The AFAA: Who We Are and What We Do

The AFAA has been around for over 55 years, although AFAA basically only worked within NFPA Committees for the first 35 years. AFAA started to grow in 1987 when Larry Neibauer was hired. Larry’s job was to grow the association by working with local companies to start Member Associations. One of the primary goals was to be an industry watchdog on the national codes and standards. The goals of the Member Associations are to influence local codes and standards to bring the level of the playing field up to a higher level. Today AFAA has approximately 1000 members with 18 Member Associations, with others in either an organizational or re-organizational status.

Tom Hammerberg took over as President/Executive Director when Larry Neibauer passed away. Tom was with AFAA for over 20 years. He started as the Training Director and has seen the peaks and the valleys of our association. Collectively, Tom and the National Board of Directors tried to improve our association and make being a member worthwhile. One of the items the AFAA is actively improving is communications with our members and Member Associations. AFAA still has a long way to go, but it already is 100% better than it was in the past. AFAA is actively trying to improve membership benefits; a major challenge is our own membership categories, which consists of both individual and company memberships. Each person who is a member, regardless of whether they are an individual or a company, will be able to be identified and will have benefits not available to non-members. We are still working to improve this process.

One of the strongest reasons for supporting the AFAA is our involvement in the codes and standards arena. Without AFAA’s work, there would be a lot fewer fire ALARMS and a lot more fire SPRINKLERS in the codes, we are not against fire sprinklers, however, we believe fire protection must be balanced with detection, suppression and proper construction. The Board, our members and Tom are very active with the ICC and NFPA. If AFAA is not there getting to know the players, and them getting to know us, and speaking in defense of fire alarms and smoke detectors, who will? Anyone who makes a living building, installing, selling or servicing fire alarm systems needs to support AFAA if they wish to continue building, installing, selling or servicing fire alarms. If you don’t believe this, come to the code meetings and listen to how many proposals recommend not having smoke detectors or pull stations when sprinklers are installed. Trade offs are becoming too abundant! Life Safety has three legs, Active Detection, Active Suppression and Passive Suppression or Building Construction, the loss of any one of the legs will weaken Life Safety in America.

Now, one of the big issues with AFAA’s involvement in the codes and standards arena has been the perception of how AFAA decides what to support and what not to support. AFAA has a Codes and Standards Committee that spearheads our involvement. Controversial issues are discussed at Board Meetings – which are open to all members. In addition, all proposals supported by AFAA must meet certain criteria to ensure they are good for the industry and do not promote any special interest or product. The AFAA Codes and Standards Committee Policy is available on the AFAA website. In the past, AFAA has not done a very good job of soliciting input from our Member Associations and members, or done a very good job providing information about WHY we support a position. We have become more proactive in this area and WILL be becoming more so in the upcoming code cycles. AFAA now has quarterly conference calls with our Member Association Presidents to discuss Member Association issues. This will be a big topic in the upcoming months. Our MEMBERS always have input regarding AFAA positions that affect the industry.

AFAA does promote NICET – as well as other THIRD PARTY certifications such as that from IMSA (Interior Fire Alarm I & II) and NFPA’s CFPS programs. Why? Because AFAA believes that certification is an effective way to demonstrate competency and improve quality in our industry. It is not a way just to generate revenue. One of the biggest complaints we hear about is trying to compete with the trunk slammers of the industry. We need to bring them up to our level – not lower ourselves to theirs.

Education is extremely important to our industry. AFAA offers discounts to members and AHJs – a REAL benefit. Our courses are some of the best in the field and we DO NOT just do this so someone can make a living at it. The only way we will improve the conditions of our industry is to improve the education level and programs – and we intend to be a leader, not a follower.

We offer technical help in finding code requirements and offering informal interpretations. We offer this as a member benefit, but admittedly have offered it to anyone who calls. In the near future we will offer FREE advice only to members and all AHJ’s, but non-members will have to join to get this information. That will make that a REAL member benefit. We don’t need to offer a clearinghouse for formal interpretation – that is what NFPA does. However if there is a problem with the process, AFAA CAN help to get that rectified.

We have polled our members for their input. We had a Membership survey that went out two years ago to define what is important. We will be sending out another one soon and the information will be available to all members.

The Member Association Boards and Officers as well as the National Board and Officers feel that AFAA is an excellent organization that CAN help make a difference. We can’t do it without members or member support. So if you think we can help you, join us. More important, if you think you can help us, JOIN.

The AFAA List Server is  back up and operating. Only members can log in.

The AFAA started this list about 18 years ago as a means for the industry to ask for help, find information about fire alarm issues, get informal interpretations of what the code says and share experiences with our jobs and the codes. The AFAA welcomes constructive input from members as well as nonmembers. If you do not like the way the system runs or how codes and standards are written, become part of the solution.

To join the AFAA List Server follow this link to the National AFAA and look to the lower left of the home page to sign in with your email address. You have the option of getting each message as it’s posted or getting the digested version once a day. We have many members with some very good advice, as with any list server, some with less good advice.

Remember, the only stupid question is the one you do not ask!