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AACC was the Spark to their Success

Larry Cate and Dan Mathias in front of Absolute Fire Protection van.
Wingspan, Spring 2019

Larry Cate and Dan Mathias have shared many experiences since the days of grabbing a chili cheese dog between morning classes at Chesapeake High School and afternoon math class at AACC. The two later attended AACC full time, walked across the stage together for their associate degrees, were best men in each other’s weddings and shared hobbies involving cars and sailing.

But some of the biggest things they’ve shared have been the successes and failures along the way after starting Absolute Fire Protection 30 years ago while still seniors in college. Mathias, then a fire protection engineer major at University of Maryland, and Cate, a finance and marketing business major at Towson University, decided to turn up the heat.

“We always knew we wanted to have our own business,” Mathias said of the pair who met as high school freshmen. “We were 22, and I think it’s a fantastic idea, because you have less to lose and you can take more risk at a young age.” What started as a single sprinkler job in Annapolis has grown to a business with nearly 100 employees serving the mid-Atlantic area.

Absolute Fire Protection designs, installs and maintains fire sprinkler systems for residential and commercial buildings. It wasn’t what they had foreseen during their time here, but both credit AACC for helping build a solid foundation.

Mathias said the school was a clear path to the competitive engineering program at a state level. “The pre-engineering program (at AACC) was very challenging,” said Mathias, also an Annapolis resident. “I’d say it definitely prepared me.”

Cate agrees. “I had a lot of great teachers there. It was my first introduction into real-life teaching where a professor didn’t just teach from the book.” He said he initially chose AACC because of the financial benefits, and because he didn’t feel ready to move out just yet. “Community colleges had a bad connotation with some people back then, but AACC provided a great education and the gateway to my bachelor’s degree. Maybe not quite to the level of Harvard or Yale, but in life, if you educate yourself, be smart and work incredibly hard, success is unavoidable."