Macedonia firm’s software helps fire teams keep gear in check

By Dan Shingler for Crain’s Cleveland Business, September 23, 2018 — 

Firefighters have a lot more to keep track of than just fires, accidents and disasters.

They also have equipment they need to keep track of and maintain, stuff that can sit unused for weeks but which must work perfectly the next time it’s needed. There are oxygen tanks, masks, hoses, ladders, gloves, boots, hooks, radios, helmets and axes, not to mention all the of equipment on a truck that controls water and handles communications.

All that equipment and the need for its readiness has created a nice little niche for Macedonia-based Station Check, which makes a software-as-a-service product that it says helps departments keep track of their equipment and its maintenance.

“It’s all about readiness,” said Tony Crisalli, a local investor, serial entrepreneur and co-owner of the company.

That message is getting traction with fire departments, too, Station Check officials say.

The private company is still small, with revenue about to top $1 million for the first time this year. But revenue has tripled in the past year, Station Check reported, and, more importantly, its customer base is growing.

The software now is used in more than 300 fire stations with more than 70 departments around the country, Crisalli said.

The market is ripe for the product, he said, because fire departments have been slow to adopt new technology to manage equipment. About 90% of the departments across the nation still use pen and paper to track their equipment, Crisalli said.

Unlike a paper log, Station Check follows up to ensure equipment checks and maintenance procedures are actually done by requiring users to log in and confirm them as they’re completed, Crisalli said.

It’s not a new product; it just recently has gotten a new push, Station Check partners say.

The system was born in Akron and is the brainchild of software guru Marling Engle, founder and CEO of the software development and consulting firm Metisentry. Engle wrote the code for Station Check in 2010 and released it to the first fire departments in 2012. But it wasn’t until Crisalli came aboard at the end of 2014, invested in the company and built a management team that it started to grow quickly, Engle said.

“Station Check started as an internal product at Metisentry,” Engle said. “We built it and got a couple of customers on. Then I met Tony, and he said, ‘I think there’s a lot more here,’ and I said, ‘Me too.’ ” … So he started on the capital raise, and now he’s doing product development and helping market it.”

Along with Crisalli, local financier Fred DiSanto — chairman and CEO of Ancora, a Cleveland wealth management firm with $6.8 billion in assets — and about a dozen others have invested an undisclosed sum in Station Check. DiSanto, Crisalli and Engle now make up the company’s three-member board of directors.

The new investors have meant that the company has been able to build up its management team with executives with backgrounds in homeland security, accounting, finance and marketing.

The three directors are also the company’s largest shareholders, but no one owns a controlling interest anymore, Engle said.

“There are probably 15 more shareholders now. We’re on our third or fourth round of funding, and there are no majority shareholders of Station Check now,” he said.

That’s fine by him, he said, because the company has achieved faster growth than he likely would have on his own, because Metisentry, not Station Check, is his chief business.

“I’ve always bootstrapped everything,” Engle said.

Now Station Check is at trade shows, and its people often are on the road showing fire departments the software’s capabilities, Crisalli said.

But both Crisalli and Engle said their best source of new subscribers — monthly fees are based on the size of a fire department or station — is referrals. And for referrals to exist, the system has to work and prove to departments that it can save them time and money, if not lives as well.

So far, so good. Station Check gets high marks from users such as Matt Cern, a firefighter with the Valley Fire District in Peninsula and deputy branch manager for the Summit County Hazardous Materials Response Team. Some Summit County emergency response agencies are looking at Station Check, but Valley Fire already uses it and Cern said he knows it works.

“We were one of the guinea pigs,” Cern said, noting that Valley Fire was one of the first departments to use the software.

It’s particularly important there, too, he said, because the department is volunteer, meaning it’s not continually manned. When firefighters are called into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to rescue someone or put out a fire, they need to know the equipment was taken care of since it was last stowed.

He said Station Check organizes and programs things such as checks of critical self-contained breathing equipment. The service leads to a better run station and equipment that is continually maintained, he said.

“What we found over the course of time doing paper checks was that guys weren’t always thoroughly doing everything. Now they have to, because the software checks it,” Cern said.

Now the next step is to further ramp up growth. Crisalli will focus on that, while Engle continues to improve the product based on user feedback and to scale it for more and larger users.

The company recently signed up the city of San Diego as a client, which alone has more than 60 fire stations to monitor, Crisalli said. He said talks are underway with another major U.S. city that he hopes to sign up soon.

The potential market is huge, with more than 29,000 fire departments and over 50,000 stations in the U.S. alone, Crisalli said.

If Station Check can penetrate that market, it won’t be done, either. Both Crisalli and Engle said the product has other applications as well and they plan to market it to police, military units and possibly sports teams.

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