Andrew Watts '04 & Alan Llanes '04 - Sparking Interest in Fire Protection

Andrew Watts ’04 and Alan Llanes ’04 graduated from UMBC with degrees in biology and psychology, respectively, and they each went on to pursue careers in product sales. Now, they are account managers for Life Safety Systems, which handles safety and security systems integration, and are serving together as mentors for Mount Saint Joseph’s Fire Protection Engineering Club as the students learn to construct working fire suppression models.

With no engineering background or prior exposure to the fire protection industry, this career jump was not one either of them could have predicted. “Honestly, it’s an industry that people don’t really know about, which is why we got involved with the club,” says Alan. “It’s very specific, but there is a world of career possibilities underneath of it, whether it’s sales or engineering or design.”

Thanks to the smaller size of their company and the fact that they are both quick learners, Andrew and Alan get to have a hand in all three fields. “We have a hybrid role in which we are not only involved in the sale, but we’re also involved in the design a lot of times, working with the engineers and the CAD drawers to deliver to our customers,” Andrew explains. “So, that’s where our experience and knowledge of fire protection comes into play.”

The opportunity to share their knowledge came last spring, when Alan received a message from MSJ classmate David Grebe ’04 about a Mount Saint Joseph Instagram post featuring its new Fire Protection Engineering Club. Alan immediately shared with Andrew the news from their alma mater, and the pair brought an idea to their boss.

One thing led to another and Andrew and Alan took over as mentors for the club. After looking at the curriculum provided by the University of Maryland, which sponsors the high school Fire Protection Engineering Design Challenge, they both agreed that improvements could be made. With their company’s support, they were able to bring in visual aids for interactive, hands-on learning.

“We realized that if we went in there and we just read off this script, we’re not really getting any kids involved or excited about fire protection as a career,” explains Andrew. “So, we added a lot to the curriculum. We did a mock test and inspection, we disassembled the curriculum and reorganized it in a way that we thought it should be taught. We brought in visual aids like smoke dampers and pull stations and smoke detectors and heat detectors and an actual control panel.”

They also donated building equipment and compressed their lessons into a few weeks to maximize build time, as their main objective has been to create models to compete in UMD’s Design Challenge held this spring. The ultimate goal is for the students, in teams of four or five, to build a fire suppression system with household items for under $50.

For Andrew and Alan, the opportunity to give back to The Mount and to expose students to fire protection as a potential career field is reward enough. “Engineering is kind of the hot-button industry when you’re coming out of high school going into college. But fire protection is such a niche field, and there aren’t many places advertising it,” Alan explains. “I think if I had been exposed to it in high school, I would have realized that it’s a valid career path that nobody ever really thinks of and it’s an industry that is not going away. It is always going to continue to be an absolutely necessary thing. If we can give the students at least an inkling of what direction they want to go in after graduation, then we have done our part.”

Article from The Mount magazine.

Mount Saint Joseph High School

Mount Saint Joseph is a Catholic, college preparatory school for young men sponsored by the Xaverian Brothers.