Why Clients Still Rely on Reliable Fire & Security 60 Years On

Reliable Fire & Security’s Debra Horvath, Vicki Caniecki and Tina Studzinski discuss the company’s operations and the challenges and opportunities inherent within today’s fire/life-safety industry.

As public officials and to avoid conflicts of interest, authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) typically steer clear of recommending fire equipment distributors by name. So when AHJs in and around Chicagoland are pressed to answer that question, they honor the code of ethics but often subtly mention the need to look for a “reliable” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) company. And so it has been for six decades as in 2015 Reliable Fire & Security celebrates 60 years of fulfilling the promise of its moniker and “One Call Does It All” slogan.

Founded in 1955 by Ernest Horvath out of his South Side Chicago home as Reliable Fire Equipment Co., in 1969 the business settled into its current Alsip, Ill., location. Those headquarters have since expanded to nearly five times the original square footage as the business has grown from an entrepreneur with one truck to more than 70 employees and some 50 service vehicles. In 1998, the reins of the family-owned company were turned over to daughter Debra Horvath. As Reliable’s president she has guided the firm to reaching $11.5 million in revenues in 2014, and has her sights set on organic and acquisitive growth totaling 20% this year.

Today, Reliable Fire & Security, which broadened its scope by adding security just a couple of years ago, has professionally installed and continues to provide service to thousands of industrial, institutional, commercial and residential customers spanning Chicago and its suburbs, Northwest Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. The company’s goal is to be a single-source provider of customers’ entire range of fire protection and security needs. As such, its fire portfolio not only includes detection and suppression products and services but also response and first aid supplies and training (hands on, live fire extinguisher training).

On its sheer professionalism and success alone, Reliable’s story is a compelling one. Add to it wrinkles such as an uncommonly comprehensive range of offerings, a rebranding campaign, more than a half-century of longevity, tightly knit familial culture and being a woman-run business in an industry where 93% of managers are men and we’re looking at a singularly immersive narrative.

To fill in all the details, Security Sales & Integration asked Horvath, who has spent 32 years with Reliable, to gather a couple of vital longtime members of her executive team (Vice President of Operations Tina Studzinski, and Manager of Systems Service Vicki Caniecki) for an exclusive and in-depth interview. The discussion not only shines a bright light on Reliable Fire & Security’s operations but also the challenges and opportunities inherent within today’s fire/life-safety industry.

How does being a family run business ripple through the Reliable organization; what are the pros and cons?

Debra Horvath: There’s my side and then there’s their side, meaning Tina, and Vicki. I have one sister, Pam English, who along with my mom also works in the business. We all perform different roles with different responsibilities. We’re all committed to Reliable’s success, and it’s been a great experience having the family to work with.

I can’t see any disadvantages for me, except when it comes to succession planning. That is a point I’m at right now. I’m not ready to retire. I don’t want to sell the business, but I want to put this company in the right hands so that it continues forward with success.

Vicki Caniecki: Being here for 29 years, starting at a younger age, I’m with Debbie in that the family business has been good and we kind of grew up together. It was almost like Debbie’s father kind of raised me along with Debbie and the business. We grew, we learned together. It has been a very rewarding experience.

Tina Studzinski: People really care with it being a family owned business. They treat their coworkers as family, and they generally care about you and your personal life. Because of that we have a lot of longevity in our employees. They come to work and look at their position in the company as if they’re an owner. They take pride in what they do. They do whatever it takes to get the job done.

The disadvantage is that as we grow it’s hard to keep the balance of operating like a Fortune 500 company and keeping the roots of that family owned business. It can be a challenge at times, but deep in our hearts it’s a family business.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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