Why It Matters
The American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) was founded 40 years ago based predominately on the need for training merit shop fire sprinkler fitters. It was the rallying cry of common interest and a basic need for open shop sprinkler contractors across the USA, but that wasn’t the only reason for sprinkler contractors coming together to form what would become the industry-leading association we enjoy today.
I may be preaching to the choir, so to speak, but it’s important that we remind people why their participation is important and encourage each of our members to help us grow stronger by renewing and by encouraging others to join AFSA.
It’s no secret that members and non-members all benefit from the actions of their industry’s trade associations, but let’s start with a look at some of the obvious, direct benefits:
• Shared technical, political, business, and product information;
• Continuing education;
• Networking opportunities;
• Access to resources beyond what most individual companies can provide;
• Professional development opportunities and certifications;
• Strength in numbers—you’re not in this alone;
• Best practices and experiences shared between members;
• Building relationships with others, including Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)s;
• Preventing unfair competition through education;
• Industry promotion through legislative work;
• Legal advice (members get a 60-minute consultation with AFSA’s labor attorney free of charge);
• Dispute resolution assistance;
• Sharing new ideas, and
• Promoting the regional interest of members.
Over the past 40 years, your AFSA has expanded and developed new and revised programs to support membership. We provide an exemplary fire sprinkler fitter apprenticeship program, the industry-standard ITM 20-month training program, and our two-week basic sprinkler design school. Our technical support group has grown substantially to meet the growing needs of our membership, and under the direction of John August Denhardt, P.E., FSFPE, we’ve doubled in size and we’re on the precipice of introducing exciting new programs support and grow your business.
We’ve taken our Beginning Fire Sprinkler System Planning School on the road, making it easier for members without having to send participants to Dallas… but even more exciting is that we’re on track to launch AFSA’s Intermediate Fire Sprinkler System Planning School in 2021’s third quarter. This new program is planned to include CAD and REVIT in addition to expanded technical design topics, including greater insight on fire pumps, standpipes, storage occupancies, and design options. There will be a more advanced review of hydraulic calculations. If that doesn’t excite you, we’re planning to introduce VR (virtual reality) training into our intermediate design school as well as our ITM training program to enhance the “hands-on” experience where physical labs or on-site training opportunities are not available.
We continue to find opportunities for hands-on training through partnerships with companies that have functional labs like our friends at General Air Products, SPP Pumps, and others. We’re developing plans to create our own training facility when our current lease expires (in Dallas) and we relocate to a building that will better serve the training needs of our members.
Let’s talk about legislation. If 2020 hasn’t been strange enough, consider the recent election results and think about whether it will impact your business and our industry. President-elect Biden has made no secret of his support for unions and union labor while promising to be a president for all Americans, including those who supported him as well as those who didn’t. Personally, I hope he keeps that promise because, like you, I’m an American first and pray for the success of our government and our representatives, regardless of which party holds power. However, as president of a trade association whose primary mission is the support merit shop sprinkler contractors, I am concerned about the potential threat to the business model of the majority of our members and especially the security of the 22 states where “right-to-work” laws exist. It is not a reach to think we will need to defend these laws over the course of these next few years.
2021 holds the promise of a return to normal as it relates to COVID-19 with vaccines and vaccinations. But what will the new normal look like for our industry? Will we see a return to past norms such as strict enforcement of ITM requirements in hospital and healthcare facilities, or will we continue to see a relaxation of requirements to keep facilities’ visitors to a minimum? Will business and leisure travel resume, or will we continue to see a decline in the hospitality vertical markets? Will people continue to attend meetings virtually, or will we see the new normal include a hybrid style of meetings?
I don’t have a crystal ball to answer these questions but what I know is that your AFSA will continue to be on the front lines to assist the membership in dealing with whatever our collective future holds. We cannot do these things without your help! Our strength lies with our membership, and while I know 2020 has been a tough year for us all, I want to encourage you to continue your membership and to reach out to your peers to encourage them to join or rejoin our ranks.
We’re all in this together, and while many of our members do compete in the open market, we are a team. We are Team AFSA, and without your support through active regional and national membership, we cannot lead the way forward. As the “new guy,” I am asking every member to take a new look at your membership level and move up to the appropriate level if your business has changed since you originally joined or reviewed your membership status. We’re not asking you to choose between membership and other essential needs. We need you, regardless of your level of participation, and we appreciate every member equally!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bob Caputo, CFPS, is president of AFSA. He currently serves as chair of NFPA 24/291 Private Water Supply Piping Systems committee and as an alternate member of NFPA 13 Sprinkler System Installation Criteria committee. Caputo has written and presented seminars throughout the world on fire protection and life-safety systems and has developed AFSA and NFPA education and training materials.