What is an Association and Why Should I be Involved?
An association, defined, is a group of people with a joint interest. It is safe to say that the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) has a common interest, and important one at that—saving lives and property with the use of fire sprinklers.
My journey with AFSA began when I was introduced to Stuart Weeks, then vice chairman of the South Carolina Fire Sprinkler Association (SCFSA) at the 2017 North Carolina/South Carolina Joint Convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I expressed my desire in getting more involved in my local chapter and the organization. Stuart simply advised, “start coming to our meetings.” I took his advice, and through my persistence, have been actively involved in my local SCFSA chapter ever since.
Through my membership/leadership in this organization, I have had the privilege of participating in many events as well as serving on the SCFSA board of directors as vice chairwoman. Most recently, I’ve joined the national AFSA NextGen Initiative (NGI). My experience has taught me that the more time you invest in your local chapter, the more benefits and industry knowledge you gain. I strongly believe that industry participation and involvement in AFSA separates those who truly have a passion for the industry from those who are just in the industry.
Being involved at the local level has allowed me to gain deep insight into the industry. Through meeting other contractor members I’ve found that local and national chapter members come together to help one another solve industry issues. The association gives strength in numbers when speaking and engaging lawmakers, fire marshals, or Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). It is often easy to dismiss one contractor’s issue, but the collective voice of the association is difficult to ignore. As vice chairwoman of SCFSA, I am diligent about making myself available to help members to the best of my ability. Whether by providing an informal interpretation from AFSA national to a local AHJ or through connecting members and vendors, I am here to serve. AFSA offers exceptional support to members including a plethora of resources such as webinars, training, informal interpretations, legislative support, conventions, and apprentice competitions, among many others.
The greatest benefit of being an active member in my local chapter is giving back to charities that matter. A common interest of all AFSA chapters is joining together for amazing causes with exceptional outcomes. Last year, I was invited to attend the AFSA Virginia Chapter’s 25th Annual Golf Tournament benefiting the Central Virginia Burn Camp and the Old Dominion Firefighters Burn Foundation. The two-day event—a casino night dinner and next-day golf tournament—was not only fun but truly heartwarming and inspiring. When the guest speaker Katy Lawalin, a child burn victim camper turned adult counselor, spoke she clearly expressed the huge impact that the Virginia Chapter’s donations have made at the camp. While I was there, I spoke to George Wagner, executive director of the chapter at the time, and told him how inspiring the event was. His advice was, “Find a good charity that you are passionate about. Put all your efforts in the fundraising event, and your chapter could make a huge impact in many people’s lives.” We at the SCFSA Chapter are following suit.
SCFSA has held two successful fishing tournaments notably called “Angling to the Rescue.” Stuart Weeks chose the Children’s Shriners Hospital as the recipient of the funds raised from the tournament. We have donated $8,500 over the past two years to the Children’s Shriners Hospital.
The “Pull for a Cure” clay shoot tournament benefiting Lung Force with the American Cancer Society is on schedule for its second year, hosted by our local chapter. We recently lost a beloved vendor with Ferguson Fire, Angie Lee, due to her battle with lung cancer last year. SCFSA Executive Director Taylor Young was very close to Angie. The clay shooting tournament benefitting Lung Force as the charity was an honorable way for SCFSA to remember Angie. The event raised $5,000 for Lung Force in 2018.
Becoming an active member in my local AFSA chapter has given me the opportunity to gain industry friends across the country through attending the many events and conferences available. When we reunite it is much more like a family reunion than a stiff business meeting.
This year my husband Grant Ray, my father-in-law Wayne Ray, and I ventured out and started our own fire protection company, RayCo Fire Protection. First on our agenda was to join AFSA national and our local SCFSA chapter. The return on investment is worth more than its weight in gold. Having a network of support throughout AFSA has truly been priceless. With my husband being a second-generation fire sprinkler contractor and myself a NextGen member, I feel our duty is to shed light on the importance for our generation, the association, and to continue doing our part towards the sense of community that AFSA has built over the years. Further, the recruitment not only for our industry but for the local and national AFSA chapters is of the utmost importance. I encourage everyone, new and old members alike, to join and participate in your respective chapters to reap the same benefits I have been so lucky to have received.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nikki Ray is president of RayCo Fire Protection, Easley, South Carolina, and a member of national AFSA’s NextGen Initiative. She and her husband Grant were proud to attend AFSA’s inaugural Capitol Hill Day in Washington, DC to advocate on behalf of the fire protection industry. Ray can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: AFSA’s NextGen Initiative is a workgroup for fire protection industry professionals aged 40 and under. For more information visit firesprinkler.org/nextgen.