As I write this column every few weeks, I often find myself searching for the creativity required to discuss something of value that our members might actually be interested in reading. I don’t mind sharing the fact that it can be a challenge. After all, I am the president, and I’m supposed to know what the members expect and want to hear about. I always want to discuss the value proposition of membership in the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) and the training programs we offer to our members in fulfillment of our mission. I am so very proud of the direction our Board of Directors is providing to reinvigorate ourselves and focus on delivering needed services for the membership. I am equally as proud of our staff for accepting the challenges we face in a very changing world. We’ve added well-known and powerful staff to our Engineering & Technical Services Department to become known as the best this industry has to offer.
Many of you participated in our recent training survey to provide the feedback we need to ensure we are offering training that meets your business’s wants and needs, as opposed to assuming we know what those are. Thank you for the feedback, but I want to encourage our members to continue to provide us with your opinions, even when we’re not asking in a formal way. This is your association, and we couldn’t possibly have all the answers, especially as it relates to regional issues or needs. “We are stronger together” is more than just a tag line or a bumper sticker. It is a simple truth. None of us could possibly address big industry issues alone while focusing on the daily work to strengthen our individual businesses. We must work together in the interest of fire and life safety and the promotion of fire sprinkler systems as the best possible solution for a fire-safe built environment. Lightweight construction features—reduced municipal budgets and greater fire loads within the built environment-—all contribute to a greater need for our products and services.
I see the same challenges on the horizon we all see and hear about every day—inflation, predictions for an economic downturn, slower construction starts due to an increase in the cost of money, not to mention COVID-19 and all the spikes and variants we keep seeing. But let’s stop listening to the news media and look at the reality of our industry for a moment. During these last two years of the pandemic, our industry has flourished. Most of our members have greater backlogs of work than they’ve ever had and are making more money than ever before. The activity in mergers and acquisitions is rampant, with many of our largest members having been acquired or acquiring other members to such a degree that we’ve had to revise our membership dues structure to keep the pace of lost revenue resulting from this activity.
Let’s ask ourselves if the interest of investment firms purchasing fire sprinkler businesses is solely due to the excitement of saving lives and property? Are investors seeing an opportunity to lose money in our industry? Obviously, the answer is a resounding no… hell, no! Our industry is thriving during a pandemic and an overall negative belief in the U.S. economic picture, and we need to respond and act upon the reality of what we see, not the negative message of the news cycle. Our industry is alive and well.
We need the robust training programs and recruiting efforts your AFSA is offering if we are to keep the pace of growth and demand for a well-trained and qualified workforce at every level. Our design schools, ITM training, and apprenticeship and leadership programs are available from AFSA to help you as members to grow your business and limit your liabilities. Your participation in these programs is needed for AFSA to continue to offer them. When members are not utilizing these programs, we’re left to assume they are not needed. Our training programs are not “check-box” programs—we’re training the future of our industry. I want to challenge all of our members to get involved in providing professional development for your staff to ensure future success. I want to remind everyone that when your company is a member, all your people are members and have the same access to our services individually, as well as collectively. I want to challenge every member of our association and of our industry to see the marketplace as it really is, with an optimistic view and the opportunity for positive results from an investment in this industry. When outsiders like capital investment firms see the opportunity for success in our industry, we should see it, too. We should be investing in our collective futures as energetically and enthusiastically as outsiders do.
The American Fire Sprinkler Association was formed to provide training opportunities and to be the voice of the merit shop fire sprinkler industry. We are in this together, and together we are stronger. Our investment in legislative matters, training programs, and chapter leadership are all here for you as members, and we don’t exist without you. I encourage every member to be actively involved at the chapter level and invite your competitors to become members. Let’s enjoy our successes while planning our future because we are a critical and necessary industry. Welcome to 2022 and beyond.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bob Caputo, CFPS, is president of the American Fire Sprinkler Associationr.