by Merlin Guilbeau, IOM - Executive Director & CEO
In 1947, a man took a road trip through the central United States. He left his home on a mission: to form a national association, so that burglar alarm installation companies would not run short of materials in the wake of World War II.
This pioneer had no clue that one trip could shape the future of an industry, eventually providing a voice to more than 500,000 electronic security professionals. The man’s name was B.H. Call, who over the course of his expedition convinced about 20 alarm companies to attend a meeting in February of 1948 at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. There, they worked tirelessly for eleven days to lay out a framework for the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association.
What began as a way to manufacture cheaper goods for small alarm installation businesses across the US quickly became much, much more. The founding members molded the NBFAA over the next few decades into a forum for the flow of information, a resource for businesses, and a voice of representation for what was then called the “electrical protection industry.”
IN AN EARLY PUBLICATION by the NBFAA called The Signal, Call explained how he caught a vision for the Association.
“I began to realize that only through a national association could our industry reach its fullest potential,” wrote Call.
“If our industry were together as a group, I thought, we could enlighten the manufacturers to our needs better than any one individual could. We would also be able to provide for more standardization of equipment – and to form an industry code of ethics.”
The vision for the NBFAA was about more than numbers and business; it was about the people who run the businesses, and the manner in which they were run. Call described an encounter he had on his trip that shaped this vision.
“We met a man who had been running an alarm company for ten years, and was still struggling hard to make ends meet,” wrote Call. “I thought to myself, ‘What a life. He deserves better.’”
The visionary’s passion for his line of work was evident, as was the passion of the first members of what eventually became the Electronic Security Association. The resources, advocacy, connections and education that the Association provides today all started when these professionals joined together in the Windy City to make way for better business and a better life for their families.
IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE NBFAA, installers worked with manufacturers to show them better production methods. There was an early involvement in legislative matters; Call praised one member who fought and won an important court case to avoid paying royalties on the ordinary devices installers used every day. The Association also frequently published The Signal, which served as a marketplace, legislative watchdog, and invaluable source of knowledge for its members.
Just 25 years after the landmark Chicago meeting, in 1972, NBFAA President Harold W. Gray reflected on the impact the Association had already made on the industry.
“We can hypothesize and wonder what would have happened if they had never had that first meeting. The technical status of our industry would obviously be in jeopardy – and not be prepared, as we now are, to face the challenge of the 70’s,” wrote Gray.
From there, the association kept growing. In this same president’s message, Gray announced the Association’s new technical training program for all its members. The program lives on in spirit today as ESA’s National Training School.
The goals of the founding fathers of the NBFAA, now known as the Electronic Security Association, were much the same as the Association’s goals today. The Association has come a long way, thanks to the hard work of generations of proud electronic security professionals.
We provide a voice to the industry. We offer comprehensive advocacy, connect passionate professionals through events and networking groups, offer in-depth training and education through our National Training School and arm our members with resources to help them run and grow their companies.
ESA member companies serve more than 34 million residential and commercial clients. Though the size and scope of the Association has changed, the mission is the same: to build an invaluable community for the men and women who work in the industry we love.
I am proud to be a part of an association with such a rich history.
Here’s wishing ESA a Happy 70th Birthday!