AIR CARE: A story about servicing the community
By Reggie Rossignol, February, 16, 2021
When Chris and Brook Thomas were called more than 20 years ago to service breathing apparatuses – they didn’t know it would lead to a successful business venture.
But that’s what happened. The brothers were both career firemen at the time. Chris was stationed in James City County and Brook in Williamsburg.
As part of their required annual training with their departments, they were certified to test the self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) firemen wear on calls. These tests ensure that the equipment is working and clean air is circulating when firemen need it most.
A representative from a SCBA manufacturer contacted the two firemen when the company was unable to perform annual service to air packs West Point Paper Mill employees use. The rep asked Chris and Brook if they were interested in the job, and they agreed.
Not only was the mill satisfied with their basic servicing, but the two addressed additional equipment problems that could have been dangerous.
The following year, the mill called again.
Because of the high liability, the brothers knew they either needed to form a business with a license and insurance or turn it down. They opted for the first and formed Air Care, Inc. (ACI).
They also discovered that small volunteer fire and rescue departments didn’t have anyone providing service to their equipment either. There was a need.
BUSINESS CATCHING FIRE
Business was initially slow because most equipment servicing was required only annually, and fire departments have tricky regulations about qualified providers. Some regions require technicians stay in their own territory. Others are first come, first serve. Marketing proved difficult.
They also led busy lives with families, full-time jobs and volunteer work at Abingdon Fire and Rescue. They balanced their ACI schedule with their regular fire shifts, sometimes getting only one day off a week.
The two started collecting equipment, which they shared and stored at their homes. They drove back and forth to get what they needed from each other. When a service call came in, they’d load portable tables and equipment into their trucks and go. It was a lot to set up and tear down at each job site.
Their first big purchase four years later was an enclosed trailer with tables. This allowed them to store equipment and work from the mobile unit.
Over the years clients requested specific services, products and supplies, and the growing company added them to their service menu. The team naturally grew with demand.
Brook and Chris found more time after they each retired as battalion chiefs with 25+ years of service – Brook in 2019, Chris in 2018.
This year the company celebrates its 20th anniversary. The team of 11 has grown into four main divisions: rescue tools, breathing air compressors, breathing apparatuses, extinguishers, and smaller equipment, such as helmets, turnout gear, gloves, and tools.
All employees, except for their office manager, have ties to fire service, “because who better to work on your equipment than someone who uses it,” says Brook.
The multi-million dollar company now services all of Virginia. There are only five competitors in the state, but none offer all that Air Care provides.
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC AND COMMUNITY
In 2018 the team moved into office space at 3105 George Washington Memorial Highway in Hayes. “It’s great to finally have a separate office out of our homes,” Chris says.
Finding space was challenging because of limited availability for industrial class property. Their hydro-cylinder test equipment also requires a 4’ deep hole in the floor for operation.
“Thankfully, this space can accommodate this need and provides room to grow,” Brook says. “We do air quality analysis for breathing equipment and can now provide in-house testing that previously had to be shipped to Miami for servicing.”
The company then opened its doors to the public.
“We were in here for two years before we unlocked the front door because we didn’t have anything available for the general public,” Chris says. “It wasn’t until we started offering extinguishers, that we had anything to offer the community.”
Because of the essential nature of their business, they were able to continue ordering supplies for the pandemic. They have been able to stock N95 masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, and ACI safety glasses.
“We had to be able to support Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the fire departments. Thankfully, we’ve been able to extend that to the community as well,” said Brook.
THE SERVICE OF BANKING
Brook is just as committed to Chesapeake Bank as he is to fire service. “He won’t even hear out another financial service if a representative walks through the door,” Chris says of Brook.
Brook challenged Chesapeake to offer a corporate credit card because he needed one and didn’t want to work with another bank.
“There are things that are more important to me than half a percentage on a credit card rate,” says Brook. “Chesapeake Bank holds the commercial loan for our business and our merchant services and business bank accounts. They also have my vehicle loans, my personal money, and my personal mortgage. I know when I call Johanna Northstein or Melissa Crawford, they’ll be there, day or night. That’s what matters to me.”
Brook and Chris use the corporate cards and their technicians use purchase cards to handle maintenance issues on the road.
Chris says his team uses their cards often. They’ve been particularly helpful when making large or online purchases. The card is accepted everywhere, so they know they can count on it in unexpected situations Not only is it convenient, it provides peace of mind.
Just as Chris and Brook fulfill a demand for local service and products in their industry, small business banking does the same. ACI had a need that we could meet locally.
At Chesapeake we do more than provide an annual maintenance check-up on your accounts and service your transactions. We want to have a relationship with you. We want to know your story, what your needs are and how we can help take your business further.
That’s the beauty of community banking.