How It All Started… the Full Story
by Chuck Ferry
Founder & Creator
Looking back, everything I did since I was a teenager brought me to creating Forcible Entry products. From life experiences to my professional career path, each step added value that I can now share with fellow first responders.
I joined the Army Reserve when I was 17 after my Junior year of High School. Four years later, I was commissioned as an officer in the Army National Guard. I served as a Guardsman for the next 6 years while also chasing my passion of emergency medicine. During my non-active duty days during the week I worked on a 911 Paramedic Ambulance in downtown San Jose while on my weekends I served in the Guard and shared my knowledge as a working paramedic with my Field Medics. Both jobs were incredibly rewarding and symbiotic as I found that running the medical platoon allowed me to compare ideas with both groups in order to create a best practices strategy within our unit.
National Guard. Paramedic. Marriage. Fire Service.
My duties as a 911 Paramedic led me to my first interaction with the Fire Service. At the time I had not thought of actually becoming a Firefighter, but rather becoming a Police Officer. Based on my current work path with the National Guard, it seemed to make more sense. But, looking back, my skills and passion were always applied to helping others in an acute medical emergency over a security threat situation. It always came back to the logistics of what it takes to get people back to a state of safety when something goes sideways.
And besides, just as in all things in life, when you think you know where you are going something changes your direction and you get presented with a path you never realized. In my case it was simple: I got married.
Being a Firefighter was Fate
Whether it was accurate or not, my lovely bride had several friends who married police officers and they were all eventually divorced. So when I told her I had been hired by San Jose PD she gave me a certain look and asked if I would consider another way of serving. Funny thing how God works: sometimes it’s a weird feeling, a quiet breeze, or the kind eyes of a wife who has vowed to love you until the end. The week the Police Academy was to start, I got a call from Palo Alto Fire Department requesting my application and subsequently my employment. It felt right at the time and turned out it was as I am still with them over 20 years later.
Eight years into the Fire Service, my skills continued to grow and experience was stacking on itself. But Forcible Entry Equipment was nowhere in sight with coming to life. I was a paramedic, had military experience, and was quickly becoming a veteran firefighter but one thing was missing that was the kick in the pants I needed to start to pull all of my life experiences together into one focused goal that would eventually become Forcible Entry Equipment, Inc.
A Grandfather’s Eternal Inspiration
In 2007, my Grandpa Fred passed away. He and I both joined the military at a young age and both became commissioned officers, except rather than joined the Fire Service like I did, my Grandfather became an entrepreneur and started an Upholstery Company. He nurtured it to grow substantially, culminating in becoming the decorator of the ceilings of every Victoria’s Secret -- I knew I liked that place for a reason. More to the point, our courage to serve our country paralleled one another but his courage to build a company was something that challenged me. However, when you have a Father and Brother who have launched and operated successful businesses you have a family built on courage. It would be their coaching in my future that would lead to this adventure.
When he passed, I was left a small inheritance, a supportive family, and a 7 year career in the Fire Service. It would be a couple years later, being assigned to Truck Company that I started to notice a lack of training systems in place to ensure strategic success for firefighters. But I’m getting ahead of myself: at this point, my grandfather’s inspiration and the money he left me opened the door for me to listen to a whisper I had always been ignoring but now had to listen and act on.
Blowtorch Experience by Firehose Indoctrination
I took the money and bought my first welder and tube bender -- along with a totally beat to crap ‘72 Ford Bronco that needed to come back to life. I wanted to be able to fabricate and build like the guys in the motor magazines I’d been reading since I was a kid. But truly, the immediate goal was to just be able to fix my rig whenever it broke. Between shifts I jumped head first into teaching myself how to weld and fabricate one creative project at a time, the first being that Bronco.
For anyone who finds fulfillment in building something, saying I fell in love with the process doesn’t begin to explain. It was like a doorway opened inside me I didn’t realize was always there and I just couldn’t stop cranking away at becoming a master at it. Getting an idea, working through its problem and then getting lost in developing its solution by building a physical product was utterly cathartic and easy to lose track of time. The process was the reward and the resulting product was simple proof of the fun I was having. Also, I think it helped me visit with my grandpa as well. He’d have been there helping and in a way he was.
In 2010, after 10 years in the Fire Service, I was placed on the Truck Company. It was a dream come true — a dream come true for two reasons. First, trucks are the best because they are a giant tool box with great tools: hydraulic rams, saws, cutters, halligans, axes, and pry bars just to name a few. For a guy who grew up using tools, working on cars, and now having been welding and fabricating for the last few years, this was THE place for me. And Second, it was the Truck Company where my welding and fabricating skills identified a hole in the system that could save lives -- my life included.
How does the saying go “you don’t know what you don’t know?” Well that sums up what I discovered at my first truck academy. It was a wealth of new information where I got to take my existing experience and capabilities and level-up with acquiring new skills I could apply. I learned proper placement of tools, how they can throw you as well as hurt you. How ladder placement matters and how to open a locked door. But by the end of class I just kept wondering “how am I going to remember all of this?”
The Best Training Tool is The One You Build Yourself.
