It’s No Secret — The National Apprentice Competition Highlights the Best in the Industry
This year marks the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA)’s 30th Annual National Apprentice Competition. This year’s live, in-person competition will be held in the exhibit hall at AFSA42: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition September 6-9, 2023, at the Signia by Hilton Bonnet Creek in Orlando.
HISTORY OF COMPETITION
AFSA’s Annual National Apprentice Competition (NAC) was created in 1994 by the late Robert L. McCullough, then chair of the Apprenticeship & Education Committee, to promote apprentice training and give recognition to the apprentices who are actively enrolled in the AFSA apprenticeship program. Each year, the competition continues to attract more fire sprinkler apprentices from AFSA local chapters and member training programs from all corners of the United States, bringing them together for the fire sprinkler industry’s foremost showcase of training excellence. Enrolling your apprentices in AFSA’s apprentice training program not only offers excellent education and a fulfilling career, but it is also the ticket to competing in the AFSA apprentice competition.
The competition consists of two portions: a written test based on all four levels of AFSA/NCCER Contren® Learning Series Sprinkler Fitter curriculum, followed by a live competition practical in front of a live audience in the AFSA exhibition hall at AFSA42.
“The National Apprentice Competition is one of the significant ways that AFSA showcases its mission to educate, train, and promote the industry,” says the 2023 chair of AFSA’s National Apprentice Competition Brett Heinrich, Bamford Fire Sprinkler, Inc., Salina, Kansas. “Apprentices from across the county enter the competition to vie for one of seven available spots and compete nationally at our annual convention against their peers, directly putting their education, training, and other abilities on display in front of a live audience. This opportunity tests what they have learned and their mettle in a variety of ways. It is an experience they will never forget.”
AFSA will once again utilize online testing for Phase I of the two-phase competition. This testing method provides many benefits for those competing. The system increases the convenience of testing for all apprentices. Apprentices schedule a time during the testing window and test online when and where it is convenient for them. Digital testing continues to streamline the testing process for all involved and allows more apprentices than ever before the opportunity to raise the stakes by participating in the competition.
Phase II of the competition occurs during AFSA’s annual convention and consists of two portions: a second written test, followed by a live competition practical in the AFSA exhibition hall.
During the live competition, competitors construct and pressure-test a miniature sprinkler system in front of a packed exhibit hall. Each finalist is given a drawing of the system and all the required materials to install it. Finalists then construct the system, comprised of five sprinklers, onto a 9-ft tall metal frame structure. Competitors must measure, cut, thread, and use fabricated materials for the installations per the drawing they are provided. This exercise requires pipe threading, math, and pipe make-up skills to complete the mini-system within the four-hour time limit. The CPVC section of the system is joined using one-step solvent cement. After the entire system is installed and allowed to set, it is placed under a static water pressure test of approximately 80 psi, with points deducted for any leaks or pressure drop. During the mini-installation, apprentices are judged in the three areas—accuracy, craftsmanship, and safety—to form their practical score, which is then combined with their written score to determine the winner.
NAC IS A WIN-WIN
The NAC offers a little something for everyone, from the excitement that can rock a whole company to the personal victories each apprentice experiences throughout the competition and testing. New apprentices feel the excitement and a healthy sense of competition with their peers at the prospect of winning top prizes and accolades for their companies, and companies benefit by having an extremely well-trained, efficient, and more motivated workforce. Even those who are not participating in the competition have the motivation of seeing hardworking apprentices continue to strive to improve the industry and its reputation for all. The competition has been and remains an important reminder of training and industry excellence that shines throughout the year and is a hallmark of AFSA conventions.
SHOWCASE YOUR APPRENTICES
AFSA invites all interested apprentices enrolled in its apprenticeship training program to participate—this year, the winner could be you! Besides an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando to compete at AFSA42, each of the top seven national finalists will receive a commemorative plaque, tools, cash prizes, and a complimentary convention registration for their employer. Winners will be announced at the ever-popular Awards Party at the Signia by Hilton Bonnet Creek, where attendees will enjoy live entertainment, delicious food, and other activities.
Last year’s competitors were Tyler Amundson, Rapid Fire Protection, Rapid City, South Dakota; Andrew Callahan, A & D Fire, Spokane, Washington; Matthew Comp, Diamond Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., Mt. Holly Springs, Pennsylvania; Jacob Hanson, Security Fire Sprinkler, Sauk Rapids, Minnesota; Daniel Kohler, Western Fire Protection, Poway, California; Andrew Lynch, Johnson Controls, Inc., Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Antonio Rosario, Titan Fire Protection, Inc., Vista, California.
After all was said and done, Hanson rose to the top and was named the winner of the 2022 competition. When asked why he decided to enter, Hanson said, “I saw it as an opportunity to just learn more. I didn’t expect to win at all. I was just excited to test myself with the initial test, and then when I got in, I was really excited to see the convention and try to take in as much as I could and learn about the industry.”
Competing in the finals offered more than just the chance to test Hanson’s knowledge and skills. As he says, “Going to the convention really opened my eyes. It showed me how much opportunity there is. Before that, I just saw myself as becoming a foreman, and that was kind of the end of the road. Apparently, there are ways to get involved with AFSA and my local chapter. I don’t know much about that, but I’ll probably look into it. I’m just going to keep trying to learn as much as I can.”
When asked about Hanson, Taylor Schumacher, Hanson’s supervisor, comments, “Jake is very self-motivated. He wants to succeed and deliver a product that he can be proud of. He takes a lot of pride in the quality and quantity of work that he can do day in and day out.”
Do you have what it takes? Enter today for the chance to cheer on your apprentices in Orlando! The deadline to register for this year’s competition is May 12, 2023. To learn more, visit firesprinkler.org/afsa-national-apprentice-competition/.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sydney Richardson is communications specialist with AFSA.