Inspiration. The actions of a person believed to qualify them to communicate sacred opinions. To understand the depth and breadth of knowledge that the American Fire Sprinkler Association’s (AFSA) Past Chairman of the Board of Directors have brought to leadership conversations since 1981 is to understand why the principles of our organization remain so solid and inspiring at this point in our history. AFSA has been formally led by 18 men over the last 36 years, each drawing from different disciplines to express their abilities in coherent and productive ways depending on the course of the fire sprinkler industry at the time. It’s useful to reflect upon these stalwarts of contracting in an effort to properly identify how AFSA has effectively communicated benefits of success to members as well as their continued influence on the future of inspired programming deliverables.
LeRoy Lemon, C.B. Hall, Harold Black, Willie Templin, Ed Smith, Tom Waller, and Jack Viola – these seven leaders served on the AFSA Board of Directors in our first seven years of existence. AFSA’s first Chairman in 1981, LeRoy Lemon, paved a way for these inspirational individuals to create the organization’s Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, Mission Statement, and other critical documents that set off a series of events which allowed the Association to take shape. The AFSA Bylaws, for example, are consistently referred to by current leadership in an effort to maintain the vision of our inspired founding fathers. Referencing AFSA’s Principles, Primary Objectives, Membership Categories, Organizational Structure, and Procedural Policies, our Bylaws were carefully crafted and maintained with one primary goal in mind: developing programming devoted to the educational and training needs of open shop fire sprinkler contractors.
As has been evident throughout history, however, even the most successful organizations are not immune to economic downturns and/or the threat of outside agencies that don’t share your philosophical ideals. Such was the case in the early 1990s. Fortunately for AFSA, the right leader was positioned to become Chairman of the Board at just the right time – and for a bit longer than was originally intended. The venerable Don Becker joined the Board in 1988 and by 1991 had been elected Chairman. Displaying such tremendous abilities both as an individual fire sprinkler contractor and as a nonprofit trade association volunteer, Don graciously accepted the challenge to serve two consecutive two-year terms as Chairman – something no one else has accomplished for AFSA before or since. As many in our inner circle will contend, Don “saved AFSA” from 1991-1995 in terms of solidifying our financial and organizational structure. The organization is forever grateful for Don Becker’s inspiration and subsequently awarded him a Lifetime Membership as a small token of AFSA’s deep appreciation.
Since the mid-1990s and the stabilization of AFSA’s entity, past Chairmen of the Board include Bob McCullough, Bill Corbin, Bob Rees, Marty Giles, Manning Strickland, Larry Thibodeau, Don Kaufman and Dwight Bateman. Rock solid contributors to the advancement of AFSA’s mission of providing merit shop fire sprinkler contractors with industry-leading training, consulting, communication, representation, and educational advancement. These individuals all rolled up their sleeves and contributed their mastery of a body of knowledge while also offering a historical perspective that proved to be essential to the broad and deep understanding of fire sprinkler contractor members. They did the “work” – volunteered at their national association while at the same time took care of their unique businesses, inspired industry professionals, nurtured families, contributed to their local communities, and perhaps even made a little time to improve their golf games. None of us “have the time” to give back to our industry, per se. Those that “find the time,” however, more often than not are the contractor leaders and pillars of industry that become the most successful individually and professionally. It’s not a coincidence, folks.
Personally, I have had the privilege of working for the two most recent AFSA Board Chairmen – Joe Heinrich and Mike Meehan. Two men who consistently have the following terms said about each of them: integrity, vision, dedication, persistence, kindness, fairness, boldness, and leader. Beginning this year, a quarterly meeting I’ve been able to participate in as President is AFSA’s Past Chairs Committee. Don’t get me wrong, I adore all 20-plus AFSA committees/sub-committees/councils/workgroups… there’s just something about our Past Chairs Committee that makes it my favorite group to sit with every three months. They don’t just discuss current politics of the day, although, with the recent state of activities in Washington D.C., that has definitely been on the menu. Led by Immediate Past Chairman Joe Heinrich, the past chairs share invaluable wisdom and present visionary opportunities for your AFSA staff to execute that tie our rich past into a path for future successes. AFSA members can rely on benefits and services characterized by the integration of recent programming developed by fire sprinkler contractors for fire sprinkler contractors, melded with the ability to draw upon Past Board Chairs and their willingness to provide impactful inspiration.
Frank Mortl III, CAE is president of the American Fire Sprinkler Association.