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Spotlight - Fire Alarm Control Systems Inc.

image L-R: Duane Hannasch and Joe Ebrom look over a set of plans.

SAN ANTONIO - Everyday in the construction industry, paths are crossed, new relationships are developed and new friendships are formed. That couldn’t be truer for Duane Hannasch and Joe Ebrom.






Where are you from?
    Joe:  I was born and raised in Karnes City.  I live in Floresville now and have lived there since I got married.
    Duane: I’m from San Antonio.  I grew up here. I live in Bulverde.

How did you meet?
    Joe:  We met through the industry.  The Texas Fire Alarm Association brought us together.  I was on the board of directors for years and I’d see Duane and Jim at the meetings.  We would be coming from the same place and started talking.  We were competitors, but good friends.

How did you get started in the fire alarm business?

    Duane:  My dad was an electrician.  He owned Shamrock Electric.  His shop was next door to Hockstadt Inc., a fire alarm business.    Jim Hockstadt started Hockstadt Inc. in the mid ‘70s.   I had already been an electrician for years.  Jim came over one day and said ‘Do you want to do something else?’  Considering that my dad, my uncle, and several cousins were all in the business, I said yeah, ‘why not.’  So I moved next door and started learning the fire alarm business. 
    Joe:  My dad was a radio and TV repairman. I thought that was the business I would pursue.  After I went to school and got my associates degree in electronics, I went to work in Corpus Christi in the radio and TV repair field.  Back then (1976), I could see the writing on the wall.  That industry was really changing so I answered an ad in the paper for Simplex Time Recorder who were big in the time recording business at that time and had recently  bought a division of IBM for school clock systems and fire alarm sytems.  Having an electronic background help me understand the fire system installations and allowed me to advance in the company.
    While working for Simplex, it got to a certain point where you could see all these changes and big corporate America and things coming down. I  left and went to work for a guy I worked with at Simplex here in San Antonio, Bill Cavin, at Fire Quest. 

You said you started out as an electrician. How difficult was it to learn the fire alarm side of it?
    Duane:  The transition from electrician to fire alarm was pretty easy.  I already had my journeyman’s license for six or seven years.  At the end of the day, electricity is electricity. You’re either dealing with 120 volts or you’re dealing with 24 volts.  It was simply learning the supervision and the way the circuits go together in the fire alarm panels.   Jim did a real good job of going over that with me.  Then I went through the manufacturer’s training schools to learn more.  We send our technicians to training schools as well. 

When was Fire Alarm Control Systems Inc. started?
    Duane:  When Jim was getting ready to retire he wanted to find a good way to transition.  He didn’t know if he wanted to keep the company or have a part of the company. The easiest way he could come up with was for us to start a new company, Fire Alarm Control Systems. 
    In Feb. 1995, we finished up all the work on the books for Hockstadt Inc. and anything new which came in went to Fire Alarm Control Systems. 
    In the beginning, there were only four of us; Jim, a secretary, a draftsman and myself. Military work was our main thing with an occasional commercial job.

Joe, when did you become a part of the FACSSA team?
    Fire Quest just wasn’t growing and I always wanted to grow a company into a successful reputable company. That’s when I started talking to Duane and Jim about coming on board.  We have known each other for years.  They knew I had worked with big companies and was doing a lot of commercial work.  After coming on board, It didn’t take us long to start growing. We installed whatever we sold ourselves because there weren’t that many people in the business.  We went from four or five employees to 20.
    Duane:  Joe came on board in May 1997 and it worked out perfect because his customer base was totally separate from our customer base.  He did commercial systems, AT&T systems and school projects. We were mainly smaller commercial and military.
Business has been good, then?
    Joe:  Company growth was unreal from what the original company was doing when we branched out.  We branched out into so many things.  If you don’t stay ahead of the competition, they’re going to run you out of business.
    So we got into intercom and mass notification.  Duane had the military work, and I had the AT&T work.  You  always had to look for an avenue because your competitors get cheaper and cheaper all the time.

How did your company become so successful?
    Duane: We have a little higher requirement for our technicians.  When doing military work, you have to be nationally certified.  We push our guys to do that. And we have a good core of guys.  We have one guy who got his NICET IV.  Level IV is the highest level you can get.  You have to have 10 years’ experience before taking the NICET IV.  
    Joe:  We have about five to seven NICET IIIs or NICET IVs in our company.  I’m a NICET III and Duane is a NICET IV.  By doing this, it has separated us from the competition.

Tell me about your wives and children.

    Duane:  I’ve been married to my beautiful wife Debbie for 37 years.  We got married in 1980.  We have one daughter, Amanda, and a grandson.
    Joe:  Marilyn and I have been married for 35 wonderful years.  We have two children, Matthew and Amanda, and one granddaughter.

Are any of your children involved in the business?
    Joe:  My son worked here for a while until he became a police officer.  I had hoped he would get involved and stay with it, but he always wanted to be a police officer.

Do you have any hobbies or do anything for fun when you’re not working?
    Duane:  About 30 years ago when we first started FACSSA, we moved to Bulverde. It was all volunteer fire departments back then.  One day I walked down to the local volunteer fire department and asked if they needed volunteers because I’d been designing fire alarm systems for years and thought it would be nice to see how smoke moves in buildings.  They took me under their wing and gave me an expanding knowledge in helping me with designs  seeing how things work.  I volunteered for close to 20 years there. 
    The fire department started responding for EMS because they were two separate departments at the time. I got my EMT Basic, advanced to paramedic and for about 15 years I was volunteering every Sunday night for EMS on a paramedic shift.  When they got a training center, I was one of the instructors to help teach some EMT basics once they got some classes up and going.
    I’m also a volunteer on the medical committee for the Stock Show and Rodeo.
    I like to do some hunting, fishing and just good outdoor stuff at the end of the day.  We had a lease down south, but now I just do one-week hunts in New Mexico for elk hunting with a group of guys.  One of them used to be my regional sales manager for FCI. My son-in-law has a friend with a place he manages in West Texas near Sabinal.  It’s easier not to worry about a deer lease anymore. I just do a one-week hunt and I’m done with a lot of meat.
    Joe:  I have a second business.  I raise show cattle for FFA and 4-H projects.  I have cattle in Floresville and Panna Maria at my wife’s property.  Now with my granddaughter, I’m raising something for her to show. 

What breed are you raising?
    Joe:  Half-blood Brahma. We show them as Brahmas in major shows.   I just purchased several new full blood Brahman cattle.  I also sit on the parish building board in Floresville, and on the building committee for our condo association in Rockport, TX.
    I like the outdoors and going hunting and fishing.  I hunted for 27 years in Laredo and I miss it.  It’s been two years since I’ve hunted.  My kids all grew up hunting in Laredo.  I have a condo at the coast; my son and I fish a lot. 
    When I first came on board, Duane and I did a lot of fishing with our clients to build a customer base.  It was a little easier back then. Technology has changed things; people just don’t want to get away.  We went fishing at least every two weeks in the summer with our customers.  We did a lot of that and the customer relationships that we built have stuck with us all these years.  I wish we could fish like we did back then, but business has grown such much, you have to spend more time to run it. -cmw

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Carol Wiatrek meditor@constructionnews.net