Author(s): Scott Sutherland. Published on March 2, 2015.

BOB DYLAN. LINDSEY VONN. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Loni Anderson. The Coen brothers. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

The list of notable Minnesotans is vast, and growing every day. Now there’s another name to add to that snow-dusted pantheon: Paul Holum.

On February 6, Holum joined the ranks of Gopher State luminaries by winning the second annual NEC Challenge, an interactive competition organized by NFPA that invites electrical professionals from across the country to test their knowledge of the National Electrical Code®, or NEC®. For his efforts, Holum took home a $5,000 grand prize, a handsome championship belt, and bragging rights as the last NEC code wonk standing.

“Everybody wants to see the belt,” says Holum, 59, a master electrician and electrical instructor from Elk River, Minnesota. Holum teaches at the Minneapolis Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee, or JATC, an incubator for budding NEC talent, and he says his students consider the belt proof he can do more than talk the talk. “We take the code pretty darn seriously, and for students the belt represents the quality of the education they’re getting.”

More than 2,000 electrical professionals took part in this year’s NEC Challenge, which was held online and at electrical trade shows nationwide. In the finale, Holum took on Steve Carter, a city electrical inspector in Phoenix, Arizona, and Jim Walker, an electrical technician with the Sonoma County Water Agency in Sonoma County, California. The championship event was broadcast live online and consisted of three hard-fought rounds, capped by a nail-biter final-round challenge that put Holum up against Carter. Carter and Walker took home runner-up cash prizes of $1,500 and $500, respectively.

Electrical safety is serious business, says Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA, and the contest is held in the service of a key NFPA mission. “The NEC Challenge combines competitiveness and fun that ultimately draws attention to important elements of the code,” Carli says. This year’s challenge featured the launch of, which gave electrical professionals everywhere the opportunity to test their NEC smarts online and be a part of the challenge.

Since 1911, NFPA has been the developer and publisher of the NEC, which remains one of the world’s most widely used codes for the built environment, establishing the standard for safe electrical installations.

Speaking of establishing a standard: Holum is the second straight Minnesotan to claim NEC Challenge honors. His stomping grounds, Elk River, is a scant 20 miles from Princeton, the home of Derek “The Code Crusher” Vigstol, last year’s inaugural challenge champ. Make that Vigstol’s former home: he had such an affinity for the NEC that in January he went to work at NFPA as a senior electrical specialist in the Electrical Division.

“Paul is absolutely worthy of the champion’s belt—he was my instructor when I was an apprentice in 2005,” says Vigstol. “In Minnesota, the NEC is the focus of the apprentice programs, and the state licensing exam is really code-intensive.” Like Holum, Vigstol went on to teach at the Minneapolis JATC. “There are top-notch NEC people coming out of that program—plenty who could win the NEC Challenge.”

Dynasty? Maybe. Safe to say next year’s savvy money will be on the Minnesotans.

For more on the next challenge, visit the NEC Connect website.

SCOTT SUTHERLAND is executive editor for NFPA Journal.