Live at the NAFED conference in New Orleans in May 2024, Drew got a chance to chat with outgoing NAFED president Aaron Dickens and incoming president Allen Quirk about where the organization has been and what to expect in the future.

The conferences in 2024 were bigger and better than ever, Aaron and Allen shared with Drew. “We looked at the conference attendance rate, and it’s never been as high as this year,” Aaron explains. “We’re not just the portable extinguisher group anymore.” The organization is growing and expanding to meet today’s market needs–and the conference is just one example of that in action. “The networking and the interaction here is what really is so valuable with an association like this and a group like this,” says Allen.

Watch or listen to this quick episode of The Fire Protection Podcast for an inside look at the challenges facing fire protection professionals and how associations like NAFED are addressing them.

Timecodes:

  • 00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:55 – Presidential Transition
  • 02:02 – The Evolution of NAFED
  • 3:20 – NAFED Resources
  • 05:18 – The Next Generation
  • 6:59 – NAFED’s Expansion

 

Full Transcript

Drew Slocum:
Really excited to be here at the NAFED Conference & Expo, here with the Fire Protection Podcast in New Orleans. Really cool expo inside as well as two days, two-three days, of trainings and seminars. So…All right, thanks guys for stopping by this little impromptu Fire Protection Podcast. We’re here obviously at NAFED, as I said earlier, the last of three events, and this is, I guess the last event where the transition of presidency happens. So right. Yeah. So we got Aaron Dickens from Columbia Fire and Allen Quirk from Paraclete/Rapid. Yeah, thanks for making this happen guys. Yeah, you’re welcome. 

Allen Quirk:
So Aaron’s finishing his term, ‘22 to ‘24. 

Aaron Dickens:
Yep. I’ve been on the board of NAFED since 2017. This chair role ends up, it’s a two year term, so it ends up Friday and I pass the reins over to Allen. It’s been a great experience for me.

Allen Quirk:
Yeah, I start that role as the chair, and I just am finishing my term for the last three years as the region six director, which is the west coast for NAFED. So, looking very much forward to the opportunity here with this association. I’ve been coming to these meetings for 43 years. 

Drew Slocum:
Oh no way. Really? 43 years. 

Allen Quirk:
My first one was Atlantic City, a long, long time ago. So yeah, it’s very exciting to be in that role. And, good news for me is Aaron now stays on as a past chair. So he is in that role for a year plus all of the others that have been along with NAFED all these years, all the chairs and the past chairs, vice chairs. There’s a lot of support there with our health. And we’ve got NAFED, Danny and all his staff that just do such a great job of putting these events here, which makes it very nice for everybody.

Drew Slocum:
In the 43 years–I mean, that’s a long time. What has the association kind of evolved to, but also, how has it helped you guys, personally and professionally over the years?

Allen Quirk:
Well, I would say one of the biggest things is all of the new electronic items that have now been coming to our industry. The five-pound extinguisher looks the same as it did. There’s not much difference in any of that as far as the make, the model, the type–the ratings have increased on some. Other than that, it’s the same. But as far as the value, what I’ve found is the opportunity to talk to people that come here and say, “Hey, I’ve got this problem. Have you ever experienced it?” And sure enough, they just dealt with it and they solved it. So the networking and the interaction here is what really is so valuable with an association like this and a group like this from around the country. Because it’s not your competitor. So you don’t mind sharing with him, alright, what it is that you’re doing or what you learned or you’re asking him. And so that’s a big thing.

Drew Slocum:
Yeah. And it’s obviously split up into three regions. Got to do that. 

Aaron Dickens;
I think some people know about NAFED just because of the NAFED ITT cert. Because in a lot of states–there’s like 30 states that recognize it–you can do fire suppression work or fire extinguisher work if you have that certification. If you’re outside of those states–in part of my career I was out of those states, I just did not know about NAFED. And so I think there’s a lot of benefits from NAFED people don’t know. Just in the last couple of years we’ve added some. So, Dave Pelton, if you’re not familiar with him, he’s huge as a technical resource. I’ve had technical questions. I had questions about captive air systems because there’s no manufacturer training from that unless you’re a distributor, and I called him and he knew all the answers, sent me all the data sheets, everything. But he’s produced a lot of content in the last couple years. He created this licensing guide for 50 states. So if I go work in neighboring state, if I’m in Utah and want to go to Nevada, I have a registry of everything, where to go, who to contact, what the fees are, how to get licensed in that state. That’s a great resource.

The tag program, you can buy tags super cheap, way cheaper than where I’ve ever seen anywhere else, with the NAFED logo. There’s our reputation in the industry and the market of NAFED. There’s a ton of benefits that we don’t hit on all the time, but these conferences are great. The people I’ve met over the last few years coming to the conference, networking, has just been a great thing for me personally. And yeah, the conference, we just had a board meeting yesterday. We looked at the conference attendance rate, and it’s never been as high as this year. Every year it goes up, some membership goes up. Yeah, it’s good for the association, it’s good for the attendees who are now networking with people they’ve never met before.

One goal of mine over the last five years has been to get younger people involved in the organization. There’s so many ways you could serve, as you know on technical committees, you’re sitting on some. But in board meetings and everything, there’s so many different ways people come here. But yeah, I love the association. It’s been good for me in the last few years. A lot of fun.

Allen Quirk:
That’s one of the goals we talked about at our board meeting was, how do we bring new people into this? Most young people don’t know what a fire extinguisher technician is. They know about being a carpenter, they can go do that. They can become a union electrician. There’s all those things people understand, but nobody understands fire protection technician, service work, manager, designer, all the things that are in our industry. So we’re talking about various ways we could reach out to that group because as we got there this morning, you asked everybody to stand, who was under 40. We had maybe a dozen stand up, and we just need to find if bring up that new generation into our industry. So that’s one of the goals that we have moving forward to see what we could do with that. So it’s an exciting time and we want to thank everybody that is a member and has been a part of this to help us.

Drew Slocum:
It’s helped me out professionally and even before the podcast and Inspect Point, I’d always go to the Atlantic City Show when I got to do it. You got to network and just see new products and ideas and yeah, it’s a great time.

Aaron Dickens:
As you’ve seen, Drew with Inspect Point, all of your customers probably, there’s not as many companies that are segmented in one service offering anymore. So, that’s been one thing I think our association has done really well. We’ve started to address the needs of other things. So if you look at the conferences the last three, four years, we’ve got topics on clean agent and fire alarm, fire sprinklers, and we’re not just the portable extinguisher group anymore. Trying to expand the audience. We’re also trying to have better paths for attendees at these conferences. We have a technician path and a manager path, so not just a service manager can come and benefit, but you could bring all your technicians and they have stuff they can learn in one group and you’re learning over here.

Allen Quirk:
And that’s what NAFED works on when they get together, the planning committee for our annual meetings is what topics do we want to talk about? Because if it’s too tech-information heavy, then you have owners and managers and those that don’t get what they really wanted to get out of it. If it’s all manager/owner related topics, the tech is–that’s not for them. So, it is a challenge to put out a program. And one thing that we ask everybody to do, there’s a survey they’d fill out and it’s used very heavily to say, “Hey, what would you like to see us do? What are we not doing? What can we do different? What can we offer that you would like to see?” And then find the people. 

Drew Slocum:
Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s been good. I’ve seen the evolution and that’s cool to see. Thank you guys for coming and thank you. Thanks for all the service.