AFSA President Given Association’s Top Honor
Throughout his 28-year career with the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA), Steve Muncy has consistently focused on the future of the automatic fire protection industry. And the best means to an end were education and training, according to Muncy. The longtime AFSA president has promoted these principles to the industry through his dedication to his association and its staff and volunteer leadership.
During his career, Muncy has served on the Residential Fire Safety Institute (RFSI), the National Advisory Committee of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) board of directors, and was a founding member of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), where he currently serves as an active board member. In 2002 Muncy was named Person of the Year by Fire Protection Contractor magazine and this year he was named as the 2016 Henry S. Parmelee Award recipient for his significant service, leadership, and advocacy to the fire protection industry.
Established in 1984, the Henry S. Parmelee Award is the highest honor AFSA bestows. It is presented to an individual who has made significant contributions to the fire sprinkler industry through outstanding leadership and advancement of the industry. Each recipient of this annual award has demonstrated originality, vision and breadth over the course of their professional life.
An “Association” Man”
Muncy notes he has always been interested in politics. Like many idealistic youths, he thought he knew what he wanted to do with his life: he was going to be a lawyer. So his senior year at the University of North Texas in Denton, the young political science major took the LSAT and signed up to take two pre-law classes, but through that coursework, he discovered he “detested the study of law.”
Muncy had been very involved on campus politically, both in student government and in partisan politics. For a class project, he completed an analysis of the newly defined 24th Congressional district, which somehow ended up in the hands of a wildly popular local television weatherman by the name of Dale Milford. Following a lunch with Milford, Muncy agreed to join the campaign staff of the soon-to-be Democratic United States Representative from the 24th Congressional district of Texas.
One of the things Muncy says he admired most about Milford was his fairness, something Muncy says he always strived for in his own career. “When I was on congressional staff back in the good old days, you could have your disagreements and at the end of the day you went and had a beer together. You could disagree without being disagreeable. Some of my dearest friends in those days were people who were on the other side of the political aisle, and who were of a very different political persuasion. That, perhaps, is just part of what I’ve learned in character over the years, that compromise is a very good thing and that people shouldn’t make demands. We all benefit when we can sit down together, talk about what we have in common, and understand that when we walk out of that room that we are going to disagree on some things. That’s fine but we’ll come back in the room and we’ll sit down and talk about issues that work to common purpose.”
After six years on Milford’s staff, Muncy entered the world of association management. He served as director of public affairs for the Association of Oil Well Servicing Contractors, based in Dallas, where his responsibilities were largely focused on coordinating the political and legislative efforts in the oil industry. When the oil industry economy crashed in the 1980s, he began looking elsewhere and accepted a job at the Home and Apartment Builders Association of Metro Dallas running a training program for apartment maintenance personnel. Through an acquaintance at the Home Builders Association, Muncy heard about a local association that was looking to hire an executive vice president.
Willie Templin, who chaired AFSA from 1985 to 1987, was part of the selection committee appointed by the Board to hire a new EVP. “During the interview, I was very impressed that Steve had all the right answers to our questions and his resume was excellent,” the 2011 Parmelee recipient recalls. “Most of all, I was impressed by his confidence in his own abilities and his readiness to start a new job. Not many people impress me in an interview, but he did.”
Muncy’s progressive attitude endeared him to many within AFSA, including Jack Viola, 2003 Parmelee award recipient, who in addition to serving on that selection committee served as Chairman of the Board from 1997 to 1999. Viola states, “It was evident from the start that Steve was an energetic, bright, and driven individual. During his initial interview we all recognized the confidence he exhibited and the comfort and experience level he had with managing association business. The choice was clear that he would become an excellent executive vice president and understudy for our then-president Frank Riseden.”
In November 1988 Muncy was officially named executive vice president where he served for three years before becoming AFSA’s president in January 1992, following Riseden’s retirement.
