Give a brief overview of your company’s main business activities relevant to the membership with SCA.
In 2000 the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service closed the division that inspected and tested fire equipment.
Our founding Director Robert (Bob) Short worked there and his customers approached him and asked him to keep providing the service as they highly appreciated his commitment to customers.
Listening to his customers he established Fire & Emergency Services SA with the purpose to provide and maintain the toolkit used by fire fighters in their efforts to save lives, minimise injury and impact on homes, businesses and property.
We do this through our specialisation in inspection, testing and maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment including fire extinguishers, hose reels, hydrants alarm panel and sprinkler systems.
We are still working for our first ever client while adding iconic South Australian customers like Coopers Brewery and the RAA and working for every significant strata management company in SA.
In spite of often being more expensive than our competitors the quality of our service has since 2006 caused us to quadruple our turnover and gone from 4 to 12 technicians in a low-growth, highly competitive market.
In 2018 and 2019 we won the Strata Community Association SA Strata Support Business of the year.
What is unique about your business and how does it demonstrate excellence?
Built on Purpose
FESSA is providing and maintaining the toolkit used by fire fighters to save lives; minimise injury; and impact on homes, businesses and property from fire and do so using our values of
- Personalised service – you are unique and we treat you that way
- Professional work standards, presentation and service
- Pride in our workmanship, service and our company
- Passionate about helping our customers meet their responsibilities regarding fire safety
- People are individuals, we treat them as they want to be treated, whether they are customers, suppliers or our team.
These are not a set of corporate words put on a wall, they guide everything we do, from hiring new staff, performance management and decision making. For example we have developed a set of playing cards for each staff person that outlines how they like to be communicated with and how to show them appreciation – because we are all different.
Client focused means that you do what the customer needs. An example of this is our focus on education of our clients. Our low ratio of Project Managers to Technicians enables the team to meet with strata managers, presiding officers and committees on site to explain what repairs or upgrades might be required.
Our CEO, Alan has written two books, on managing fire maintenance contractors and on emergency planning and spoken at a SCA conference.
A set of weekly statistics ensure that we are meeting the requirements of our customers every day.
Based on these forward looking statistics we have been able to consistently deliver all services on time – something that is not common in our industry.
Our CEO has been asked to share this philosophy with others at numerous gatherings of business owners both in Adelaide and Interstate.
Distributed workforce – Personally Connected
In a follow up question we talk in more detail about our distributed office team, but here in brief:
After working from home as a result of COVID our team decided that they wanted to continue to work from home – so we did.
Daily teams catch up using zoom and monthly face to face for social interactions. Quarterly the whole team come together for quarterly planning, learning and bonding over team building activities like go-kart racing and ten pin bowling.
The result is a better connected, more productive and happier administration and management team.
What were the strategies and plans you initiated to achieve your business growth expansion (in services, revenue or the way you operate) over the previous 12 months?
For the first time in 2020/21 Fire & Emergency Services exceeded the $3million revenue benchmark – this has been a 20% growth in the last 3 years in a low growth industry.
The strategies used to achieve this growth include:
- Education – Our CEO and senior staff attend and present at industry events. Our CEO is also author of two books (“Ready Set Fire: How to Get ready, setup and manage a fire maintenance contractor” and “A Guide to Emergency Planning: Plan Train Threat Respond”) both of which have formed the basis of presentations to the SCA SA Annual Symposiums.
We are also providing webinars and in house training of Strata Managers – we are part of the professional development of the industry. And our senior managers will not hesitate to meet Strata Managers Presiding officers and committees on site to explain what we do and why (we deal with fire protection every day, most people don’t, we are here to help)
- Acquisitions – FESSA have acquired two other fire protection maintenance businesses in the last two years that serve the same niche, one in the Riverland and one in Adelaide. We have a format for transitioning the customers into our systems. Customers report to us an improvement in service after we have taken over these businesses.
- Managers’ accessibility – many of our competitors have 10 or 20 technicians working for one manager responsible for resolving problems and quoting for repairs. Our ratio is closer to 5. This results in our managers being intimately familiar with most sites and available to meet Strata Manager and presiding officers to discuss the work we have quoted for. We deal with fire protection every day, but most people don’t – so we focus on educating them not pressuring them into a sale.
Describe the innovative ideas your business has devised and implemented over the last 12 months.
