ESSCOE bets on mass notification and wins

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

MUNDELEIN, Ill.—When Michael Cook, Todd Keppy and Scott Bartmess left SimplexGrinnell five years ago and formed their own fire installation company, ESSCOE, they knew the next big thing in the fire market would be mass notification.

The company experienced double-digit growth in the first couple of years.

Business has leveled off since 2008, “but we haven’t seen any decline,” Bartmess said. He chocks that up to the company’s focus on mass notification and “high-profile, high-challenge projects.”

He calls mass notification “the biggest thing to hit the fire alarm market since ADA [the Americans with Disabilities Act] in the 1980s. We built ESSCOE around serving that [mass notification] market,” said Scott Bartmess.

ADA was the driver behind the requirement that fire alarm systems have strobes so that hearing impaired people would be alerted, Bartmess explained.

“It was a boon to the fire alarm market,” he said. “It increased the size, complexity, testing and commission requirements for fire alarm systems and affected everyone across the board, those doing the manufacturing, selling, designing, inspection and approval.”

It was clear to Bartmess and his partners that mass notification—with specific requirements about audibility—was not just something the military was trying to define and would eventually require, but that it would become something non-military campuses and corporations would begin requiring as well.

With NFPA putting mass notification requirements into code as of the 2010 edition, the market is maturing and ESSCOE has found itself in a good spot, business-wise. 

It does a lot of work with the military, which Cook focuses on, and health care, on which Keppy focuses. It also does a fair amount of retail work, upgrading antiquated fire systems.

Bartmess agreed that mass notification’s movement into the non-military applications has been slow, but it’s happening he said.

“The military knows it, wants it, and expects it,” he said. The health care vertical “knows about it, is interested.” Large corporations are learning about mass notification and if they’ve got the budget, they’re interested in installing it.

ESSCOE is well positioned, Bartmess said, because of the expertise among its 17-employee staff. “We have professional engineers, electrical engineers, NICET Level III technicians, experienced and NICET Level IV designers who have experience using acoustical modeling software ... Mass notification is not the same old voice evacuation, it’s a system that requires a different approach ... your expertise has to be not just engineering or contracting, it’s needs to be both.”