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TRADE OF THE MONTH: SPRINKLER FITTERS

If you’re looking for a career where you can have a real impact, consider becoming a sprinkler fitter, who help save property and lives every day.

The installation of sprinkler fire protection systems is a critical step in the construction of any building. Sprinkler fitters work in existing and newly constructed buildings; in conditions ranging from hot boiler rooms to unheated open buildings at winter temperatures.

Sprinkler fitters will largely find themselves in commercial buildings and work with valves, hangers and steel or plastic pipes. They often install Fire Protection Systems, which include underground and overhead piping, that automatically turn on in the event of a fire.

For young people looking to become a sprinkler fitter apprentice there are a number of online resources to consult. First, check out the Constructioncareers.org website and the Construction Trades mobile app (available on Google Play and App Stores) both created by the Twin Cities-based nonprofit, Construction Careers Foundation.

“The Construction Careers Foundation believes that there is a construction trade career for everyone — and we want to provide opportunity, knowledge and access to students across Minnesota to encourage them to take the first big step toward their career after high school,” said Sarah Lechowich, senior director for the Construction Careers Foundation.

In Minnesota, there is one sprinkler fitter training center in Minneapolis, Local 417. As of June 1, 2019, the current starting pay for a first-year apprentice is $21.89 per hour. After the first year, apprentices typically receive a raise every 6 months upon meeting the minimum requirements of their apprenticeship program. Here are some interesting facts to know:

  • Average sprinkler fitter income in Minnesota: $42k-78k/year.
  • The sprinkler fitter apprenticeship program generally lasts 5 years.
  • Apprentices earn a wage while they learn.
  • Benefits: health care, dental, eyewear protection care and a pension.

“The career of a sprinkler fitter can provide a range of opportunities for achievement,” according to the Local 417 website. “Once an apprentice successfully completes the apprenticeship program and becomes a journeyperson, many opportunities lie ahead. You can work as a foreman, move up to superintendent or even move into management with a company.

Sprinkler fitter programs require specific skills, which the apprenticeship program will teach — but before youth even enter into a program, Construction Careers Foundation educates them on what they are getting into. View the Construction Career Pathways’ Sprinkler Fitters page.

Students can also prepare to start a sprinkler fitter apprenticeship while still in high school. To do so, start with building relevant experience through construction courses, shop courses, and math and science courses. Calculating slope and pressure per square foot are frequently used in the trade. Sprinkler fitter apprentices also are mechanically inclined, so a history of auto body mechanics and robotics classes will show well in an interview.

Students with OSHA 10 or CPR credits or proof of a passed/completed related course are encouraged to bring in proof to be evaluated for credit during the sprinkler fitter interview process.

Here are the five most important pieces of advice our professional mentors would share with a student before he/she chooses to pursue a career as a sprinkler fitter:

  1. Prioritize your safety training. Always wear all of your PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and never take shortcuts to finish a job quickly. Take your time with your projects because your ability to make sure sprinkler systems work effectively will save lives in the case of an emergency.
  2. Inform your direct supervisor of any unsafe conditions. If you are working in a job environment where conditions surrounding your workspace are concerning or unfamiliar, follow the correct procedures and safety rules and make the situation known to your peers.
  3. Success means knowing how to use many tools. During your apprenticeship, you will be trained in the care and proper use of tools and equipment. These will range from pipe wrenches and pipe threading machines to welding equipment and man lifts.
  4. Be comfortable and confident working at heights. Most of the work takes place at the ceiling level using ladders and lift platforms at heights generally ranging from 8 to 20 feet, and, in some cases, up to 100 feet.
  5. You make your own success. Some keys to being successful in the trades include showing up every day on time; honing your math skills; being able to follow directions; and doing the job asked of you.

“All the members of the union are extremely knowledgeable, and ready to help,” said sprinkler fitter Megan Ringwelski. “They’re always there for you and willing to teach you everything they know.”

Through her apprenticeship, she is trained by certified instructors who are experts in sprinkler fitting.

“The first day was intimidating. I had no clue what I was doing,” Ringwelski said. “But, everyone on that first day was very patient and courteous, they were willing to show me the ropes.”

Don’t pay to learn. Get paid to learn. Megan Ringwelski, in her fourth year of training with Sprinklerfitters Local 417, was named Apprentice of the Year. As an example of the dedication she brings to the craft, Local 417 Business Manager Trinidad Uribe III said Ringwelski recently continued working into the eighth month of her pregnancy.

Ringwelski’s advice to future sprinkler fitters:

“My work keeps people safe every day. There’s nothing more rewarding than leaving a job site and knowing that you are protecting people,” said Ringwelski. “My work is challenging but I always feel accomplished knowing I am making a difference.”

Read Megan’s story here.