Lower costs, increased productivity, happier employees and management!
That is the result of FESSA cancelling the lease on the Pooraka building that has been the physical base for the company for over 10 years.
When COVID hit Australia in March 2020 FESSA management asked the seven-admin staff to work from home to prevent the whole organisation being brought down should one of them get COVID. Working from home became the new normal until October 2020 when COVID became somewhat more controlled and it was time to return to the FESSA office building in Pooraka.
As nice as it was seeing colleagues again, staff did not in general appreciate being back. The commute (up to 1 hour each way for some), open plan offices with lots of noise from phones etc. and an endless number of unnecessary interruptions made the admin staff approach management with a request.
“Can we work from home on a permanent basis, please?”
Having seen productivity actually increase while staff worked from home, the decision was easy. The lease was cancelled and keys returned to the owner.
So now staff do not have to commute resulting in a solid eight hour day instead of up to ten hours. However, not working from the same location requires coordination. Every morning the admin team has a morning huddle on Zoom to check in with each other, to see what people are planning to do for the day and if anybody is overloaded and needs extra help.
Once a week the team meet face to face for a coffee and once a month the staff members go out for lunch.
The management team have a similar process, they catch up at the end of the day to identify what needs to be done by the team tomorrow, share lessons learnt dealing with unique problems and use the collective genius of the group to solve problems for our clients. And once a month they catch up for social breakfast
And then once a quarter all staff come together for staff development followed by a team building activity like go-cart racing or ten pin bowling.
The result is that the teams and all the staff are meeting together more often than we ever did when we had an office – we are more connected than ever.
Explain how you contribute to the training of your staff, not only in your area of expertise but also to better equip them to understand and work with strata properties.
Training and Education are fundamental with what we do, in 2007 FESSA was integral with starting the pathway to the industry accreditation scheme called the Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme (FPAS). We were the first team to be accredited under this scheme prior to which there were no formal qualifications required for inspecting and testing fire protection equipment.
FESSA focuses training on two levels, new Trainee Service Technicians and continual professional development.
Due to our unique way of working – focused on customer value not revenue per customer – we find it difficult to find existing qualified fire inspection and testing technicians. As a result we have taken the position to hire people from outside the industry and train them.
Every new inspection and testing technician goes through a 12 month traineeship. It starts with them shadowing our technicians and then progressively working more and more independently as their skills and knowledge develop.
We don’t just rely on peer to peer training, we also take them through a Certificate II Fire Protection Inspect and Test. At the end of the traineeship they have a formal qualification, are accredited with the industry Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme (FPAS) and licensed for testing water based fire systems. There are around 70 technicians qualified in South Australia – and 12 work for FESSA.
We then continually educate our team through attendance to industry training events, personal mentoring by the manager of each team person and our quarterly team days where we focus on one technical topic each quarter. The topics are selected by the team based on things that they would like to know more about.
Describe how you encourage ethical behaviour within your business.
Our values of Pride and Professionalism guide our ethics. We will rather choose to do the right thing and loose a customer than compromise our standards and ethics to keep a customer – we have sacked customers in the past. For example there was a student accommodation apartment building in the city that had two levels with the sprinkler system isolated due to leaks.
At first we tried working with the client in regards to approving our quotations for the repairs, but unsuccessfully. Then we changed tact to encourage the client to get anyone to repair the sprinkler system, and as the repair was not conducted we had to withdraw our services as the building was forming a safety risk.
It should be noted that we tried to work with the customer to hand over our work to a new provider but they were not interested, so in the end we were forced to alert the fire service that our services were no longer being provided to this site. The end result was that the sprinkler system was repaired and safety maintained – even though we lost the client.
Right from day 1 it has always been a value of ours to always to do what is best for the customer. It’s never been enough to be technically compliant. If the fire extinguishers on a site are not the best for the situation, we recommend replacing them even when we could make as much as 50 percent more by simply testing and refilling the extinguishers already there.
We are also members of three different professional associations (Strata Community Association, Facility Management Association, Fire Protection Association Australia), each of these associations have their own code of ethics that we are signatures to. While each of them is similar they are not the same, so to comply we have to operate above minimum requirements.
And finally, our technicians are all accredited under the Fire Protection accreditation Scheme (FPAS) which requires them to individually sign off on a code of conduct – its not just a management thing.