Maryland Fire Equipment Corporation keeps firefighters and citizens safe
Robert E. “Bob” Colvin Sr. founded Maryland Fire Equipment Corporation (Maryland Fire Equipment) in 1961. For decades, he shared lifesaving techniques and lessons with firefighters in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Little did he know that he was also teaching his children the skills and mindset necessary to run a successful business that serves the community’s needs and helps keep it safe.
Today, it’s that generation that is maintaining their father’s legacy of service, education and civic duty.
Shelley and Scott Colvin, Vice Presidents, are the third generation to run the business and embody the longstanding mission of Maryland Fire Equipment, where “service is the burning issue.”
“We always strive to teach and educate our clients on life-safety equipment and love working with companies through our training division,” Shelley says. Maryland Fire Equipment, which is celebrating 60 years, is a full-service firefighting and life-safety supply distributor, providing firefighting equipment and supplies as well as fire suppression, detection and special hazard systems. Since 1986, Maryland Fire Equipment has operated the East Coast’s largest personal protective equipment (PPE) center, Shelley says.
It has cultivated relationships with leaders of fire equipment manufacturing and offers selections from Globe, MSA Safety, Elkhart Brass, Stanfield’s Life Liners, Amerex Corporation and others.
Innovative from the Start
But before Maryland Fire Equipment was outfitting and equipping fire departments, businesses and homeowners, Bob Colvin was gearing up as a firefighter in the metro D.C. area, serving in a handful of communities in the late 1950s. At that time, there were no computers or networks to help search for equipment and repair providers. While Bob was doing the research for his department, he created a directory of companies and manufacturers to keep his crew and fellow firefighters in high-performing, effective and safe gear. Bob realized that such information was useful not only to his own department, but also for others across the industry. And so, Maryland Fire Equipment was born in 1961 in the Silver Spring, Maryland, basement of James S. Hartwell, Bob’s father-in-law. “My father was definitely an entrepreneur who had incredible foresight and took chances that others simply wouldn’t,” Shelley says.
The company continues to serve firefighters by offering professional equipment, including thermal imagers, ladders, nozzles and hand tools. It provides PPE designed to meet the demands of fire, rescue and emergency medical providers, such as helmets, gloves and other garments. But it also sells equipment and tools to make life safer for everyone, everywhere—including homes, businesses and industrial sites. Portable fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, escape ladders, standpipe equipment and more are available to every customer.
Shelley appreciates her father’s foresight. “There are companies that cater to professional firefighters and those that provide systems for others, but we do it all,” she says. “That’s all thanks to my dad. My father was a very bright man, and I say that with all the love and admiration in my heart. I’ve never seen anyone try as much as he did. He tried everything, he dipped his toes into everything.”
Loyal, Dedicated Team
That innovative spirit means that today, Maryland Fire Equipment’s clients range from fire departments and stadium owners to hospitals and the military. Other customers include churches, hospitals and homeowners. The company’s team of 40 employees, including office staff, service technicians and seamstresses and tailors, is committed to providing the proper equipment, tools and services.
“At Maryland Fire Equipment, we have a common goal: to make sure that the families of the people who work here are all taken care of. My parents ran the company that way, and Scott and I try to run it the same way,” Shelley says.
That includes adopting the open-door policy that Bob implemented.
“Employees are our family and they are important to us, so we handle them with care,” she says. Most of the staff has been with Maryland Fire Equipment for at least 15 years, and the majority of the management staff has at least 20 years with the firm.
The owners take the company’s work and mission seriously, but the Colvins have made camaraderie and a lively, friendly atmosphere a priority, too. “If you’ve worked here and haven’t had fun, you haven’t been trying,” Shelley says.
It’s not just employee relationships that have been crucial to creating a welcoming environment, it’s the customers, too.
“Many firefighters have been coming in for gear and repairs for so long that they come through the back door and don’t even bother going through the lobby anymore,” Shelley says. “We love that they come to catch up with the staff and just visit.”
Oftentimes, the ongoing conversations with customers are sparked by thorough and thoughtful discussions about the products themselves, to make sure customers know exactly what they are getting and the proper way to use it.
“Dad loved to teach people and educate them on how to stay safe,” Shelley says. “That mission is unchanged today. Our staff works hard to help customers understand how and why the equipment works, so that they will feel more comfortable with it.”
That type of training and outreach has led to lasting relationships within the Montgomery County community, where Maryland Fire Equipment has been headquartered since the beginning. It’s been in the same Rockville building since 1968.
Shelley says that the company’s location and proximity to the nation’s capital has helped it secure a variety of work and projects. One of their contracts was with the U.S. Department of State for the design and installation of fire suppression systems in 43 U.S. embassies across the globe.
The team has installed clean agent fire systems at museums and designed and installed fire suppression and detection systems for the retired presidential yacht—the USS Sequoia. They added a carbon dioxide fire suppression system at The Washington Post, kept soccer fans safe with 22 state-of-the-art fire suppression systems at Audi Field and provided turnout and PPE gear for firefighters in 10 jurisdictions in the federal Urban Area Security Initiative program. “The people in this region know this family and our mission,” Shelley says. “They know we not only want to help others take care of themselves and their communities, but that we’re here to offer education.”