Industry Talent Showcased at National Apprentice Competition
The stage was set. On September 21, 2021, hundreds of onlookers flooded into the bustling exhibit hall at AFSA40: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition in San Antonio, Texas, to watch the 28th Annual National Apprentice Competition hosted by the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA). This annual competition gives seven hopefuls a chance at winning $5,000, tools, and bragging rights for the next year, and the crowd couldn’t be more excited to watch the first competition since 2019.
The competition consists of two phases—a written test taken in spring to qualify as a top apprentice and written and practical exams taken in fall during AFSA’s convention. After the initial written test and outscoring over 100 other apprentice hopefuls to secure a spot as one of the top seven apprentices, Matthew Tyre, Titan Fire Protection, Vista, California, advanced to the competition finals in San Antonio. From there, Tyre tackled his toughest task yet—outscoring the six other contenders to emerge as the top apprentice in the 28th annual competition.
How Did He Get Here
Tyre’s path to 2021’s top apprentice began in January 2018 when Tyre decided to work in the fire protection industry. Inspired by his grandfather, who had been an inspector in California, Tyre was looking for a career that didn’t involve sitting behind a desk, and he immediately felt pulled to fire sprinklers. “I’ve always been a hands-on type of guy, and when I found out that my grandfather worked in fire protection, I looked into it and applied to a few different locations in California.”
You’ve heard the saying, “if it’s meant to be, it will be,” and that’s exactly what happened with Tyre’s fire protection career. After a few initial rejections, Tyre decided to take an interview at a plumbing company that he knew had a fire sprinkler division. “I was hoping I could get my foot in the door with the plumbing job and then ask to be transferred to fire sprinklers.” But fate had something even bigger in mind. On his first day on the plumbing job, Tyre pulled into the parking lot and started chatting with a fellow employee. Tyre mentioned it was his first day in plumbing but that he hoped to transfer to the fire sprinkler division eventually. It turns out he’d managed to meet the superintendent of the sprinkler division and was transferred the very same day.
After getting his feet under him there, Tyre interviewed at Titan Fire Protection. “A former coworker helped me land the interview because he knew [Titan] had an apprentice program and that I was passionate about learning.”
After joining Titan in March 2018, Tyre served as a trainee for his first six months and was then enrolled in the CAFSA apprentice training program. He currently works as an apprentice with the company while still working through the program, which he is expected to complete this year.
His involvement in the apprenticeship program led Tyre to try for the competition. “I had been thinking about it for a couple of years. In 2020 I was a bit insecure about what my results might be and missed the deadline to take the test, but when 2021 rolled around, I was ready.” At this point, Tyre mentions he felt he had a much better grasp on fire sprinkler fitting, the fundamentals, and the practices and procedures of being a sprinkler fitter. “When I saw the deadline coming up, I was encouraged by my employer to take the test.”
Tyre says he spent two-and-a-half months studying and preparing. “I even spent the 10 days leading up to the test doing an hour or two reading each book level, just studying and doing the review questions.” Tyre notes that the refresher was a big help since he is in year four of his apprenticeship, and things from the early books were a bit rusty at times.
Finally, the test day arrived, and Tyre mentions he was “nervous but aware of what was at stake.” After all, 2021 was the last year Tyre would be eligible for the competition, so he knew the stakes couldn’t be higher.
And his hard work paid off in a big way when he got his results—Tyre had landed his place as one of the top seven apprentices in the country. “I went in and did my best [on the test] and wasn’t sure what to expect. I honestly didn’t think I’d done that well,” Tyre recalls. “But then, during our monthly shop meeting in August, at the very end of the meeting, Scott Uren, Titan Fire Protection’s president, made the announcement that I’d advanced in the competition. I was so excited and thankful. It was overwhelming.”
San Antonio Showdown
With his initial advancement secured, Tyre was on his way to the 28th Annual National Apprentice Competition at AFSA40 to compete live. Phase II of the competition consisted 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 the AFSA exhibition hall.
For four hours on Tuesday, September 21, the seven apprentice finalists participated in the live competition by constructing and pressure-testing a miniature sprinkler system in front of a busy exhibition hall. Each finalist was given a drawing of the system and all of the required materials to install it. Finalists then constructed the system, comprised of five sprinklers, onto a 9-ft tall metal frame structure. Competitors had to measure, cut, thread, and use fabricated materials for the installations per the drawing they were provided. This exercise required 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 was joined using one-step solvent cement. After the entire system was installed and allowed to set, it was placed under a static water pressure test of approximately 80 psi, with points deducted for any leaks or pressure drop. During the mini-installation, the apprentices were judged in three areas—accuracy, craftsmanship, and safety—to form their practical score, which was then combined with their written test score to determine the winner.
Tyre noted that “In a way [the live install] feels just like a normal day at work, except the part where the audience has all eyes on you. There is quite a bit of pressure with time management in the hands-on portion, but it is really doable and not too overwhelming. I just knew I had to get it done.”
