What Does an Association Do for the Industry?

The Importance of Committees 

If you read Nikki Ray’s article in the last edition of Sprinkler Age, you were given a great example of what it means to be an active member of an association—our association—the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA). Being an active member can have several different meanings: attending your local chapter meetings, being on your local chapter board, attending the convention, or being involved on the national level with the committees or the Board of Directors. How do you want to be involved? 

The AFSA national committees are the base of our association. With the help of AFSA staff, a lot happens that our members don’t see. Let’s explore what happens with our quarterly meetings. To start, we have an extensive list of meetings that we somehow manage to squeeze into two days: Apprenticeship & Education, Budget & Finance, Bylaws, Chapter Grants, CLSE (Center for Life Safety and Education), Contractor Support & Advisory, Convention, Convention Site Selection, Insurance and Safety, Legislative, Manufacturers/Suppliers (M/S) Council, Membership & Chapter Development, NextGen Initiative, Nominating, Past Chairs, and Public Education & Awareness. 

Each committee is comprised of contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers who volunteer their time to further our industry and association. We could probably write a book if we got into the details of each one, so I’ll highlight some of the projects that have come out of this hard work that I think really encompass AFSA. 

AFSA was proud to graduate its inaugural class of the ITM Inspector Development Program in November 2017. Since then, three more classes have graduated.

The Apprenticeship & Education (A&E) Committee oversees AFSA training, education, and the annual National Apprentice Competition. Each one of the volunteers on this committee contributes to AFSA’s training manuals and tools. The latest accomplishment—the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance (ITM) Inspector Development Program, took years of writing by industry experts. With the help of AFSA Director of Education Leslie Clounts, the program was able to come to fruition a couple of years ago. Less than two years of blended training, to include on-demand and webinar instruction, as well as live classroom, lab, and field instruction, plus NICET exam prep, can lead your techs to NICET II certification. 

The A&E committee members also organize and judge the annual apprentice competition. Throughout the year, leading up to the competition, they are sourcing material, evaluating the structures to make sure they’re in good shape, reviewing the drawings to make sure there are no mistakes, and selecting judges. They work tirelessly for nine to 10 months every year to make sure the competition runs smoothly and fairly. 

Bridget and Kevin McCloskey’s new home features a residential sprinkler system. (Sprinkler head cover plate located in upper right-hand corner.)

Public Education & Awareness (PE&A) truly has the heart of the industry. There is nothing more important than educating the public about fire sprinklers. My two favorite projects that stemmed from PE&A are the contract with Homes for our Troops (HFOT) and the partnership with the American Red Cross. 

Homes for our Troops is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to build and donate specially adapted custom homes nationwide for severely injured post-9/11 Veterans, to enable them to rebuild their lives.” These homes have low cabinets and countertops, non-slip bathroom tiles, custom appliances, and, most importantly, some of these houses have fire sprinklers! Our exclusive contract currently covers all houses in states and local jurisdictions that have residential sprinkler requirements or the Veteran can request fire sprinklers if there is no local requirement. Paulene Norwood, executive director for AFSA’s Sacramento Valley Chapter, spearheaded this initiative and attended HFOT’s annual meeting in Boston in April. 

“The Homes for our Troops Veterans Conference was a wonderful opportunity to see the vetting process for Veteran candidates that may receive homes,” comments Norwood. “Our AFSA representatives were given information on the home build process, were able to view floor plans and interact with the Veterans where we explained our association, what our industry does, and how we save lives.” 

If you would like more information on volunteering on a HFOT home project, you can contact Norwood via email at paulenesacvalleyafsa@gmail.com. You can also read a recent HFOT-related story in the March/April 2019 issue of Sprinkler Age, where AFSA members and the Schuylkill Chapter donated a residential sprinkler system for a HFOT home for U.S. Army Cpl. Kevin McCloskey and his wife Bridget. 

The American Red Cross’s Sound the Alarm campaign is a newer partner for AFSA). For every year that AFSA members raise $10,000 for the American Red Cross, the organization provides information on fire sprinklers in the information they hand out to homeowners and on their website that sees more than 1,000,000 unique visitors a year. The reach for this education is so much larger than we can do by ourselves as an organization. To donate to this campaign go to redcross.org/afsa-pub. 

Lastly, my favorite meeting every quarter is the NextGen Initiative (NGI). Although it’s not an official committee, we operate just as an official committee does. This group of young, ambitious, sprinkler-loving people are all under the age of 40 working hard for the industry and for AFSA. 

Katie Meehan, director of marketing for VSC in Ashland, Virginia, describes her first year: “Being involved with NGI has taught me so much about the industry. Being able to have the opportunity to work alongside people from all over the country with different perspective, insight, and experience has been so rewarding. The skills I’ve learned through NGI have made me a better employee for VSC, and a bigger advocate for the industry and all that we stand for.” 

In the short time we’ve been operating, we’ve worked on getting the under-40 crowd more involved locally and nationally. We have created a step-by-step guide for career fairs and recruiting the next generation of fire sprinkler professionals, created and chosen the Young Professional of the Year Award recipient, and developed our latest project— our Mentor Program. The Mentor Program is something we’ve been working on for a few years. The complexities of the program proved to be challenging to implement but we believe we’ve created something that is going to be hugely successful for AFSA and for the industry. This program aims to pair young people in the industry with more established industry experts. Members are paired across membership territories. Learn more about this program on page 56 of this issue, and if you’re interested in participating, you can sign up for this free program as a mentor or a mentee by visiting https://www.firesprinkler.org/mentor. 

This only scratches the surface of what AFSA does for its members. We are always finding new ways to promote the industry and training within the industry. If you are interested in volunteering your time for any of the committees, contact the national office in Dallas by calling (214) 349-5965 or visiting firesprinkler.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Meaghen Wills does sales and project management for Anchor Fire Protection, Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania. She received her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Hartford and is a graduate of AFSA’s Beginning Fire Sprinkler System Planning School. Wills serves as chair of the NextGen Initiative; chairs AFSA’s Schuylkill Chapter; and is a member of AFSA’s Public Education & Awareness, Apprenticeship & Education, and Convention committees. 

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