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Today, Sunland Fire Protection employs 164 people. "In the beginning we mostly worked in South and Central Virginia. Now we do work in 14 states. We don't pursue work in all those states, but often our customers ask us to do a job for them in another state," he says. The Power of Partnership Rees was a charter member of AFSA's Carolinas Chapter and served multiple terms on its Board of Directors including as chairman. "In January 1983, my friend Buck Buchanan called and said there was going to be a meeting in Charlotte that I should attend. Harold Black [Central Fire Protection] and Jack Lane [Crawford & Slaton Contractors] were coming to North Caro- lina to talk about starting a chapter of the American Fire Sprinkler Association. Then I got a call from another North Carolina contractor I did not know, Tom Waller [Viking Fire Protection of the SE], who asked if I was going to attend the meeting. I went, but it was kind of a scary experience. Back then, there was no contact and no communication among contractors in the Carolinas," Rees says. "When the chapter got started, it was great having the opportunity to work with other contractors in the area on things that were important to all of us. They were all really excited about what we were doing, even at times when there was little or no chance of success. We all made a lot of friends," he adds. Remarks Buck Buchanan: "Those of us who worked for manufacturers, and traveled throughout the Carolinas in the early '80s, realized what a special group of dedicated contrac- tors operated in these two states. None were more passionate about both 'doing things right' and 'doing the right thing' than Bob Rees. From the first unofficial get together of contractors, where Harold Black addressed the group and encouraged their membership and involvement with AFSA, Bob took a leadership role by inspiring his competitors to put all differences aside in order to elevate our industry by train- ing, and educating employees and the fire service." Into Politics or Out of Business Rees notes that the new chapter's first order of business was contractor licensing, and it was a tough learning experience. A. Holt Gwyn, who is a partner with the law firm Conner Gwyn Schenck PLLC in Greensboro and has worked with the Carolinas Chapter from its beginning, remembers: "In the late 1980s, a core group of North Carolina AFSA contractors, led by Bob Rees, decided that fire protection licensing was needed in NC as a matter of life safety. Licensing legislation faced an uphill battle, as the long-time leader of the NC Senate advised our group that he considered fire protection licensing as a restraint of trade and would oppose it. It was Bob who had the conviction to press ahead anyway with the legislative effort, and he and a few others convinced the other members of the Carolinas AFSA to participate. As Chairman of AFSA's Legislative Committee, Rees presented Chapel Hill, N.C., Fire Chief Dan Jones (right) with AFSA's first Fire Service Person of the Year award during the 1997 Convention & Exhibition in Albuquerque, N.M. (Note: The award has since been renamed "Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year.") "Bob pounced on a suggestion for a fire protection seminar at NC State University, and got Ronny Coleman to fly in and speak. A fire protection white paper was developed from the seminar, which served as the supporting data for the AFSA's life-safety argument. Bob then was a leader in scheduling strategy meetings, getting drafts of legislation prepared and edited, meeting with industry group leaders and getting their support, selecting influential legislative sponsors, and raising money for the effort. Bob also helped organize the Carolinas AFSA PAC. "Although the first year's efforts were unsuccessful, Bob's enthusiasm was undiminished, and he lost no time in prepar- ing for a renewed effort for the next legislative session, which was successful," notes Gwyn. According to Rees, passage of the contractor licensing legisla- tion made a big difference in the state. "Yes, there are a lot of licensed contractors now. Prior to licensing, our scope of work was usually defined under the plumbing or mechanical contract," he explains. "However," Rees continues, "while we were working on the licensing bill, the Department of Insurance decided that the fire sprinkler system design work we did was 'engineering'. As a result, we had to hire a P.E. to put a seal on every drawing, even though they ultimately accepted no responsibility for the drawings. "In '89, I was chairman of the chapter and we introduced a bill in the senate to exempt fire sprinkler drawings from the engineering act. This time, we had our plan in order and it passed the senate that week and crossed to the house. We got that bill passed in 30 days! Everyone in our chapter had become so close, and they all worked with their legislators to explain the reasons behind the bill. The professional engineers tried to stop it, but they failed. There was a lot of uproar in the Sprinkler Age | October 2012 9