Dallas-based American Fire Sprinkler Association named Debra N. McGuire as the association’s new president and CEO this year. Established in 1981, AFSA and its federation of 32 chapters serve as North America’s largest fire sprinkler industry organization.
pme spoke with McGuire about how AFSA can continue to provide guidance and support to its team of engineers and other professionals who are dedicated to serving the membership comprised of contractors, designers, manufacturers, suppliers and authorities having jurisdiction.
pme: How did your previous professional experiences prepare you for your new role as president and CEO of AFSA?
DB: Since 1989, my passion has revolved around helping nonprofit organizations be successful in “living the vision” of carrying out their mission. With three decades of experience in association management and nonprofit operations, along with an MBA and leadership at the national level through the American Society of Association Executives, I bring extensive knowledge and business acumen that provides volunteer leadership, staff, and other stakeholders with the insight, inspiration and support necessary to achieve favorable outcomes.
Having served in leadership positions at four other associations prior to beginning my tenure with AFSA, including the Michigan Manufacturers Association and Michigan Townships Association, I have learned how to engage with the various industry sectors that I have represented, and in understanding their specific needs. Being a visionary that can lead with integrity and implement results-oriented strategic plans is absolutely essential to my role at AFSA.
pme: What is the biggest issue concerning fire sprinkler design and use in the U.S?
DB: The biggest issue is the lack of fire sprinkler designers. As with every trade, finding and attracting young people, or those seeking a second career, to consider working in our industry is critical to our future.
As part of our NextGen Initiative, AFSA is committed to recruiting and engaging the future generations of the fire sprinkler industry. Once we identify those who are interested in our trade, getting them up to speed is the next step. In addition to on-the-job training provided by employers, AFSA offers an intensive two-week design school every other month, which provides a huge jump on understanding design for the occupancy hazard approach.
Relative to use, we see an ongoing need to assist AHJs in becoming more knowledgeable about fire sprinkler design and usage. For many years, our 501(c)(3) educational affiliate, the Center for Life Safety Education (CLSE), has offered continuing education and training for AHJs. We would like to see an uptick in the number of AHJs utilizing this resource and partner in additional ways to enhance understanding.
pme: What plans or goals do you have for AFSA’s educational programming in the coming years?
DB: Over the last 38 years, we have expanded programming to include our apprenticeship training series, fire sprinkler system planning school, NICET prep courses, labor relations training for supervisors and managers, and correspondence courses for designers, fitters and foremen. One of the newer programs that we’ve launched is our ITM Inspector Development Program — and we’re seeing demand for that as contractors recognize the importance of a well-trained ITM service team and the liability they can incur without one. We will also continue to invest resources into our annual AFSA Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition so that contractors and other attendees from around the world find added value in the technical and business management training offered each year.
Our goal is to keep our content current with industry standards and practices, along with delivering content in meaningful ways. To that point, AFSA will be updating our materials over the coming years, while creating more effective ways to address the changing learning needs of those whom we serve. You will see our online presence growing, with more webinars being offered. You’ll also find AFSA strengthening partnerships with our chapters and affiliates to bring training directly to those who benefit from both in-person learning and growing their local network. Our education and technical teams are working hand-in-hand to observe the trends and find out where the greatest needs are — along with the most appropriate content-delivery methods.
pme: What are some of the key resources or opportunities that AFSA provides that plumbing engineers should be aware of?
DB: AFSA offers online training materials that plumbing engineers may find of value, depending on the specific knowledge or information they seek (www.firesprinkler.org).
AFSA welcomes exploring ways that our association can continue to grow our relationship with the engineering community.