Who’S WHO in Apprenticeship

Meet the Seven Apprentices Competing at AFSA40

The American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) is proud to host the 28th Annual National Apprentice Competition (NAC) this year at AFSA40: Convention, Exhibition and Apprentice Competition in San Antonio, Texas. This competition allows apprentices representing member companies from across the country to compete in two phases of testing, written and hands-on, for the chance at national recognition and cash prizes. Winning will prove to be no easy feat, however, as this comprehensive two-phase testing approach pushes students to utilize all their fire sprinkler knowledge in both practical and logical ways.

AFSA’s apprentice competition, started in 1994 by the late Robert L. (Bob) McCullough, then chair of the Apprenticeship & Education Committee, was created to promote apprentice training and give recognition to the apprentices who are actively enrolled in the AFSA Apprenticeship program. Twenty-eight years later, the competition continues to attract more fire sprinkler apprentices from AFSA local chapters and member training programs from all corners of the United States, bringing them together annually for the fire sprinkler industry’s foremost showcase of training excellence.

Course to Competition

Eligibility for apprentices to compete is based on the following criteria: their employer must be a member of AFSA in good standing, the apprentice must actively be participating in the AFSA apprenticeship courses or enrolled in the NCCER/AFSA Fire Sprinkler Fitting Training Series, and they must have at least one year of field experience with a minimum of six months combined hands-on experience in cutting, threading, and installing steel pipe and CPVC pipe. 

The first phase of competition consists of a two-hour multiple-choice, written exam provided by AFSA. The test is proctored online, making it accessible to contestants from all 50 states. The results of this test will determine who will go on to participate in the live competition at AFSA40.

The top seven scoring apprentices in Phase I receive the following: a full registration to the convention and a second full registration for their employer; an expense-paid trip to San Antonio to compete; accommodations at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort and Spa; and a brand new set of hand tools to use in Phase II. 

Phase II entails a more thorough written exam given at the convention, followed by a live practical in the exhibition hall at AFSA40 in San Antonio. The Phase II exam is based on all four levels of the AFSA/NCCER Contren Learning Series Sprinkler Fitting curriculum. Following the written exam is the live practical where finalists cut, thread, and install a steel and CPVC piping system with sprinkler heads and perform a water pressure test. 

The mini fire sprinkler systems created are graded on accuracy, craftsmanship, and safety. The combined results of the Phase II written and hands-on tests determine the winner. A lot is on the line for these apprentice hopefuls as prizes are awarded based on finishing rank: first place takes home a $5,000 cash prize, second place receives $3,000, third place receives $2,000, and all other finalists receive $1,000.

Meet the Finalists

This year the nation’s top seven apprentices will make their way to San Antonio to try their luck at becoming the next AFSA National Apprentice Competition champion. Sprinkler Age caught up with each finalist for a quick Q&A to help you get to know the finalists before cheering them on during the live competition. 

James Ainey, Cox Fire Protection, Tampa, FL

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? Personally, I enjoy a good challenge, so the job always switching back and forth between the physical (such as manual labor and physical obstruction) and mental (such as project management and jobsite politics) is engaging. I feel like I am constantly being challenged in new ways.

What does the future of the industry look like to you? Personally, I think the future of the industry is promising. With safety measures and requirements getting more and more strict as society grows, it’s only a matter of time until every new build is required to have a sprinkler system, which will continue to spark growth in the trade and the technology within.

Jonas Cassity, Kobobel Fire Protection, LLC, Windsor, CO

Why did you choose to pursue a career in fire protection?
I chose this field of work because I wanted to follow my father, and I wanted a rewarding job that taught me a valuable trade.

What is the key ingredient to your success? I ask lots of questions and stay focused on the quality of my work.

Jason Collins All Fire Solutions, Greenwood, IN 

Why did you choose to pursue a career in fire protection? I have been a firefighter for 29 years and have worked construction most of my life. Fire protection seemed to be a passion of mine. When I was given the opportunity to pursue two of the things I loved the most, it felt like I was in the right place.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about entering the fire protection trade? The fire protection trade is a very demanding but rewarding career. Never think that the work you do is just good enough; instead, make sure that the job is always done right.

Corten Dobesh, Rapid Fire Protection, Inc., Rapid City, SD

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? I really enjoy working with my coworkers as well as coming across problems to solve or obstacles to overcome in the field. I also really enjoy seeing the finished product of my work.

What is the key ingredient to your success? I am not afraid to fail. I enjoy taking on a challenge and seeing how well I can perform. I work the hardest I can to make sure that my work is clean and looks good, too.

Conner Jones, Rapid Fire Protection, Inc., Salt Lake City, UT

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? I’ve always liked doing things with my hands. It feels good to be able to look back at the end of the day and say, “Look what I accomplished today.” It’s nice to do something that feels this important, and I take it very seriously as what we do can be the difference between life and death.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about entering the fire protection trade? DO IT! I wanted to be an engineer, but the more I looked at it, the less it made sense financially. This trade has so many potential ending roles. Get as much certification, training, and education in as many parts as you can. This makes you valuable anywhere, to any employer, and to yourself!

 James Rico, Western Fire Protection, Poway, CA 

Why did you choose to pursue a career in fire protection? I wanted to learn a trade, and I had a friend already in the industry. He steered me in the direction of fire protection.

What’s the key ingredient to your success? I have a great support system. My foreman and employer put me in a great position to succeed.


Matthew Tyre, Titan Fire Protection, Inc., Vista, CA

What do you enjoy most about the work that you do? Every day is different. My work makes a difference and has an impact on lives when it matters. The community is small and strong. Additionally, I have never met another fitter who didn’t have an honorable motive to be in this industry. People are here because they want to save lives and property!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about entering the fire protection trade? Listen to your foreman, ask questions, and be willing to go above and beyond. This trade is filled with both opportunities and potential for growth.

Come Cheer Them On!

Which of our seven finalists will emerge on top at AFSA’s 28th annual competition? Watch the event live at AFSA40 on the afternoon of September 21 in the exhibition hall. The winner will be crowned at the apprentice awards party at Knibbe Ranch that evening.

AFSA wishes all of our finalists the best of luck! For more information about the competition, or all things AFSA40, visit www.firesprinkler.org/AFSA40.


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