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Fire Code Design's Ronnette Taylor-Lawrence charts a path from trades to entrepreneurship

Sandra Larson | 5/24/2017, 11:40 a.m.
As an entrepreneur and a tradeswoman, Ronnette Taylor-Lawrence has been a trailblazer. Starting as a young single mother in the ...
Ronnette Taylor-Lawrence, owner of Fire Code Design, with sons Anthony (l), who serves as FCD’s director of business development, and Julian, an apprentice sprinkler fitter and assistant project manager with FCD. Photo by Sandra Larson

As an entrepreneur and a tradeswoman, Ronnette Taylor-Lawrence has been a trailblazer. Starting as a young single mother in the 1980s, she worked her way up from laborer to journeyman plumber, becoming the first woman of color to receive her plumber’s license from the Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12 Boston union. Today, she is a master plumber and fire sprinkler contractor running her own business, Fire Code Design, a Boston-based full service fire extinguisher and fire safety company offering sales, repairs and service to commercial and residential clients.

On the web

Fire Code Design is located at 195 Dudley St., Boston.

Call them at (617) 442-2633 or visit: www.firecodedesign.com

Watch a video: Ronnette Taylor-Lawrence discusses home sprinklers: http://bit.ly/2qR2E01

Formed in 2006, her company today has 12 employees and serves about 170 clients a year. Clients have included the MBTA, Amtrak, the Reggie Lewis Center and Hanscom Air Force Base. For Taylor-Lawrence, a West Medford native who lives in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, a primary goal is to build FCD’s reach within the surrounding community.

“Every commercial establishment that has a sprinkler, fire alarm or fire extinguisher system has to be inspected a minimum of once a year,” Taylor-Lawrence points out, speaking to the Banner recently in FCD’s Roxbury office. “I’d like to have at least 70 percent of our work in this community, and be able to offer jobs and training to people coming from the community.”

FCD’s team today includes specialists in sprinkler design, fire suppression systems and fire extinguishers, as well as bookkeeping, scheduling and operations staff. Taylor-Lawrence’s oldest son, Anthony, is director of business development and the youngest, Julian, is assistant project manager and apprentice sprinkler fitter. Their vision includes expanding FCD’s work in fire and life safety education and training.

As part of its local connection, FCD hires interns from Roxbury Community College, typically students who are advancing their skills in business administration or accounting.

Moving up

Taylor-Lawrence was a warehouse worker at a plumbing company when she enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship training program that had been formed to encourage women considering trades. Then her employer sponsored her to join the plumbers union and begin the four-year union apprenticeship. In 1990, she passed the test to become a licensed journeyman plumber.

After amassing years of expertise working for others, the plumber and sprinklerfitter started Fire Code Design from the basement of her home in 2006. She participated in the Small Business Association’s 2008 Emerging Leader Initiative, and in 2009 was able to move her business to its current location at 195 Dudley Street. The space provides an office area, room for equipment storage, and a display window for a more visible street presence.

Women make up only a tiny minority in construction trades, but the numbers are starting to climb in Massachusetts, according to Susan Moir, director of research for UMass Boston’s Labor Resource Center and co-founder of the Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues. Statewide, the proportion of female union apprentices has nearly doubled in 10 years, rising from less than 3 percent up to 7 percent. In the Plumbers Local 12 union, women’s participation rose from 2.1 percent in 2012 to 5.6 percent in late 2016. Half of all women entering the trades are women of color, Moir noted, so in this field increasing gender diversity also strengthens racial diversity.