Construction sites stay safe, secure with Axel Protection Systems, Inc.
George Larson remembers as a young teenager when his father got a job as a security guard for a local bottling operation in College Point, Queens, New York. When a national beverage company purchased the plant, the new management wanted a security company that had certain insurance and licensing requirements to guard the site.
“My father asked them, ‘If I had a company, would you keep me?’ They needed someone like my dad who was familiar with the plant and its operations, so my brothers and I helped him get incorporated, get a security guard’s license and it was off to the races,” he recalls.
Larson was in college when his father started the company, and after graduating with a degree in accounting, he worked as a CPA for Arthur Andersen. But eventually, he decided to branch out on his own, and in 1989, he followed in his father’s footsteps and started Axel Protection Systems, Inc. (Axel), based in Queens.
Axel provides security services for all the boroughs of New York City, as well as Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties. Its uniformed security officers are certified in Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) fire safety codes, including S-92, F-01 and F-60. All its security officers receive Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and its watchpersons at construction sites are S-60 fitness certified.
In addition, the company offers mobile patrol, foot patrol, security consulting, crowd control, special events security, access control and executive protection. Its security guards can be found at residential buildings, commercial establishments, industrial warehouses and manufacturing plants, even cemeteries. But its specialty niche, which sets it apart from the competition, is construction safety and security services.
With Larson’s business experience and tax knowledge, the company took off. Thirty years later, the firm today provides security services for some of the largest general contractors in New York City, which is home to more than 7,000 completed high-rise buildings. And there are currently more than 6,800 active construction sites across the city.
Specializing in Construction
“We know the construction industry,” says Larson, who serves as President of Axel. “We understand that people will come after hours and try to get on-site to retrieve their toolboxes, or that deliveries will arrive at off hours. Project managers will need us to hold parking spots when large equipment, like generators or boilers, arrive to the site. We look for floods or fires. If a heavy rain floods a basement, our guards are trained to take video to send the client to determine if they need to turn on a pump immediately or if it can wait until the morning.”
The company not only provides on-site security personnel to patrol construction sites, its security guards have special certifications for fire safety. “FDNY Section FC 1404 prohibits smoking on a construction site. That means anywhere within the fence line,” Larson says. “The only place a person can smoke is in a designated area away from any materials, and we are hired to enforce that law.”
The firm is also hired to ensure conformance to fire code rules for large properties requiring a watchperson to be on-site during all hours when operations are not in progress. “Once a building has a footprint of 5,000 square feet, the site has to have a fire guard on the property,” Larson says.
Guards must also be present during welding operations to meet F-60 standards and for concrete pouring operations for S-92 requirements. “In the winter when you pour concrete, the concrete can crack due to the cold temperatures. Construction sites will set up gas- or propane-powered space heaters to heat the room so when concrete is poured, it doesn’t crack,” Larson explains. “The city requires that a certified watchperson is on-site during these operations.”
In addition, the firm has certified fire guards who can be on-site when a fire protection sprinkler system is down for several days to comply with F-01 regulations.
Direct Line of Communication
Larson says the greatest strength of his firm is his communication with customers. He notes, “The biggest complaint I get when I’m on an interview for a job is in the response time of the security company. The prospective clients say it sometimes takes two to three days for a callback, if they ever get a return call at all.”
“The construction industry needs information and communication at all times of the day, and we pride ourselves on that,” Larson adds. “This is a 24/7 industry, and we answer our cellphones when they ring.”
To make it easier for his customers to reach Axel, Larson ensures that when a customer calls the office at any time, they get a live person, and all construction site foremen are given the cellphone number of the Axel project manager. “I also give my clients my cellphone number,” he says. “At night, my texting and email notifications are turned off, but the ringer on my cellphone never gets silenced. Even if it’s 2 in the morning, I answer the phone.”
Axel’s leadership also takes pride in having a steady pool of security guards that can be matched to meet a client’s specific security need. “We’ve been in the industry so long, I rarely have to put an ad in the paper to meet staffing needs,” Larson notes. “People come to our office looking for work. We don’t have problems with turnover. The shortest amount of time that any manager has been with me is 19 years.”
One reason for low turnover is because Larson encourages and trains his staff to treat people with respect. He cites a survey of people who were asked what they wanted most from employers. “The first thing they said was good wages. But the No. 2 thing that employees want is respect. They get that here,” he says.
Axel has a base staff of office workers, managers and supervisors who work from its offices in Queens. “But our industry is controlled in the field. You cannot sit in your office and hope everything will go well. You have to be in the field watching, checking in with and training your personnel. I have a base crew of security guards who have been with me a long time. We blend our staffing so a newly hired guard is assigned on a job with a seasoned veteran of the company,” Larson says.
Axel security officers are licensed by the New York State Department of State Division of Licensing Services. Under New York state law, guards must go through an eight-hour training course before being employed by the company. Then they must have 16 hours of on-the-job training within the first 90 days of employment. “It’s actually a misnomer because it’s not on the job; instead, it is in a classroom with a certified trainer,” Larson says. And each year, security guards participate in an eight-hour classroom training session to maintain their licenses.
Larson is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP), board certified in security management by ASIS International. The prestigious designation is considered the gold standard of certification for security management professionals and demonstrates knowledge and competency in seven key domains of security. It is not obtained easily, requiring a minimum of seven years of security experience and the passing of a stringent exam of more than 200 questions.
Because of his experience and expertise, Larson often teaches a leadership course to newly promoted sergeants, lieutenants and captains at the New York City Police Academy, where he stresses the importance of training. “Training is not a one-time thing. On-the-job training never ends. It starts on day one and is finished the final day on the job,” he says.
“The construction industry needs information and communication at all times of the day, and we pride ourselves on that. This is a 24/7 industry, and we answer our cellphones when they ring.” George Larson, President, Axel Protection Systems, Inc.
When hiring staff, Larson looks for people who are humble. “Our company has a personality of being humble. We want humble people who will come to work on time and will be apologetic if they are late,” he says.
The company also goes above and beyond to meet a client’s needs. “If a building owner asks us to do temperature checks of people entering the building or sweep the lobby floor, we do it because we feel these things are part of safety and security,” he shares.
To ensure the company is meeting client requirements, Axel uses a computerized guard-monitoring device to electronically record building patrols. “The security officers use a wand to touch a computerized chip at various patrol locations to record where they’ve been. It is a way for the construction company and Axel to know the job is being done,” Larson says.
Axel has provided security services to many of the big-name construction companies in New York, including Turner, Pinnacle Contractors, Plaza Construction, Skanska, Judlau, HITT Contracting, KiSKA Construction, Hunt Industries, AAH Construction Corp., Picone Construction Corp., and Urban Foundation/Engineering.
Larson is especially proud of the services his firm provided during the demolition of Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets Major League Baseball team from 1964 to 2008 and the New York Jets football team from 1964 to 1983. The stadium was dismantled in 2009. “It was a monumental structure, and the job took close to a year,” Larson recalls. “We caught many people trying to go on-site to get some of the dirt from the infield, steal mementos or to get a final look. We were able to guard the site successfully, and no one got hurt.” The firm also provided fire guard services during the construction of the adjacent Citi Field to prevent smoking on the construction site as the replacement ballpark was being built.
After Hurricane Sandy struck the northeastern coast in 2012, Axel provided security services for the repair of subway tunnels in New York City. “That was difficult work that we’re proud of,” he says. “We helped get New York City back up and running.”