Once in office, Muncy’s leadership – and motivation – helped lead AFSA to become the largest fire sprinkler association in less than four years at the helm. Muncy’s goals for AFSA were threefold – expand AFSA technical and training programs, increase membership, and create a stable financial base for the association.
He believed that everyone had to work together to educate, train and promote the fire sprinkler industry. “When Steve Muncy asked me to join the AFSA staff in 1989, it was still a young association,” says former AFSA Executive Vice President Janet Knowles, who retired from the association in 2015. “There were no cash reserves to draw from for program development, but there was a tremendous source of energy, knowledge and dedication from the founding members.”
Muncy put his management experience, leadership style, and personal interest in computers to work with members’ technical expertise, extending AFSA’s resources and influence. “I am proud of AFSA in regard to adopting technology to expand our mission,” states Muncy. “We had the first website in the industry. We had the first email SprinklerForum, which is still going today in a basically unchanged format. We were the first with email newsletters. We were the first with telephone seminars. Then we went to webinars and we’ve continued to expand that. Digital newsletters, we were the first ones in our industry to do that.”
When the 2008 national recession hit, Muncy says his biggest contribution was not retreating. Rather than laying off staff and cutting back programs, he convinced the Board that AFSA needed to spend some of its savings to continue and even expand benefits that would help members survive the economic storm. “That really wasn’t too hard a sell. What I tried to persuade them is you can see a downward spiral here. Why did we put the money in the bank? Why did we have all those reserves? We had all those reserves for a rainy day, and we could tell it was raining outside, so this was a rainy day.”
“Year after year, Muncy moved AFSA forward – building strong local chapters and a solid financial base and expanding the scope of conventions and communications, as well as in-house and web-based training and technical programs. He also nurtured coalitions with other organizations to address industry-wide issues,” Knowles adds.
Coming Together as an Industry
Twenty years ago, leaders from AFSA and the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) approached NFPA to discuss creation of a collective voice to promote residential sprinklers. NFPA welcomed their idea and in the spring of 1996, the three organizations joined forces to give home fire sprinklers the attention they deserved.
“The founders of HFSC knew if our efforts were to be successful, it would take a spirit of cooperation that often hadn’t previously existed in these types of projects,” comments former HFSC President Gary Keith, vice president-engineering standards at FM Global. “From the day it was formed, Steve Muncy played a key role in laying the foundation for how HFSC would operate and function.”
Remaining neutral has been paramount to HFSC’s success, contributing to the coalition’s credibility with wide audiences and helping it to become an effective news source. Looking back, Muncy says his involvement with HFSC was one of the most satisfying of his career. “The camaraderie that we have with HFSC, we hang our guns at the door. We all work together. There are things that we disagree on, but we always manage to find the best solution for the organization.”
Setting the Sprinkler Stage
During his nearly three decades with the Dallas-based trade association, the fair but demanding Muncy has helped mold AFSA into a multimillion-dollar enterprise and North America’s biggest fire sprinkler trade group. Along the way, he has also freely donated his time to further the industry.
When Muncy was elected to the NFPA board of directors in 2002, it was in many ways an interesting time for sprinklers. Muncy recalled, “[Sprinklers] were an important part of NFPA but you didn’t hear a lot about them. You didn’t see many articles in the NFPA Journal about sprinklers; some, not many. You didn’t hear much about sprinkler activities. As time went by, not due to my efforts but I think due to a recognition by [then NFPA president] Jim Shannon and the staff, NFPA became more proactive in promoting things.”
During Muncy’s tenure on the Board, NFPA launched its highly successful “Fire Safe Cigarettes” campaign. “They finished with the fire safe cigarette campaign, and then I think because of the fact that they had some very strong support from the sprinkler industry from AFSA, NFSA and others on that campaign – they said what’s our next goal? The next goal was the Fire Sprinkler Initiative, which now is doing the same thing that they did on the fire safe cigarette campaign. Now they’re going to all the states. Its field staff are now working to get states and jurisdictions to adopt the codes that require fire sprinklers. That’s significant,” he notes.
