As I think about this column, I must admit we in the home office are still riding the energy of the success of our recent annual convention. For those of you unable to attend, I assure you that you missed what was likely the best all-around convention AFSA has ever experienced. The opening party at Universal Studios CityWalk set the stage for fun and excitement, while the Hilton Signia provided a great venue and very good food. Most of the seminar sessions were full to the door, with attendees eager to participate in more than 60 technical- and business-related presentations. Our general session was equally amazing with the magical stylings and humor of AFSA At-Large Director Jay Strickland, who kept the session lively and fun. As I noted during my address to the membership, this is a team sport, and while I am so very proud of the AFSA staff for their hard work in making this year’s event a success, the true credit must be shared with the record number of people in attendance—especially the more than 160 first-time attendees. This year’s event was capped off at our awards party, where the top finishers in the 2023 apprentice competition were acknowledged. It goes almost without saying that all seven regional competitors deserve accolades for their efforts and making it to the finals. It is heartwarming to see these young people at the start of their careers in this fantastic industry and know they are the future leaders, business owners, and foundational strength of our trade. I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible generosity of Kevin Fee and the Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Company, who stood up and donated $11,000 when a live auction spontaneously broke out during this party. Some AFSA staff members decided to auction off what is alleged to have been a life-sized photo of me, which was a part of the AFSA booth décor in the exhibit hall, with the proceeds earmarked for our new lab in the Richardson (Dallas area) office. After some banter with a seemingly rowdy crowd of miscreants hollering out their bids, Kevin put the whole thing to rest with his offer of $10K. He then topped it off with another $1,000 for a signature on the portrait. One can only guess what will become of this piece of art or how many times it will be coming to haunt me in the future. Thank you, Kevin, for your sense of humor and for your dedication and generous contributions in support of AFSA and this industry!
The AFSA staff and Board of Directors often speak about how to better focus on the needs of our members and chapters. I am pleased to report that during its past meeting, the Board committed to assisting and strengthening our chapters by changing our chapter seminar and speaker policy. In the past, chapters were required to share in the cost and profits when AFSA staff provided seminars. In 2024, we will be offering each chapter a seminar at no cost, with the speaker fees and travel expenses covered by AFSA. Now, before you go shooting off fireworks (which we do not recommend) and cheering for the Dallas Cowboys (which we do recommend), remember there are some logistics and schedules to work out as we roll out this new offering. There are 29 chapters but only 12 months in each year, and our staff is already busy, so we will need to create a schedule. Also, we must plan how many days of training we can offer before asking chapters to contribute to travel costs. For example, we will probably start by offering one- or two-day programs without contribution, but when longer programs are requested, we might need the chapter to assist with some of the direct travel expenses. In addition, we may consider a small fee for providing CEU certificates, to be paid by those who require them. As we work through the details, we will announce the structure, topics available, and schedules for chapter leaders to use in planning. I want to thank our Board members for this opportunity to truly focus on members and chapters at the local level.
Another initiative you will be hearing more about is a recruitment effort to bring new DNA into the fire- and life-safety world. AFSA will lead the way in getting the message out to high schools, technical schools, and community colleges so that we might increase the number of young people who know of and become interested in careers in fire protection. Most young people who might choose a career in the construction or service trades are aware of opportunities in plumbing, electrical, or HVAC, but very few know about fire sprinklers or the benefits of working in this industry. We simply must change the game, and to do this, we need to get the word out at the local level. As we develop materials and methods to deliver this message, I want to encourage each of our members to consider participating in local career events to help introduce soon-to-be graduates and separating military men and women to join our ranks. This call to action is needed to sustain the work available to our members as we all struggle to expand our workforce. Our industry offers training and opportunities for anyone willing to show up, learn, and work for good pay and benefits. Our growth is limited only by our ability to find and develop more competent people to add to our ranks. The practice of trading people back and forth between companies can no longer sustain us, and AFSA is prepared to make this a priority for our members.
Lastly, I’d like to note the passing of two great contributors to the American Fire Sprinkler Association, Ronny J. Coleman, former California State Fire Marshal and 1989 Henry S. Parmelee Award recipient, and Bill Phair, area sales manager for Ferguson Fire & Fabrication and incoming M/S Council Chair. Ron devoted more than 50 years of his life to the fire service. In 1999, he was selected as one of the 20 Most Influential Fire Service Leaders of the 20th Century. A prolific writer, dynamic speaker, and passionate leader, he was at the forefront of many advances in firefighter leadership, safety, fire prevention, code enforcement, training, technical innovation, and the residential sprinkler movement. Bill was very active within the fire sprinkler industry and AFSA, serving on the Public Education & Awareness Committee and M/S Council for many years. Please keep Chief Coleman, Bill, and their families in your prayers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bob Caputo, President of the American Fire Sprinkler Association, is chair of the NFPA 24 and NFPA 291 Technical Committee and a member of multiple NFPA technical committees, including NFPA 13 and NFPA 25. Caputo is a contributor of the NFPA 13 and NFPA 25 Handbooks, the Fire Protection Handbook 21st Edition, and the NFPA Inspection Manual. A member of NFPA and AFSA faculties, Caputo has written and presented seminars throughout the world on fire protection and life safety systems, project and field labor management, and is a regular speaker at AFSA and NFPA conventions. Caputo is an instructor at the National Fire Academy and a member of the Industry Advisory Board at Oklahoma State University School of Fire Protection Engineering & Safety. Caputo’s industry distinctions include “Fire Prevention Officer of the Year ” from San Diego County in 1994; “Man of the Year” from Fire Protection Contractor magazine in 1997; and the Henry S. Parmelee award from AFSA in 2017. Caputo attended the University of Albuquerque, New Mexico and is a U.S. Navy veteran and former volunteer firefighter.