Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 Training New Apprentices & Journeymen
The promise of good wages and benefits—and steady work—has attracted a new group of apprentices to the Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 apprenticeship program. A new set of classes began in January at the union’s Apprenticeship Training Center near the San Mateo Bridge in Hayward. Nearly all of the trainees who are getting classroom instruction and hands-on training at the center are also working. In addition to its five-year apprenticeship programs, Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 offers continuing education opportunities that include classes and training for journeymen to upgrade their skills and certification, as well as an associate’s degree program.
A description of the program on the union’s website note that for over a century, the United Association of pipe trades has been training the most highly-qualified workers in the United States and Canada. Over the past several decades, the training programs have produced a stable, skilled workforce responsible for building and maintaining sprinkler systems in the various industrial, commercial and residential facilities. The UA invests over $100 million annually on training programs for 100,000 journeymen and apprentices in over 400 training facilities around the U.S.
Sprinkler fitters install systems that protect lives and property by putting out fires, activating alarms, and notifying the fire department. As building codes and technologies have evolved, the need for well-trained workers with a variety of skills has become more important.
Instructor Russell White’s class studied some of the technical aspects of the trade and reviewed a slide show outlining the basics of soldering and braising. He said students always need to upgrade their skills as building codes are updated and new regulations and requirements for fire safety are integrated into building plans.
Work has picked up in the last year as several new hospital projects are under construction to meet state requirements for seismic safety and bond funded school construction projects are being built. The Local 483 instructors noted that while public works projects have been important in keeping members employed, work is also picking up in the private sector.
Instructor Wayne Vinther’s told the apprentices taking a safety class to take the work and the training seriously. “It’s a career, not just a job,” he said. The 16 students studied lessons from a safety manual, and talked about their experiences on the job. Vinther asked the apprentices how often they had attended safety meetings at their jobs; several answered “every day.” Vinther said worker health and safety on the job are taken much more seriously now than when he started out. He discussed with the students the need for taking seriously using ear and eye protection gear as well as respirators. The Sprinkler Fitters will often encounter asbestos and other hazardous materials when working on retrofitting and upgrading old buildings.
Vinther said everyone in his class is working now, while only 60 percent of apprentices were employed in the classes held two semesters ago. Students said they do get help and support from journeylevel workers on the job to learn different tasks as well as do basic work like drilling and layout. Vinther said part of the job of a foreman is to share their knowledge of the craft and teach apprentices.
Instructor Johnny Escobar worked with a small group of journeyman who came in to the center to work on upgrading their welding skills. Escobar said that Local 483 was the first sprinkler fitters local to offer welding. He explained that more welding was required as some jobs call for repairing pipes and fittings rather than replacing them. He said there is a lot of interest in welding because the journeyman who get certified as welders also can earn more money and get more work.
Journeylevel Sprinkler Fitter Patrick Chatard said, “The more you get certified, the more work you can get.” He noted that in the past some contractors would call in steamfitters to do some of the repairs that the Sprinkler Fitters can now do with the upgraded welding training. Chatard works steadily for union contractor Cosco Fire Protection doing repairs and service.
Journeyman Frank Delosantos said the training was important, “The more skills you have, the more valuable you are to the company.”
Besides attaching sprinkler heads to a ceiling, sprinkler fitters work on alarm and control systems. They work with electricians who do the wiring for fire pumps and smoke detectors. Many also work steadily on maintenance of the systems and can take classes at the training center to get certified to work as inspectors.
To qualify for the Sprinkler fitters apprenticeship program, applicants must be at least 18 years old and show proof of completion of high school or a G.E.D. Applicants must be physically fit to do the work of the trade, and will be required to work anywhere within the nine Bay Area Counties. A valid Drivers License is required at time of indenture and dispatch to employer, and applicants must be legally authorized to work in the United States.
For more information on the dates and times for new classes, contact the training center at (510) 785-8483 or check the union’s website, www.SprinkerFitters483.org.
– Paul Burton