A Leader. A Mentor. A Friend.
Muncy, who will retire from AFSA at the end of 2016, has never pretended that the industry changed solely because of his involvement. What he has demonstrated, in fact, is the very thing that good leaders are able to do – pay attention to the obvious. He has remained himself, and yet, he has been changed by his involvement and has changed the industry, too.
Bill Webb, president of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI), states, “Steve Muncy is among a small group of fire service leaders who has remained actively involved in the mission of the Congressional Fire Services Institute since our establishment in 1989. His contributions to our organization have made a positive difference throughout the years. On issues of national significance, he has always spoken with such clarity and a keen understanding of how CFSI can advance its work in Washington, D.C.”
AFSA’s 2006 Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year Meri-K Appy says, “As a proud charter member of HFSC reflecting on Steve’s many contributions to the fire sprinkler mission, I am reminded of his unshakeable belief in the role sprinklers would play in protecting people and everything they love from the pain and suffering of a home fire. His composure and dignity, combined with sheer tenacity and unwavering faith in the technology, helped him steer the industry and our society to greater acceptance and adoption. Throughout his impressive career Steve led with wisdom, integrity and humility to position fire sprinklers as the ultimate solution to America’s fire problem.”
Jim Shannon, 2010 Advocate of the Year and former president of the National Fire Protection Association, states, “In all of the issues we worked on together over the years, especially when he served on the NFPA board of directors, he consistently brought integrity, commitment and enthusiasm to the fire-safety mission. When he speaks you want to listen and when he takes the lead you want to follow him. As an advocate for sprinklers he has been one of the most important leaders for fire safety in the last generation.”
“Steve took office as president the first year of my becoming Chairman of the Board,” recalls Don Becker, who served as AFSA Chairman from 1991 to 1995, and was honored with the Parmelee award in 1999. “I served four years as Chairman at that time but Steve and I have worked together every year since then. In 2016, the Board bestowed upon me a ‘Lifetime Member of AFSA.’ In 2016, I gave to Steve a genuine AFSA wristwatch that I had kept for years. That means from this point on, we are both on AFSA time for the rest of our lives. In his retirement Steve will always be an icon of AFSA.”
“National economic downturns, conventions cancelled by hurricanes and terror attacks, industry-wide product or standards problems – setbacks that might have caused other organizations to falter, or even fail – never distracted him from the ultimate goal. He calmly guided this young association to become the industry leader in the 21st century, and he is leaving a robust foundation for those who will guide its future,” comments Knowles.
Over his 28 years at AFSA, Muncy’s accomplishments are many. He does not, however, lay sole claim to those. Muncy says, “There’s not a single person on staff who doesn’t know how to do their job better than I do. Everybody here knows how to do their job better than I. I know how all the pieces fit together. I guess in a way I’m kind of like a conductor at an orchestra. You know what, if you’ve got your first clarinet who’s off tune, the conductor might be able to make various moves to lessen the impact of that off-tune first clarinet, but the fact is it’s still the orchestra that’s performing. They have to pull together and recognize that. It’s not what I did; it’s what the team did as a part of this effort.”
Jack Viola adds, “[Muncy] has proven to be not only a great leader but also a great friend and mentor to AFSA staff and the past Chairmen to whom he was always willing to help and advise. So this is bittersweet for me and for many of us who have known Steve for such a long time. I am happy that he is moving on to a well-deserved retirement but saddened because we will miss his humor, his steadfast ability to lead, and most importantly his friendship. My hats off to you, Steve, and my congratulations to you for receiving the Parmelee award. There is no one more deserving than you to receive this coveted distinction.”
AFSA Chairman Mike Meehan will present the award to Muncy on Friday, September 16, during the general session of AFSA’s 35th Convention & Exhibition at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville.