Designer Dedicated to Education and Expansion of Industry
Stuart Weeks may have fallen into the fire sprinkler industry by chance, but it’s no accident that he’s excelled here. Stuart Weeks, the 39-year-old design manager at American Fire Protection Inc. in Greenville, South Carolina and president of the South Carolina Fire Sprinkler Association (SCFSA), has a passion for fire protection that knows no bounds and that passion has paid off in a big way.
Weeks began in the fire sprinkler industry in January of 2000 when he took a job at Worsham Sprinkler completely by chance. But that was just the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship with the industry as Weeks trained and now holds a NICET Level IV certification and works as design manager for American Fire Protection, Inc. in Greenville, South Carolina. In addition to this achievement, Weeks has demonstrated his dedication to building community, supporting the merit shop contractor and furthering industry education by serving as president of the SCFSA.
For these reasons: dedication to education and expanding the fire sprinkler industry and the association, AFSA is pleased to announce that Weeks has been elected by a panel of his peers on the NextGen Initiative as the recipient of AFSA’s 2019 Young Professional of the Year award. The award highlights the efforts of a young and talented fire protection professional, who is under 40 and demonstrates exemplary technical, professional, and inclusive leadership skills not only in their own businesses but also at a national level. The fourth annual award will be presented during the general session at AFSA38: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, California.
It Started With a Bulletin Board Weeks got his start in the fire sprinkler industry in an unconventional manner. He recalls: I was in technical college for engineering and drafting, and over Christmas break, I was looking for a job.” He chuckles as he continues: “You know those signs on bulletin boards you can pull the tabs off of? I pulled down a tab that advertised jobs through the administration building.” He continues: “So I headed over, and when I talked with a counselor, there were two postings available— one at a sprinkler company and one at a truss manufacturer. I applied for both, and the sprinkler company called me back first.” Worsham (now VSC) offered him a position as a design trainee which set Weeks up with a solid start that would spark a lifetime passion. He received training in design from the company and worked his way from designer to design manager (being the youngest to hold the title at the company at age 25). During this time, Weeks also focused on expanding his knowledge of the industry by working up to a NICET Level III certification. In 2010, Weeks decided to make a career move to work for American Fire Protection, Inc., Greenville, South Carolina, where he has worked ever since as a design manager while now also holding a Level IV NICET certification.
Weeks notes that his passion for the industry extends to all facets of his work and that the ever-changing work to-do list is one of the things that fuels his passion for the industry. That, in turn, encourages him to recruit more to join him. He cites loving “every aspect, from meeting clients, designing systems, meeting customers, and being part of an industry dedicated to life safety.” He also mentions that he finds this line of work extremely rewarding and that the small, niche the fire sprinkler community makes it feel more comfortable and more specialized, giving him a sense of expertise he feels he might not find in other lines of work.
Service in South Carolina Weeks began to search for ways to extend this passion beyond the office. His desire and drive to be involved and do more extended beyond just his day-to-day, which is how he became involved with the SCFSA. With a gentle push from his boss and mentor Douglas Greer, SET, Weeks began to attend chapter meetings for SCFSA. Weeks recalls at first meetings were intimidating. “All the attendees were business owners who I didn’t really know and seemed to have it all together.” He continues: “But I attended for over a year and just got to know people over time. I started off just listening at each meeting until I felt comfortable enough to share my own thoughts. Then I started chiming in like a regular.” This growth and willingness to speak up led to Weeks being approached to become a board member for the chapter, and after another year, he became the education committee chairmanship. The following year he was serving as vice-chair for the chapter finally culminating in his election to president, a position he still holds today.
Being president of the SCFSA is a tall order for anyone, but it is also a task that Weeks approaches with excitement and enthusiasm. He divulged that he is “already working on setting classes set up for an August seminar week,” and beyond that is looking for new ways to expand regional offerings from the chapter to create bigger, better, and previously unseen seminars, presentations, conventions and more, even hoping to collaborate with other chapters in the area. And his work doesn’t stop there. Weeks is also actively pouring countless hours into working with the South Carolina State Fire Marshal’s Office to see a change in the South Carolina Sprinkler Act. He and the group he works with are working to build a better relationship with the South Carolina State Fire Marshal’s Office to improve the plan review process for fire sprinkler shop drawings to benefit the fire sprinkler contractors in the area.
Through his time with his chapter working on projects like relationship building with the state fire marshal’s office as well as the more mundane tasks like organizing chapter meetings, he feels being a part of the chapter (as both a member and a leader) really fosters a sense of family in such a niche industry. He mentions his excitement at having had the opportunity to meet people all throughout the region near South Carolina and even nationally and that in meeting these people he’s found a network he truly feels he can rely on instead of constantly feeling that he’s in competition with those around him. Weeks cites that chapter involvement has given him an opportunity to get close to his peers in the local industry and see them as friends and partners whom he can call on for help and advice when it is needed and is glad to be able to provide the same in return in an industry that is frequently driven more by competition.