At the unforgettable Awards Party at Knibbe Ranch later in the evening of September 21, the hard work of the seven national apprentice competitors was recognized, and Matthew Tyre was named the 2021 National Apprentice Competition winner.
“I got nervous when I heard third and second place announced, and I hadn’t heard my name yet,” remembers Tyre. “But when they announced me as the first-place winner, the relief was immediate.” He says he felt the stress and anxiety from the last three months seep out, leaving nothing but excitement and gratitude toward all his coworkers at Titan, his supervisor, and his girlfriend, who was in attendance to see him win.
In addition to joining an exclusive group of past winners, Tyre received a $5,000 grand prize. Looking to the future, Tyre said, “I will continue to work hard. I’m going to finish my apprenticeship this year and continue on full steam.” He also mentions again how grateful he is “to my family, my beautiful girlfriend, my team at Titan, and especially Scott [Uren] for being amazing mentors throughout this journey. I owe a great debt to them for helping me get to where I am today.”
When asked about Tyre, Uren proudly states, “Matthew has always approached every task, assignment, and/or challenge with unparalleled enthusiasm and work ethic. We’re fortunate to have him as a part of our team.”
He continues, “As Matthew finishes out his apprenticeship with CAFSA this year, he continues to excel in both his in-class work, testing, and OJT. Matthew has already started mentoring our newer apprentices, and we are looking forward to having him coach them up for future competitions. With Matthew’s seemingly endless energy, work ethic, and hunger for knowledge, his potential is truly limitless.”
He finishes by congratulating Tyre again on his win, “From the entire TFP Team, congratulations, Matthew! We are incredibly proud of you, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
Connor Jones, Rapid Fire Protection, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah won second place and a $3,000 cash prize, and James Ainey, Cox Fire Protection, Inc., Tampa, Florida, took third place and the $2,000 prize. Honorable mentions received $1,000 prizes: Jonas Cassity, Kobobel Fire Protection, LLC, Windsor, Colorado; Jason Collins, All Fire Solutions, Greenwood, Indiana; Corten Dobesh, Rapid Fire Protection, Inc., Rapid City, South Dakota; and James Rico, Western Fire Protection, Inc., Poway, California.
In addition to the cash prizes and an expense-paid trip to San Antonio to compete at AFSA40, each of the national finalists received a commemorative plaque, tools, and a complimentary convention registration for their employer to attend the convention.
Back to the Beginning
Started in 1994 by the late Robert L. (Bob) McCullough, then chairman of the Apprenticeship & Education Committee, AFSA’s Annual National Apprentice Competition was created to promote apprentice training and give recognition to the apprentices who are actively enrolled in the AFSA apprenticeship program. Nearly 30 years later, the competition continues to bring fire sprinkler apprentices from AFSA local chapters and member training programs from all corners of the United States together in the association’s foremost showcase of excellence in training among future industry leaders.
Enrolling in AFSA’s apprentice training program not only offers excellent education and a fulfilling career, but it is also the gateway to competing in the national competition. Entry forms for this year’s event at AFSA41: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, October 15-19, will be available spring of 2022. For more details, visit firesprinkler.org/competition. To view additional photos of the action, visit AFSA’s Flickr photo page at flickr.com/afsa.
NATIONAL APPRENTICE COMPETITION DONORS
AllSouth Sprinkler Company
BlazeMaster® Fire Protection Systems
Core & Main Fire Protection
Ferguson Fire & Fabrication
Rapid Fire Protection
Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co., Inc.
Ridge Tool Company, (Emerson)
Southeast Fire Protection
Viking Group, Inc.
Viper Tradeshow Service
American Fire Systems, Inc.
Foothill Fire Protection, Inc.
Southeast Fire Protection, L.P.
VSC Fire & Security, Inc.
AFSA Florida Chapter
Bamford Fire Sprinkler Co.
Cen-Cal Fire Systems, Inc.
Titan Fire Protection, Inc.
Vanport Mechanical & Fire Sprinklers, Inc.
American Automatic Sprinkler
Brendle Sprinkler Co.
Diamond Automatic Sprinklers, Inc.
Kaufman Fire Protection
Metro Fire & Safety Equipment Co.
North East Fire Protection Systems, Inc.
Western Fire Protection, Inc.
Capitol Sprinkler Service Corp.
Carolina Fire Control, Inc.
Central Connecticut Fire Protection, Inc.
Cole Fire Protection Services, Inc.
Core & Main Fire Protection
Cox Fire Protection, Inc.
Eagle Sprinkler Co.
Eastern Fire & Safety, LLC
IT&M Division, Inc.
Jimco Fire Protection, Inc.
Loos & Company, Inc.
M and M Fire Protection, Inc.
Milwaukee Valve Co., Inc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Herring is the communications specialist for the American Fire Sprinkler Association.