Serving, Solving & Saving
Employees of ASAP FIREWATCH serve as detectives on location, providing fire safety expertise
Guaranteed: ASAP FIREWATCH (ASAP) Founder and Managing Partner Chris Seguinot gets visibly fired up about having an opportunity to provide peace of mind to his clients, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “I can easily eat, sleep and drink the fire watch safety business,” he admits, “so much so that my wife and friends have been known to request a break from the subject.”
Employees also experience an adrenaline rush when using their training to provide clients that extra layer of protection in the event of emergencies or during planned construction projects. When a building’s fire systems are being installed, serviced or when they unexpectedly fail, the ASAP FIREWATCH crew of retired inspectors, firefighters and other trained professionals can provide 24-hour systematic surveillance. “When I am on a job site, I feel like a private detective,” shares Jerry Wittman, Fire Guard. “I love helping stake out a property to prevent hazards.”
Throughout Northern Virginia and Maryland every year, ASAP FIREWATCH provides about 75,000 hours of fire watch surveillance services for property management companies. The team works during construction and system installation and when fire safety systems are down for routine inspections, testing and maintenance, or when unforeseen events or unplanned safety system shutdowns occur. “On our Kippax Place apartment project in Hopewell, Virginia,” explains Chris, “we had two fires reported in the units, three gas leaks and a water main problem over that 19-month project.”
ASAP’s on-location experts relay relevant site- and date-stamped digital information logs to the Command Center at ASAP headquarters in McLean, Virginia. Says Chris, “Other entities provide basic surveillance services, but we are known for our promise to deliver trained professionals on-site within two hours of getting a call.” A call might, for example, result from a lightning strike, a vintage pump breaking down or a construction crew accidentally disarming the safety-monitoring panel. He adds, “We are inquisitive problem solvers that know our clients are going through a safety challenge, and we are there to consult, comfort and assist them through the process.”
Challenges and Freedoms
ASAP FIREWATCH inspectors walk a property every half-hour to observe checkpoints on alarms, exit lights, wiring and other safety systems and provide documentation that establishes a timeline in the event of any changes or problems. According to Chris, 99% of the time, the fire safety systems are working, so the fire safety experts can, on occasion, struggle with fatigue or complacency. “Any 24-hour business shares these types of struggles once in a while, but ASAP FIREWATCH pays bonuses and treats each employee well.
“Thankfully, we have patient families that generally understand the personal sacrifices of a team that is working all day, every day—even if that involves missing family gatherings,” adds Chris. “We try to create an environment of learning, growing, flexibility and depth on the bench so our people can work when they want to and be off work when they choose.” He believes employees appreciate these freedoms and therefore love coming to work.
The general public’s lack of awareness and understanding about the fire watch business is another significant challenge. Sometimes it can be a foreign concept within the construction industry; sometimes the insurance company or local fire marshal can require surveillance. If ignored, the resulting fire damages and repair expenses can be crippling. Adds Chris, “If a property owner chooses not to implement a fire watch, the insurance carrier may be eligible to deny what would normally be a covered claim, and the fire marshal could assess hefty fines as well.”
Chris often finds that building professionals unfamiliar with the intricacies of the fire watch procedures think they can add that duty to their employees’ job descriptions. “Staff members’ attention tends to be divided because they have other duties,” he explains, “but our experts are focused and often serve as the property manager’s eyes and ears on-site. For example, they know the building well and can be helpful when the power company or insurance adjuster arrives or when a vendor needs a key at some odd time of night.” ASAP experts are trained to provide the client with a running log of real-time updates via the Command Center, thus fulfilling the company’s hallmark promise of “uncompromising customer service.”
According to longtime friend and Co-Partner Kiran Uppin, “ASAP has a reputation for being responsive, accountable to staff and clients, and for demonstrating a willingness to exceed expectations.” Adds Chris, “We train our field reps to remember that every alert observation, photo log and good attitude adds up to the ‘wow factor’ we want to provide each client.”
Property Management with a Critical Twist
“I have been protecting buildings and providing support services to property managers for years,” Chris explains, “so, in a way, I more or less tripped over this fire watch concept when I realized how thin those managers are stretched—particularly when they juggle the management of multiple properties while experiencing a building safety crisis.” Ironically, he has the property managers to thank for helping him start this specialty service for property managers.
“I was accustomed to providing staffing, painting, cleaning and other support services to my property management clients for decades,” he explains, “but in 2005, when one asked if I could provide a fire watch, I had to research the fire codes and rules to learn what that was.” Nine years later, he was still considering how to sustain a year-round business specializing only in fire watch services when the temperatures dropped and gave him a strong nudge.
While the polar vortex of 2014 in the D.C. metro region was a nightmare for property managers and owners, it was a wake-up call for Chris to kick his fire watch business plan into overdrive. Plastic sprinkler pipes deep within the walls of buildings and multifamily facilities all over the area shattered like glass and disabled thousands of fire safety systems. According to Chris, “Those fractured and bruised buildings were on fire watch for months, and the intensity of providing such a high-level service inspired me to become a specialist and recruit and train others.”
By expanding his business funnel to include fire marshals and construction companies, he has been able to offer fire watch protection far beyond the winter months.
ASAP often adds value to clients through its wide network of business connections. “We have been known to find hard-to-get parts from equipment companies faster than the property managers can,” adds Chris. “In fact, several general contractors have called us their best kept secret.” Perhaps that title comes from the added bonus of having ASAP professionals on-site around the clock who also spot and help prevent theft from construction sites.
Best Practices Foster Competitive Edge
ASAP FIREWATCH leaders focus on continuous improvement with the insight of an Advisory Council. The five members’ cumulative real-world, safety-related experience surpasses 100 years. The group meets quarterly to discuss current and past safety concerns, and consider better ways to train and expand the staff. “This group is the compass to keep ASAP FIREWATCH heading in the right direction, and it helps the organization,” notes Chris, “to stay focused on protecting life, protecting property, minimizing liability and taking excellent care of customers and employees.”
Another way the leaders distinguish ASAP FIREWATCH from others attempting to provide this service is to tweak the company’s expertise and to strive to even overprotect. How? ASAP’s insurance covers more specific safety-related issues than insurance for a typical security firm and the training is fire-safety specific.
Additionally, Chris and Kiran know firsthand the benefits of sharing complementary leadership styles. “I am the visionary guy and Kiran is the action guy, making it all happen,” shares Chris. Chris and Kiran have been friends since middle school when they were class vice president and president. “The foundation of our business starts at the top,” says Chris, “and I could not ask for a better partner! Our friendship has endured the test of time.”
ASAP’s leadership hopes to perfect their company’s training model before offering their fire watch services beyond the North Virginia region. “We want to train additional staff and field reps to help our clients’ buildings run so smooth that our people are seemingly invisible,” adds Kiran.
Andy Anderson, with American Automatic Sprinkler Company, Inc., can vouch for that. He has hired ASAP FIREWATCH since 2018 to provide fire watch services during the construction phase of the firm’s projects. Andy says, “ASAP does a great job of keeping us informed and protecting our job sites.”
Being a visionary, Chris says he is always considering the company’s next steps. Expansion is on the minds of ASAP’s leaders, but they are not in a hurry. Chris explains, “One of our keys to success is leveraging technology in a blue- collar industry to better serve our customers.”
The firm’s culture of serving, solving and saving drives ASAP FIREWATCH to stay relevant, lead the industry into the future and work with local fire marshals to develop new ways to prevent fires year-round.