Meet and Mentor Another big takeaway Weeks shared from his time in the industry is the need and importance of a mentor. Weeks comments that his own mentor Greer has not only mentored him in business but also in his life. He emphasizes that having a mentor “took me from someone who designs fire sprinkler systems to someone who understands the intricacies of this business, AFSA, and even legislation.” Weeks mentions a need to learn from those who came before him to teach, but also a need to reach out to those younger than yourself to get them interested and excited in the industry.
The feeling goes both ways, it seems, as Greer had nothing but glowing things to say about his mentee, Weeks. “He gives what it takes to obtain the best in any task he goes after,” cites Greer. “I appreciate his dedication to the fire sprinkler and fire protection industry.”
With such a glowing review of mentorship, Weeks also encourages anyone starting out in the industry to seek out a mentor and even mentioning the recently launched AFSA NextGen Initiative (NGI) mentoring program which aims to pair young people in the industry with more established industry experts. He acknowledges: “The future of the industry is NextGen and the sooner we get them involved, the better or there won’t be a future for the industry.”
This year, AFSA NGI’s focus is to help young people get started on career paths in an array of craft and technology roles involved in fire prevention which ties in well with Weeks’ adamant belief that everyone in the industry could use a mentor, and those with experience could also really benefit from taking on a mentee. To learn more about the newly-launched mentoring program and take Weeks’ advice for yourself, visit www.firesprinkler.org/mentor.
Recognizing Dedication Weeks is “honored to receive the award,” citing that up until now “[the work] has been a labor of love. It’s all volunteer work on my own time, so getting recognition like this for the hard work that’s been put in—especially on a national stage—is very humbling.”
Weeks is also sure to mention that “I couldn’t do all the work I do without those I work with including Taylor Young, executive director of SCFSA, and Nikki Ray, vice president of the SCFSA.” He also emphasizes, “I want to thank my wife, Kim because she is the one that is having to sacrifice time away from me while I pursue these passions.” He continues: “I really couldn’t do all that I do without her support of all these projects I’m passionate about.”
Nikki Ray, president of RayCo Fire Protection, Easley, South Carolina, and vice president of SCFSA, returned Weeks’ praise saying: “Stuart Weeks is an amazing leader in our industry. He exemplifies what it is to be a young professional. He is always looking for opportunities to educate, expand and, grow not only the SCFSA but the entire fire sprinkler industry. He is one of the best in our industry. My husband Grant Ray and I not only call on him for industry questions, but we have also developed a friendship with him and his wife, Kim. That’s what is so awesome about AFSA is the lifelong friendships that develop. Grant and I are so proud of Stuart’s award and all that he has accomplished. He is the most deserving recipient that we are proud to call our friend.”
Ray isn’t the only one who was extremely enthusiastic to hear about Weeks’ win, though. Joshua Leonhardt, president of Leonhardt Pipe & Supply, Inc in Huntersville, North Carolina nominated Weeks this year and was ecstatic to hear about his win. Leonhardt recalls: “I first met Stuart several years ago at the Carolinas Chapter’s AFSA convention in Myrtle Beach. At the time, I was still a young professional in the industry myself, and I was immediately impressed with Stuart. He is extremely talented, knowledgeable, and devoted to our industry. His commitment to SCFSA and AFSA humbles me and serves as a personal reminder that we can always do a little more to advance our cause. I cannot think of a more deserving candidate this year, and I am proud to be associated with Stuart and everything he’s helped accomplish for our industry.”
“On behalf of all of us at AFSA, we extend our congratulations to Stuart on being named ‘Young Professional of the Year,’” said Nicole Duvall, director of communications & social media and staff liaison to the NextGen Initiative. “For anyone who knows Stuart and has worked with him, this latest achievement comes as no surprise. Stuart exhibits all the characteristics and drive necessary for a successful career, as well as having a passion for fire sprinklers. He is very deserving of this honor.”
This year sees the fourth annual Young Professional of the Year award—awarded by AFSA’s NextGen Initiative (NGI). For four years, AFSA’s NGI has been on a mission to recognize the outstanding talent and achievements of young professionals in the fire sprinkler industry. These young professionals aged 40 and under can be described by a variety of adjectives—movers and shakers, innovators; but by all definitions, NGI’s Young Professional of Year 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 young, talented professionals and inspire companies to invest even more in the development and excellence of the profession.
The fourth annual Young Professional of the Year award will be presented to Weeks during the general reception on Thursday, October 3 at AFSA38: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition in San Diego, California. For more details on AFSA, its NextGen Initiative, or AFSA38, be sure to visit firesprinkler.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Do you know someone who should be nominated for AFSA’s Young Professional of the Year award? If so, nominate them today! AFSA is proud to announce that nominations for this award and other association awards can be done online at www.firesprinkler.org/awards. The deadline is March 31 annually for consideration.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Herring is the communications coordinator for the American Fire Sprinkler Association.