and his company. “COVID was, without a doubt, my greatest challenge thus far as a leader. In New York, Governor Cuomo shut down all non-essential construction for several months, which I never believed would have happened. Those were some scary times.”
In moments of stress, Levine turns to friends and family who “provide fresh perspectives, guidance, and emotional support. Also, my dog, Zoza, helps me chill out (she is very cuddly to pet).”
“Above all else, my mission in life is to be a loving and supportive parent to my three children, Max, Lexie, and Reese; husband to my wife, Ali; son to my parents, Richard and Elaine; and brother to my sisters Jamie and Torie,” Levine says. “And, of course, whatever you do, take care of your shoes!”
EIGHT YEARS OF EXCELLENCE
This year marks the eighth annual Young Professional of the Year (YPY) Award—presented by AFSA’s NextGen Initiative (NGI), which is on a mission to recognize outstanding talent and achievements of newcomers in the fire sprinkler industry. These professionals aged 40 and under can be described by a variety of adjectives—activists and innovators; but by all definitions, NGI’s YPY Award winners are most recognized for how they shape the business landscape with their passion and sense of community. The award also seeks to promote the emergence of new talented professionals and inspire companies to invest even more in the development and excellence of the profession.
“I’ve worked with Adam as a member of the NFPA 14 Technical Committee,” comments Steve Leyton, founder and president of Protection Design and Consulting, San Diego, and chair of the NFPA 14 Technical Committee. “He always brings information and energy to the conversation. His engineering experience—especially with the very tall built environment—is invaluable to our ongoing efforts to refine the standard. And he’s got great taste in music!”
“In a highly competitive applicant pool, Adam’s nomination stood out,” states Kevin Hall, M. Eng, P.E., ET, CWBSP, PMSFPE, senior manager of engineering and technical services for AFSA. “Adam volunteers a significant amount of time to the industry and has facilitated AFSA’s involvement with the New York Fire Sprinkler Contractor’s Association. I have had the privilege of working with Adam over the last five years through association and committee activities, and appreciate his input during NFPA 14 technical committee meetings and his significant contributions to the NYC Building Code—NYC was notorious for utilizing the oldest edition of NFPA 13 of any U.S. jurisdiction. Congratulations to my fellow Terp on his recognition as AFSA’s Young Professional of the Year!”
“I have not had the pleasure of meeting Adam in person, but his reputation and resumé speaks for itself,” comments Katie Meehan, chair of NextGen and director of marketing, VSC Fire & Security, Ashland, Virginia. “Adam has shown a clear commitment to the industry and fostering the highest of standards in all the work he does. It’s been said that from the time Adam could talk, he dreamed of being a ‘sprinkler man.’ Not only is Adam well versed in the industry from a technical perspective, but he is also a fierce advocate and defender of the work we do.”
The YPY Award will be presented to Levine during the general session on Friday, September 8, at AFSA42: Convention, Exhibition, & Apprentice Competition in Orlando. Learn more and register to attend at www.firesprinkler.org/AFSA42. For more details on AFSA or its NextGen Initiative, visit www.firesprinkler.org/nextgen.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Do you know someone who should be nominated for AFSA’s Fire Young Professional of the Year Award? All three of AFSA’s annual awards—the Henry S. Parmelee Award, Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year Award, and Young Professional of the Year Award—accept nominations year-round at www.firesprinkler.org/afsa-awards/. (Member login required.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sydney Richardson is the Communications Specialist for the American Fire Sprinkler Association.