An Interview with Anna Gavin, President of Fireline

1. What is your role at your company?

President

2. Tell us about your family.

Husband Jeff, son Ben (12), daughter Libby (6)

3. What was your dream job growing up?

Cheesemonger. It’s a thing I swear. I mean, you get paid to work with (and sample) cheese all day. What could be better? Frankly this is still a goal for retirement.

4. What was your first job?

Bakery assistant at Graul’s Market. I was famous for accidentally getting my foot stuck in a bucket of icing that I was using as a stool. They called me Frosty after that.

5. How did you get into the fire protection industry? Please describe your first job within the industry.

Like so many of us newer generation folks, I was born into the industry. My grandfather, John Waters, started the business in 1947 and my father, Steve Waters, took over in 1982. I grew up looking at extinguisher tags like all the other 6-year-old girls. No? Just me?

I started working at Fireline in 2001 while I was still in college. I did the usual array of office jobs: accounting, payroll, answering phones, assisting the sales staff, and I even tried my hand at sales for a bit (never again, though it did allow me time for field experience in training).

In 2008, my grandfather passed away and, in 2009, my father passed away. No other family members were actively working in the business and, at the time, we didn’t really know what else to do but have me take over as President. I was 27 years old and had a 6-month-old baby at home. It was a crazy move when I look back at it now but, thanks to a lot of help from folks in the industry, other business owners in my area, and my loyal employees, we fumbled our way through those early years. From then on, I was able to grow into my role and plan out the vision for the Fireline of the future.

6. Over the course of your career, what has been the biggest change you have seen in the industry?

In just the 12 years I have been doing this, I have seen some really major changes with the “corporatization” of how our manufacturers operate. With many of the main players in our industry being owned by large multi-national corporations, we have seen more red tape, slower product releases, and less collaboration than in years past. Our industry reps in these companies have worked very hard to keep things moving along, but it is tough when they don’t always have the control they would like to make progress. The recent shipping challenges have served to pull the distributor-manufacturer relationship even farther apart. It has caused a lot of us to re-evaluate our business models and how we focus our efforts in the market. What used to be a broad stroke of sales strategies has become more refined, more niche, then it was in the past. In the end, this may be a positive change brought out of crazy times.

7. What do you love most about your job? Least?

Most – The culture building with my company. The quality of our employees at Fireline have been on an incredible upward trajectory. We are hiring better, engaging with each other, and finding a way to make this a great place to work for our “Fireline Family.” It is a constant challenge and takes hundreds of different touch points. But it is absolutely worth the effort.

Least – Insurance claims (usually sprinkler related). I mean, who really likes dealing with subrogation clauses and lawyers (sorry lawyer friends)? Most of the time we have no role in the claim, yet we still get dragged into the paperwork shuffle. Definitely not where I want to be spending my time if I can help it.

8. What is your favorite movie?

Stop it! Who can answer this with one answer?

Princess Bride, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Hot Fuzz, Pride and Prejudice (1995 version), Dogma, Yesterday, The 100-Foot Journey, Secretariat, and because I am a child of the 90’s – Clueless. I could go on….

9. What is the best piece of advice that you were ever given?

Focus on what you can control…..This is my life motto at this point.

10. Who inspires you?

No one specific person, more groups of people:

  • Strong women leaders who are smart, competent and foster collaborative work cultures
  • Men who take more of a role at home, or who support their wives having the more important job when it makes the best sense for the family
  • Those who donate their time to a greater good, whether in their job, their community or in public service. Time is so precious, and I am always blown away by how much some people give when they can.

11. Would you rather take an ocean, mountain or lake vacation?

Lake with a mountain! Grew up going to Squam Lake in New Hampshire during my summers.

12. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A stress-free day with a good book, good food, a good cup of tea (and later a cocktail) and maybe a couple cats to cuddle with. Yes, I am that lady.

13. What is the trait you most dislike in others?

Passive aggressive behavior. Just keep on walking if you are bringing that to my door.

14. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Cheese. We go way back to the early days. The love is real and has withstood the test of time.

15. Which talent would you most like to have?

I used to sing in high school and I was….ok. I would love to have a really powerhouse singing voice. I’d blow them away at karaoke.

16. Where would you most like to live?

I like living in Maryland. In a few hours, I can be at the beach or at the mountains. In less time, I can be in big cities, or out in country farmland. It’s wonderfully diverse. I would love to spend my time traveling cities all over, but Maryland will always be home.

17. What is your most treasured possession?

My kids of course! My son Ben is charismatic, clever, and just so genuinely kind. My daughter Libby is just as clever, creative and brings kids together in a way that shows she is going to be a great leader one day. It’s fun to watch them grow.

Also my grandmother’s teaspoon collection. It’s incredibly special to me.

18. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Losing my father was a shock. I remember having to sit at his desk at Fireline for the first time after he passed. It was incredibly difficult. Those first few months, the loss felt so consuming. I would have to hold it together during the day at work where I felt overwhelmed and in over my head (we were still in the recession just to make things extra challenging). And then I would get in the car, cry the whole way home mourning my father, and then have to pull it back together once I got home to my family. 2010 was a tough year.

19. Who are your favorite writers?

Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, JK Rowling, Naomi Novik, Sarah J. Maas. Yes, I am a romantic. Don’t judge.

20. Who are your heroes in real life?

See question 10

21. What is your motto?

See question 9

Exciting News about Fireline:

After years of planning, we finally started the full renovation of our Baltimore office this year. The main building was built in 1964 by my grandfather and had 50 plus years’ worth of wear and tear. It was wood paneled walls, low lighting, winding hallways, and not nearly enough bathrooms. Not exactly a place where I would be able to recruit the younger generations.

The renovation took 10 months and was a full gutting of our office buildings. Our warehouse had already undergone a shop rebuild in 2019 so the focus was on the three office buildings. New roof, new plumbing, electrical, HVAC, walls, everything. New layout and new furniture. The main building floorplan was completely opened up so we could fit all of operations support staff in one building. One of the smaller buildings was fit out for our HR and accounting team and the third building was converted into a conference and training center. It has a tech lab and a large training room that can be used for all sorts of needs. The whole campus was rebranded and the outcome is incredible.

I made this move to help improve communications between our teams, to better recruit new team members, and to prepare Fireline for the future (also, you know, more bathrooms). I am so glad we were able to make this dream a reality. It really speaks to Fireline’s growth and our desire to invest in our staff. I like to think my father and grandfather would be proud.

The newly renovated office is just in time for our 75th anniversary as a company in 2022. We plan to host our customers and friends of the industry in an open house in the spring to celebrate 75 years of Fireline success. Check out the 3D tour of the new office here!

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