What Makes An Association Tick?

What makes an association tick? It’s the active participants of the organization and a deep sense of commitment to the industry.

The Tennessee Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (TBFAA) obviously has a program that works. The group was honored in 2007 with a Leadership Award from the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA)—Charter Chapter of the Year. What also sets it apart is diversity, representing both small and large firms, multi-generational companies and suppliers who co-exist under an umbrella of cooperation.
Established in 1980, TBFAA was one of the first associations to push for and attain a stringent state licensing law, taking a proactive stance to encourage professionalism and reputable business practices. The Alarm Contractors Licensing Law was passed in 1990.

Without the people of the organization these accomplishments wouldn’t exist. Many of the members are long-time participants and include second and third generations who take pride in the business. They don’t shun competition but welcome it, saying it makes them stronger.

Joel Hill calls himself the “dinosaur” of the organization, having logged 25 years of service to the industry. He’s served as president, treasurer, regional vice president and others.

“TBFAA is an extremely strong and active industry association,” said Hill, vice president, Access Control Systems (ACS), Nashville.

“TBFAA worked hard to pass the licensing law and the group has also been extremely active in false alarm initiatives, working with law enforcement before problems arose,” he said. “Being on the TBFAA board is quite desirable—you’re well-respected by your peers.”

Butch Work is another long-term TBFAA member. He’s currently retired but previously owned Southern Alarm Supply in Nashville. He is one of four Lifetime Members. The Butch Work/TBFAA Benevolence Fund is named after him.

Work was there in the beginning when the organization grew from 15 members to over 100 companies in a few years. He said in order for an association to be successful it’s important to have as many large and small firms involved, keep dues reasonable so smaller companies can afford to join and offer tangible value in the way of training and education. “TBFAA has had many notable contributions and accomplishments over the years,” he said. “But getting our state licensing law passed and setting up the benevolence fund to help the less fortunate were notable highlights.”

Today, keeping up with pending legislation remains a fervent cause of TBFAA, according to Will Fleenor, current president and vice president of Fleenor Security Systems, Johnson City, Tenn.
“One of our main concerns as an association is keeping close watch over new legislation,” Fleenor said. “When I first joined the board I had no idea what went on behind the scenes regarding legislation. It is amazing to see the different bills and ordinances state and local lawmakers introduce that have a bearing on our industry. In order to help us stay on top of these issues we have a lobbyist to help assist us when we need legislation passed or tabled. The TBFAA has also been fortunate to be able to partner with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police (TACP). Together we were able to help introduce, and get passed, new legislation to help reduce the number of false alarm dispatches (Enhanced Call Verification law). Another one of our association’s primary concerns is to keep the channels of communication open between our industry and law enforcement and we have done a stellar job with this in Tennessee. We also provide NBFAA training courses in different regions of the state throughout the year so our members do not have to travel to keep their training current. There’s always work to be done and it takes an organization on its toes,” he said.

Leading the charge
But no matter whom you ask, current, past or retired member, there’s one person everyone agrees keeps the association in sync with the rest of the industry: Penny Brooks, executive director. She comes from the alarm industry and has been with the organization for nearly two decades. Fleenor and others point to Brooks and her work as the overriding reason the organization is a success.
“In my few years on the board I have noticed a couple of key ingredients I think make Tennessee one of the premier alarm associations,” Fleenor commented. “An association needs to have a paid executive director. When an association consists of all volunteers, it is very hard for them to put forth the effort and attention an association needs to grow and survive while supporting their own careers. TBFAA has been extremely fortunate to have Penny. It is amazing to see all she does to keep our association thriving,” he added.

“When I was hired as Executive Director 17 years ago, the position was part-time and general office management skills were required for dues invoicing and receipt, setting up training courses, instructors, hotels, publishing a quarterly newsletter, planning and coordinating the annual convention, etc.,” Penny Brooks said. “Now, I am entrenched in day-to-day operations plus legislative issues, Enhanced Call Verification, voice over Internet protocol issues, the NBFAA/TBFAA Youth Scholarship Program (a $21,500 fund for children of law enforcement and fire personnel) and working closely with police and fire departments across the state.”

Brooks commented that the biggest change over the last 10 to 15 years has been that the group has grown stronger in numbers through education, training and legislation. “Training has always been a priority for TBFAA,” she continued. “We believe offering and encouraging our members to excel in knowledge by attending as many industry courses as possible gives them the competitive edge they need. We offer every NBFAA National Training School (NTS) course and eight Continuing Education Units (CEUs) in all five regions of Tennessee. CEUs are also offered at our conventions,” she added.

TBFAA also prides itself on establishing close working relationships with others. “One of our major accomplishments has been communicating on a regular basis with the TACP and the Tennessee Fire Inspectors Association,” Brooks continued. “Several of our members serve on a Chiefs of Police Committee and work with them on ordinances and other issues. We have been able to sponsor various meetings and dinners for both of these associations and we also present the Bill Smith Memorial Award to the police chief who works closely with TBFAA. Bill Smith was one of our amazing members. He died in a car accident and is greatly missed. These relationships have proven to benefit both the police chiefs, fire inspectors and the alarm industry,” she said.

Brooks said the heart of the association is its members. “Without quality members an association could not exist. Through education, training, keeping abreast of upcoming legislation, offering scholarships, communicating with law enforcement and fire personnel and meeting the needs of our members, we will continue to be successful. It has truly been an honor and privilege to work for such an awesome association like the TBFAA. I will cherish the memories and friendships I have made for many years to come,” she concluded.