Sometimes in the course of the day, news comes in, or a comment or gesture takes place that makes me take pause and appreciate all the encounters and all the people that I have crossed paths with along the way. Sometimes it is meeting a new hire on his or her first day; sometimes it is sad news and the jolt of someone passing. Sometimes it is an old sprinkler joke heard by someone for the first time. It is good to go back and reflect, to laugh with and to appreciate and respect those who make up our journey.
There was Skid Rowe, a giant of a man who told me to pull a makeup round on a chain tong wrapped around a piece of 6-in. threaded Schedule 40. I pulled and pulled, my feet came off the ground and I could barely make it budge. He gave me a wry smile, brushed me aside and with a cigarette hanging off his lip pulled the pipe into the fitting another full 360 degrees. Pipe chain tongs – good thing we don’t see them much anymore.
There was the new designer who had been with us a couple of days and went to lunch; he is yet to return.
There was my design mentor Dennis Barnes, a frustrated mathematician and a brilliant designer. This was back in the day when we drew with mechanical lead pencils and had electric erasers. No CAD, no BIM, no fax machines, just drafting tables and blue print rolls the size of small trees. He drew the outline of the building, the interior walls and the ceiling grid on the back of the Mylar, would flip it over and then design the entire sprinkler system on the perfectly clean front of the Mylar. His electric eraser might not go off all day. The lettering was flawless, the width of the lines never wavered. It was art to my eye and, best of all, the pipe always fit. I learned a ton from him and it was humbling as I had eraser shavings all around my table and a hard enough time drawing on the front of the Mylar much less the back.
This past week as I was going through some daily routines, I was starkly reminded to appreciate the people around me and all my encounters. I got one of those phone calls that gives you a jolt and makes you take pause. A man with a quick smile who had I had known for 19 years, a man who started in our shop and went on to become one of our best fitters, was killed in a motorcycle accident. On top of the world one day and gone the next. Very sad, he was a great father, fitter and friend to many. The funeral for this 43-year-old man was extraordinary – sprinkler men and a long line of sprinkler trucks filled the funeral home parking lot, hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles led a roaring procession that was a sight to behold. He will not be forgotten.
Michael F. Meehan, senior vice president and a co-owner of VSC Fire & Security, Virginia Beach, Virginia, is Chairman of the American Fire Sprinkler Association’s (AFSA) 2015-2016 Board of Directors, leading the association into its 36th year serving the interests of fire sprinkler contractors across the country. A 1981 graduate from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Meehan began his fire sprinkler career working summers as a pipe fitter apprentice. He is a NICET Level IV Certified Engineering Technician in Water-Based (formerly Automatic Sprinkler) Systems Layout and has more than 30 years’ experience in sprinkler design engineering, estimating, project management and senior management.