Learning skills like this aren’t something you can simply watch someone else do on video or even in real life. The only way to master the skills needed to be successful was to learn by doing. Only then can you make mistakes, identify problems in real-time and find multiple strategies to achieve the same objective. It’s “practice makes perfect” immediately followed up with “perfect practice makes mastery.” So rather than submerging myself in further conversation, books, video, etc. I took the knowledge and skills I had gained from welding and fabrication during my off-hours and decided to build myself a door that I could practice on -- repeatedly. It was a door that I could reset and force entry on again and again in a matter of minutes. Over the past 2-4 months I designed it and built it. Nobody asked me to do it. I just did it. Looking back now, the process of building it was just as valuable as the finished product, maybe more so.
Like any Version 1.0, it was simple. But it worked and it worked well. I brought it to the station where we installed it at our training tower and that’s where the real “ah-ha” moment occurred.
Identify the Hole. Fill it Up.
You see, when I got into the fire service in 1999 we didn’t get to force entry many doors for practice. I actually can’t recall ever forcing a door in our Academy. We learned how to do it, but never actually did it. It wasn’t because the instructors lacked skills but rather it was because of resources and environment. Think about it. How many doors can one practice force entry on? You’re not going to head over to your parents’ house. And once they’re used, they’re used up. They can’t be reset to practice on again. Furthermore, finding homes that were being torn down are rare. Buildings with lots of doors -- even rarer. When one was found it seemed like everyone raced to get there so they could get some practice. And then what? Physical skills are perishable skills when not constantly honed. There was a hole here. And it needed a solution.
Validation #1: Breacher Up. Do it again.
Once the door was up at the tower, it seemed like everyone wanted to try to test their skillset. And rightfully so, it was a skill everyone needed but no one had the means to work on and truly master. That first door got its mileage in for sure. It would get moved to an offsite building to allow everyone outside of our department to force a door. It would then go back to the Palo Alto Fire Department training tower (my station) and get “reps,” lots and lots of reps. It’s crazy that we started off with 3/8” dowels to act as the door lock housing -- up to 5 of them at one time. Now we use ¾” hardwood dowels and 2”x2” wood stock or 1/2“ EMT tubing.
Validation #2: Test. Retest. Make Another.
One day having coffee with my friend Ryan Wallace (creator of Rubicon Fabrication and a master fabricator) I showed him my “simple” re-breachable door to get his feedback. Upon seeing my creation, and first version at that, his reply was “you can [and should] manufacture that.” At first, I was stunned by what he said. I wasn’t thinking a product like this was reproducible let alone about creating a product company around it. I was just filling a hole for the needs of the brotherhood. However, a couple weeks later and an all-nighter at Ryan’s and we had CAD drawings we could revise and redesign and an order for two door assemblies.
Once we received the two doors we were off to test them with the guys from Sac City Fire Department, the same guys that taught and certified us for the Truck Academy 6 months earlier. Geez. Talk about a baptism-by-fire for those two doors. Over the course of the next month, we beat the snot out of them to the point of my newfound fantasy of creating re-breachable doors burned up along with the cash and time it took to build them.
So there I am, in my garage banging my head on one of my workbenches wondering how I was going to make the money back I put into this crazy endeavor. And worse yet, how would I validate continuing on? The product was worth something. The need it fulfilled even more so. But the cost in money, time, and energy was where the rubber meets the road for any company trying to take the leap into any market.
As God would have it, one day a neighbor (yes, a neighbor a stone’s throw from my shop) wandered into my garage. His name was Steve and shall remain that way as his background and company are too prominent and successful as a brand to publicly share. He was quiet and unassuming and had been observing from a distance as he always slowed to a crawl, as he drove by at what nonsense I was doing to my truck. His look is what got my attention. He always had a knowing eye, much like fellow firefighters who can pick another out of a crowd based on how they stand and carry themselves. So anyway, this guy Steve, walks into my garage -- mid-bang of my forehead on my workbench and he starts asking questions. His questions were telling: though tactful and kind his calm manner not only allowed me to open up as to what my problem was, but his mastery of his craft shined through. Steve was a contract racing engineer whose worked on race teams known the world over and capable of fixing all of my design and manufacturing problems in one fell swoop. I was in the presence of a master offering to help me.
Fail 1000 Times Before You Get it Right? --- I’m not waiting that long.
Steve helped me draw up my parts lists. He helped run tests on structural integrity. He found solutions to why the frames were failing. He identified the properties of metal required to have a successful design. And together we found common but durable options. My issue wasn’t in the value or need of my design, but rather what my design was made out of and how it was put together. With that solved and a final product design that was built to handle what it was meant for -- literally getting thrashed, kicked, torqued, pressed, flexed, jammed, and even shotgunned 10,000 times over -- I had what I needed to validate moving forward.
Technically speaking, that was the birth of the company. The product had to be dialed along with the supply chain of components, systems for cutting, forming, welding and compiling it. Until then, it was a door, that I made, that others bought and used, and I kept fixing along the way trying to see what was missing and missing the mark with only frustration to guide me. Once Steve gave me the drawing. We built doors the drawing produced. And those doors worked. And the subsequent doors worked. And they kept working.
It wouldn’t be until 2011 that we sold our first 5 doors. From there, we called every training company in California and told them we would bring our Forcible Entry Equipment to any site for them to use.
We never stop moving forward with maximizing our efforts to make the doors better and more durable. Sharing our doors and cutting products which were birthed by conversations and ideas from friends and mentors, both old and new, from all over the West Coast provided us with the feedback and critique of the product to make the right redesign and next iteration. The door has changed 8 times and each time FD and LE Agencies get on it it only gets better and better.
It’s still going.