Eng Khalid Al Khatib, CEO, NAFFCO, discussed the challenges and opportunities in the regional fire protection market
Can you provide a brief recap of the history of NAFFCO?
We started in 1991 when we built our factory here in Jebel Ali in the UAE. We were about 15 people at the time and designed and manufactured certain types of firefighting equipment. From there, the journey started. Now we’re considered one of the best in the world, with over 10,000 people and around 600 engineers in different sectors.
We’re a UAE-based company and we hold the longest approved list of products in firefighting and fire alarm systems, all approved by international organisations.
How have you overcome challenges along the way? What was a major challenge you faced?
The challenges are always there, but our vision and hard work has helped us overcome these challenges. We’ve managed to put the right people and resources in place and turn challenges into opportunities, which helped us become better at what we do.
In 2008, during the recession, many companies were letting go of their employees but NAFFCO was hiring people. I remember that we hired a thousand extra people for our ongoing projects and everybody was surprised by this move. We kept the same salary level and did not affect the employees’ lives. We came out from the period and learned a lot from it. From 2008 up to now, the company has tripled its numbers.
You mentioned NAFFCO’s global presence. Can you tell us a little about where it operates and what your plans are for future expansion?
In Africa, we’re present in Egypt, Morocco and we also soon will be in Algeria. We’ll be entering into Australia soon as well, along with Indonesia, Malaysia and South America. NAFFCO has a reach in over 100 countries worldwide, and we’re looking to add more, but on the condition that we can add value to these countries and if we can make a serious contribution to a country in terms of protecting life and safety.
We’ve worked with governments and we’ve completely changed their structure of life safety in order to bring the utmost laws and procedures to protect people’s lives and properties.
Can you discuss the evolution of the regional fire protection market?
Today, you can say the market has done a full 180-degree turn and NAFFCO has contributed to this change a lot; we have sponsored many NFPA training courses. We have trained over 2,000 engineers in the UAE, as we believe that in order to communicate with someone you have to give him the knowledge, and that’s why we brought the NFPA courses to the UAE.
The participants get a certificate similar to that issued in the US. We feel it’s our duty to bring in the knowledge and specifications that we are seeing today; the fire and safety codes in the UAE are exceeding those in other regions such as Europe and the US.
We are proud to see that any building here implements all the fire and safety codes. The Civil Defence departments have a tremendous role. There was a study that showed that the UAE is one of the safest places in the world in terms of fire and safety.
How would you define NAFFCO’s relationship with the UAE Civil Defence?
We actually have a very good relationship, and this will last for the future. The UAE Civil Defence has really contributed to protecting property and life through their fire and life safety codes, which you can now see are fully implemented in buildings in the UAE, from the design up to the testing and commissioning and then maintenance. It’s a complete cycle that leads to one thing, which is the protection of the end user. This is what we and the UAE Civil Defence care about – to protect the life of people and their property.
NAFFCO’s UAE roots are clearly very strong. Can you outline your relationship with the local market?
We’re exporting to more than 100 countries from the UAE, and we’ve gained a lot of trust in the market. Our products are specified for all industries, from oil & gas and buildings to malls and high-rise buildings. We’re contributing to fire safety worldwide, not only in the UAE. We sit as a counsellor on different boards. So in our journey of thirty years, I can say that I’m satisfied with steps being taken, but there is a lot yet to do.
We feel it is our duty to contribute to awareness and training. Now we’re working on a training on how to evacuate people from buildings. There is no advertising of our products, it’s just pure awareness of the people. It is not about buying our products, we do care about people’s lives, and this is why they choose NAFFCO.
Can you discuss NAFFCO’s research and development objectives?
We have a special group here for R&D, and we also collaborate with our partners all over the world. We cannot do it all – we can do a part, the US can do a part, Europe can do a part, and we end up bringing a really nice product because we’re connected.
We cannot proceed with anything new unless we are completely convinced, because we are passionate to protect, and therefore we have to be convinced that a product is really designed and fit to protect the lives of people. NAFFCO has gained the trust of people and we will continue to grow it.
Finally, what do you expect from NAFFCO at Intersec 2019?
There will be many surprises, from the latest innovations in fire truck technology to fire extinguishing systems. We also have a new foam system for the oil & gas industry, along with green foam fire extinguishers and extinguishing system for solar batteries. At NAFFCO, development and creativity are continuous.
In 1999, I remember Intersec was half a hall at that time, and now I believe it’s the strongest exhibition for fire and safety in the world that is organised annually. It has a strong presence; it’s an international show, not just for the UAE. We have visitors from all over the world, in addition to local consultants. Every year, anyone visiting the show can see that it’s growing. Intersec is now a necessity for any fire company or consultancy wishing to be present in the Middle East.