Faculty Appreciation Month – Meet Bradly Fuhrmeister

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Bradly, 31, from Jacksonville, Florida, is a Welding Instructor at Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus.  Bradly is also a graduate of the Professional Welder program here, having come through the school in 2016. He came back to be an instructor in March 2023, and is currently teaching afternoon and evening students in their final phase. 

Thanks for your time, Bradly; how long have you been welding?

I’ve been welding for about the last seven years, and before that I did some pipefitting, building gas stations up in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. So, all in all, I’ve got close to nine years of experience. 

Was it the pipefitting experience that prompted you to go to welding school yourself?

In all reality, it wasn’t. What actually prompted me was after I stopped the gas station job I moved back to Florida. Like many 23-year-old kids, I didn’t have much of a direction. I saw a commercial on TV for Tulsa Welding School, and I knew I had to do something. So, I enrolled and here we are many years later.

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Many students will relate to that. Talk us through your welding career.

I started welding in a fabrication shop, and I ended up staying in fab shops. I was fast tracked to a leadership position. I was actually a foreman within two and a half years of leaving this school. I was in Atlanta, Georgia, for most of my time out there.

What made you decide to go into teaching? Was it always the plan to come back?

It actually wasn’t. When I graduated in 2016, James Howard, who was one of my most influential instructors, suggested (a bunch of times!) that I should come back to teach one day. You need five years’ experience in the welding industry to be able to come back and teach at TWS, so he kept telling me that I should come back once I got my experience. Honestly, it never really crossed my mind. 

But once I was put into a leadership position at my last company, I started to realize that the only thing that really brought me joy wasn’t being in charge or having power over people; I didn’t care about any of that. The only thing that truly resonated with me was that I liked teaching the new guys on my crew how to do things, and how to do them properly. That just led to me realize that maybe teaching was my real calling, that maybe James had been right. Now that I’m back, James is one of my bosses here.

So, kind of an ‘aha moment’ of your own?

It was, pretty much. I was in Atlanta, tired of getting phone calls at 11:30pm from a field foreman, tired of getting calls at 03:00am because a helicopter lift didn’t go properly. The thing I couldn’t focus on was the only thing I really wanted and needed to focus on, and that was training the new guys. So, I decided to take a step back and help a new generation of welders get a grasp on how things go in the industry. 

That’s full circle in not much time?

Yeah, absolutely. I hit the realization that teaching was what I wanted to do after my five years. Last year I happened to see a job posting for TWS and reached out. Both

 Jack Dulls [Director of Training] and James remembered exactly who I was after all that time and told me to come down as soon as I could.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?  

Of course, I grew up thinking I was going to be some NFL or MLB superstar, but more realistically, to be honest, I always wanted to join the Navy like my dad. But my entire life, my dad explained to me that he made that sacrifice so that his family didn’t have to. He wanted to serve our country, but he just didn’t want that lifestyle for me. Being on deployment, he wasn’t around for a lot of my birthdays growing up. He wanted me to steer away from the Navy and that’s what ended up leading me to working with my hands.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at Tulsa Welding School?

It’s that “aha moment” like the one I had about becoming a teacher. It’s when you see a student, especially after they’ve been struggling with something, get that click in their mind when they get a concept. There were several times throughout my own welding program that I had a teacher show me something a certain way where I was just like, “Whoa, I never really saw it before right now!” It’s fun to see a student pick up a certain process that they thought maybe wasn’t for them. Then there’s the appreciation students have for you because you showed them something that they felt they couldn’t get. It’s such a rewarding feeling; I mean, it gets me coming back every single day.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you?

I’m fairly an open book, I pretty much wear everything on my sleeve. People know the kind of guy I am. Everybody knows I’m a big sports guy. I can tell you anything. I know names of players on teams that I dislike, don’t care about, and are irrelevant! I still know all those players! The only thing I can think that people might be surprised about is I’m a big horror movie junkie. I love horror movies.

If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be, and why?

My go-to would probably be some athlete, but in reality, if I had to make a choice, it would be dinner with my family. It really would. Like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with my whole family. It’s something we don’t get to do a lot anymore. My brother and his wife live in Hawaii, my other brother is in New York, and my folks are further south in Florida. It’s just something I don’t really get to enjoy as much as I used to.

So, tell us about your own family, Bradly. Do you have kids?

I’m not married, and I don’t have children; I hope to one day. But I do have a ten-month-old English bulldog puppy!

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting?

Maintain focus and stay in the booth. The biggest issue that most students who struggle have is this; they just don’t spend enough time under the hood. Welding is an industry, a trade, where repetition is your best friend. If you want to learn a process, you need to hammer that process home with muscle memory. What people don’t realize is that five weeks is an extremely accelerated timeframe to learn a brand-new welding process. So, if you’re not spending the full amount of time that you have (or more) in the booth, there’s a good chance you’re going to miss a step or two that are critical to making a solid, complete weld.  

Part of that is surrounding yourself with the right people too, correct?

Right. If you’re going to surround yourself with anybody at school, make sure it’s people who are dedicated to the same goal that you are. It’s so important. A lot of students, especially those fresh out of high school, like to play follow the leader, not realizing that some of them might be leaders themselves. But again, have that drive and dedication to stay in the booth and actually learn; accept what your instructor is trying to tell you, because your instructor knows. They’ve been there, they’ve done it, they have the experience. You have to be willing to leverage their experience to gain more knowledge for yourself.

What did you enjoy most when out in the field?

I think it was how things all lined up. There are so many things that go into just one job. I love understanding all the moving parts and how it all comes together as one big picture. It is almost like leaving my mark on an area. I’ve done work on so many different buildings in this area that I helped build. Think about the fact that all buildings have some piping work for heating, hot water, chilled water, bathrooms, steam piping, structural welds as well. A lot of structural work is prefabbed in fabrication shops, and then sent out to be pieced together out in the field. It’s really cool to be able to leave your mark. 

You get an unexpected afternoon to yourself, what would you do with that time?

I’d go get some lunch and then take my dog to the beach. She sinks like a bowling ball, but she loves water!  

If you were to tell someone “Thank You” for making you who you are today, who would it be & why? 

It would be my parents. What they were able to do together, raising three children, especially my mom. She pretty much raised us on her own with my father being deployed nine/ten months a year. Just seeing their drive, determination, and love they had for each other, and our family drove me to be who I am today.

Thank you, Bradly for your contributions to TWS!