Full-Service Fire Protection
Family-owned Northwest Fire Systems keeps Washington safe
It’s been a long and winding road for Mary and Clark Potter, co-owners of Kent-based Northwest Fire Systems (NWFS), a full-service fire protection company that incorporates the contract and service sides of the sprinkler and fire alarm industry. With a heavy emphasis on inspections and post-inspection follow up, NWFS serves the Washington State corridor region, keeping people and property safe.
In 1975, Clark Potter embarked on an adventure that took him from Vermont to Alaska. His dad, Clark Sr., had been in Alaska for three years and had been in the fire protection industry since 1957, the year Clark was born.
Choosing the lure of Alaska over joining the Marine Corp or attending trade school with General Motors, the younger Potter hit the road with his father right after high school and they headed up the Alcan highway. While in the booming town of Fairbanks, Clark Sr. introduced his son to some people in the industry, and within nine months, Clark became an apprentice sprinkler fitter.
Alaska was a modern-day gold rush at that time. The pipeline was being built and it was an exciting era in the state. For Clark, it was a great time to find his way, both professionally and personally.
Mary Bayse had relocated from the sunny seaside town of Ventura, California, with her family in 1974. Finishing up high school in Anchorage and working during those years of boom in Alaska made for some interesting teen years. Clark relocated to Anchorage where the two met in 1978 and were married a few years later. They raised a family of three children in Alaska—Aaron, Ira and Rachel—until 1994 when they all packed up and relocated to Seattle.
Family-Focused, Safety First
By 2008, Clark (having worked for Grinnell in Alaska and then Seattle) and Mary decided to open up shop for themselves, launching Northwest Fire Systems (NWFS). The family-owned company has seen tremendous growth over the past 12 years. Today, the Potters’ two sons, along with their son-in-law, Andy, are all part of this family-focused enterprise that has grown to employ at least 54 people as part of the team, and is currently expanding its shop with the acquisition of the space next door.
Safety, is of course, at the heart of NWFS’ business model and NWFS helps its customers navigate the details and red tape in order to protect lives. Clark says, “Fire protection systems are fire life safety. There are a lot of rules, regulations, codes and mandated inspections by the state and all the local jurisdictions…all your fire departments, every little town and hamlet. If you have a fire system of any kind—sprinkler, fire alarm, whatever, you have to have it inspected annually. About half of our business is contract work, such as tenant improvements and new buildings, and the other half is the testing, inspection and maintenance side of those systems.”
Commercial project sites and customers range from office buildings, condo towers, hospital and medical centers to school districts and large retail properties, such as Walgreens stores, Home Depots and Target stores and distribution centers, as well as high-profile hotels and casinos, including Westin Seattle, Sheraton Seattle, Grand Hyatt, Crowne Plaza, Muckleshoot Casino and Emerald Queen.
The team at NWFS stays up to date on the latest regulations and keeps certifications current through consistent training, licensing and through continuing education programs. Mary notes, “We strive to push our central philosophy of safety through excellence, attention to detail and follow through. We push that in the office a lot: doing it well, doing it right.”
Clark adds, “This is a very heavily regulated industry and Washington State is like the poster child for certifications and licensing. A lot of states aren’t quite there yet, but we are. It’s a blessing and a curse because it’s hard to find people that have all these certifications and are willing to get them. But, it also ensures that it keeps out those who don’t do a good job and put people at risk because of it. At Northwest Fire Systems, we are committed to maintaining an expert, experienced and certified team.”
Pride and Purpose
Clark concludes, “Our culture is one where we engage all of our people. I want our team to be proud of the fact that a system they have installed may save someone’s life. You need to be proud of what you’re doing and be happy that you are saving lives and protecting property. That’s the heart of what we do.”