By Gerhard Hope
National Fire Fighting Manufacturing FZCO (NAFFCO) is among the world’s top five manufacturers of fire fighting equipment, fire protection systems and safety engineering. We speak to group CEO Eng. Khalid Al Khatib
Khalid Al Khatib explains that NAFFCO was established in 1991, with 11 employees. Today the company has 4,500 staff. “Our vision was to become a global leader in providing comprehensive and reliable fire protection solutions and safety engineering,” he says. For the past two decades, NAFFCO has been providing total fire-protection solutions under a single roof. “NAFFCO is a major player in the Middle East. It also has a global presence in more than 82 countries. We are planning on reaching 100 countries by the end of this year,” says Al Khatib.
“Our product range includes certified fire extinguishers, heavy-duty fire-hose reels, fire pumps, fire cabinets, fire doors, valves, fire hydrants, highly advanced fire trucks and rescue vehicles.” Al Khatib says the company recently introduced its Falcon 6 airport rescue and fire-fighting vehicle, manufactured wholly at its Jafza facilities. “We are the only company outside the European and American continent to build such a highly advanced vehicle,” he says.
As a total fire-protection solutions provider, the company caters for all types of facilities, from residential and commercial buildings to telecoms centres, industrial installations, refineries, the petchem industry and power generation plants. “We offer our expertise and services as a fire protection and safety engineering consultant to various industries,” says Al Khatib.
Ongoing research and development is a prominent feature of the company. “This is the way we maintain our global competitiveness in the market. Through continuous research and development, we constantly update our products and services for the fire fighting industry. We give extra attention to this area to prevent the obsolescence of our products, and to generate the innovation necessary to sustain our business,” says Al Khatib.
“We have a qualified team of more than 150 engineers with different engineering capabilities, combined with other skilled professionals, which gives prime focus to meeting the varied requirements of different business segments. We have set up our own research and development department, which assists us with the ongoing development of fire protection systems and safety engineering. At NAFFCO we believe strongly in providing professional training for people in order for them to be competitive in the global market,” says Al Khatib.
The research and development focus dovetails neatly with the company’s emphasis on being a ‘total solutions’ provider, as opposed to an equipment manufacturer and supplier.
“We have intentionally been rebranding NAFFCO as a total solutions provider in fire protection systems and safety engineering over the last year. This is because through our experience we have learnt that most of our clients experience difficulty in dealing with multiple suppliers in order to manage their total equipment needs.
“When we realised this was a potential stumbling block, we decided to offer complete solutions under a single roof through our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and world-class engineering expertise. Basically we adopted this holistic approach in order to improve our customer service and satisfaction,” says Al Khatib.
The company also believes that awareness-raising and education and training are essential. “Awareness is the best way to make people understand the importance of using approved and certified products to protect life and property. As part of our corporate social responsibility initiatives, we have started a unique children’s training centre with a fire and safety training programme at Kidzania in Dubai Mall,” says Al Khatib. “Here we provide primary education and training on fire and safety through fun, interactive teaching and learning.”
The company is also closely affiliated with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the supreme body for international fire and safety standards. “This keeps us up to date with the latest information and standards needed in the industry,” says Al Khatib. “Our reputation for quality and reliability is acclaimed globally, and our products meet various national and international standards. Our products are manufactured in the UAE and are certified by international bodies such as LPCB, BSI, SAI Global, SABS, UL and FM, in accordance with the NFPA. We take immense pride in disseminating this vital information to the broader society as part of our corporate social responsibility,” says Al Khatib.
NAFFCO’s own ISO9001 quality management system has been accredited by the UL, LPCB and BV.
“In order to be able to remain competitive and meet global demand, our research and development initiatives are coordinated with our quality assurance team when it comes to launching innovative products that meet international standards. Our various certifications from a host of international bodies, in accordance with the requirements of the NFPA, has placed NAFFCO in the top tier of the fire fighting industry globally,” says Al Khatib.
“We have also been awarded the prestigious Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Business Award 2010 for manufacturing excellence in the free zone category. This is the third time that NAFFCO has won, previously clinching the award in the export and manufacturing categories in 2005 and 2006 respectively. The company has also been recognised by the Dubai Quality Appreciation Programme 2008, which is testimony to our consistent focus on business excellence and commitment to quality,” says Al Khatib.
The company is also promoting the concept of ‘reactive’ fire fighting as opposed to the traditional ‘passive’ response. This includes a move towards automation and control of both fire alarm and security systems. Al Khatib comments that this is a growing trend, especially as more buildings adopt smart systems to promote safety and energy efficiency.
“In this regard, we have launched various products ranging from fire alarm to security systems that enable people to be proactive in order to be able to meet any contingency. NAFFCO’s ‘green’ technology provides a complete portfolio of products to promote sustainable development. For example, our ‘clean gas’ concept for extinguishing fires is aimed at reducing the traditional carbon dioxide medium. Our inert gas fire-suppression system is an example of promoting safe, sustainable and eco-friendly technology,” says Al Khatib.
Does the Middle East keep up to date with the latest trends and developments in the international fire fighting arena? Al Khatib says the answer is a resounding yes, especially because governmental regulatory bodies and authorities are insisting on the use of approved and certified products. “It is our prime responsibility to spread awareness of the importance of using certified products,” says Al Khatib. For example, NAFFCO is co-operating with the NFPA on developing various cost-effective solutions for controlling forest fires.
Al Khatib adds that, in terms of regional development, Abu Dhabi’s 2030 plan “established a clear vision for sustainability as the foundation for any new development in both the capital and the larger emirate. This will definitely have a positive impact on our business going forward, and at the same supporting local communities in terms of health and safety regulations.” Al Khatib stresses that NAFFCO’s research and development drive is particularly geared to support Abu Dhabi’s sustainability initiatives.
How has the current downturn in the construction industry impacted on business? Al Khatib says: “Yes, due to the impact of the global financial meltdown, we previously faced minor variations in our anticipated business volumes.” However, Al Khatib is confident that regional growth will help to smooth over any such rough patches going forward. “Future regional growth will give us positive leverage to catch up.”
Al Khatib compares the global financial crisis to sailing at sea. “It is very easy to sail in smooth and favourable conditions, but in stormy and rough conditions you need special skills and a high level of expertise in order to survive and reach the shore. At NAFFCO we believe we have those capabilities.”