In November 2024, AerialFire spoke to Jeff Emery, President of Global Fire Safety at Perimeter Solutions, to discuss his role at the company after more than a year in his new position.
AF: You’ve been in your new role for over a year. Can you tell us where you came from before joining Perimeter Solutions and how you jumped to where you are now?
JE: The early part of my career was focused on aerospace and aviation, spending almost ten years in Honeywell’s Aerospace Division, mainly in the aftermarket world. I worked across almost every aviation segment you could think of, from defense and space to commercial air transport, and in the general aviation segment, predominantly working on repair, overhaul maintenance, and upgrade programs. It was a great experience early in this fascinating industry.
Following my time in aviation, I moved into the personal protection side of the business.,with Honeywell’s armor business, working on ballistic programs for military and law enforcement applications. That eventually led me to the fire safety world, where I spent over a decade with Scott Safety. Scott is the world leader in respiratory protection for firefighters and military personnel, with a noble mission centered around protecting those who protect us. We made the Scott Air-Pak known across the industry as the world’s leading breathing apparatus. We also made gas masks for the military and various additional technologies, from thermal imaging to accountability software, focused on firefighter safety.
Flash forward to a couple of years ago, and Eddie Goldberg reached out to me, stating that Perimeter Solutions was looking for somebody to lead a global fire safety business. It felt like that perfect marriage between my aviation background earlier in my career and my fire safety background over the previous ten years. It was the ideal time in my career for a transition, and the more I learned about the business, the more I had a chance to meet our people, the more I was attracted to the role and the company.
What we do at Perimeter is unique. Only a few other companies in the world have this kind of mission. Every day, you wake up knowing that your ability to deliver and execute is supporting real-life operations on the ground and the safety of firefighters. Ultimately, we’re able to help them do their job better. We help protect lives and communities, and there’s nothing better.
You always want challenges in your work, and you want to be able to build and continue to evolve a team. But for me, it all starts with having a good mission that you can wake up to daily and know that what you do makes a difference. There’s no question that what we do makes a difference in the world, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.
AF: Perimeter Solutions has been around for 60 years; what are some of the company’s greatest strengths?
JE: Well, if you look back over the past 60 years and look at Perimeter Solutions’ background from that first PHOS-CHEK® approval 60 years ago, the company is just filled with new and impactful programs for the industry, whether that be new products that we brought to market, evolving the product to be more environmentally friendly, raising the performance level of the product, or the work that we do on the ground.
That piece often goes unnoticed is the daily support we provide in the field. We’ve put decades of research and innovation into optimizing the product that we’ve created. Still, one of the things that’s special about this company is the innovation and advancement we’ve made at the airbases themselves and our ability to staff bases around the world. Today, we have more than 50 different air bases worldwide, with our people trained in proper mixing technologies, and we are building more automation into each base to ensure the quality is spot on every single time.
Those elements are just as essential as having the right product because they ensure that the product will be on spec every time you take that plane up or go out for a drop. As a pilot, you’ll know that the product will be appropriately mixed and have confidence that it will do its job. Most importantly, our product is extremely effective at slowing down and stopping the fire’s progress, making it much easier for the ground team to fight that fire.
I think it often goes unnoticed: the team’s work in the field, the people we have out there who have a passion for what they do and just never miss a load, day in, day out, through the heaviest of fire seasons. And that advancement is just as crucial as the advancements we see in the product.
AF: What advances has the product seen over the last few decades?
JE: As we have throughout our 60 years, we have continued evolving our technology over the past decade. PHOS-CHEK has always been known as the best fire retardant in the industry, and ammonium phosphate fire retardants have been proven through test after test, research after research, as the best in the market. Our latest versions of PHOS-CHEK, MVP-fx, and LCE20-fx are the most environmentally friendly, easiest to use, and have the best visibility of any products in our history. But beyond that, we’ve expanded PHOS-CHEK usage to other areas of the business and our fire safety business that not everybody knows we’re a part of.
AF: Perimeter Solutions is also active in ground-level firefighting and has had some development success there, correct?
Beyond our aerial firefighting applications, we’ve also expanded the usage of PHOS-CHEK in prevention and protection applications on the ground to help on the front end around fire mitigation and in response when wind or smoke conditions do not allow for aerial firefighting. Ground applications allow precise placement of retardant in areas with a high risk of ignition or when precision around critical infrastructure is required.
One of the other significant roles that we’ve played is moving the firefighting foam market to a fluorine-free world. Our company has taken considerable steps in this area over the past few decades. And it’s culminated in our current portfolio, where today we are the world leader in fluorine-free foams. In wildland firefighting, the Class A foams used in this market have always been fluorine-free. However, other industries traditionally relied on fluorinated foams to achieve the performance needed for heavy industrial fires, airport emergency response operations, or DOD applications. Our next generation of fluorine-free foams is beginning to change this pattern. This year, we were the first, and so far the only company in the world to meet the stringent requirements issued this year for the new fluorine-free MIL-SPEC standard, and we passed all of that testing and received our approvals in September. The response to that has been gratifying, seeing how many military bases and airports around the country and worldwide are set to transition to fluorine-free. The industry had been waiting for this product to be approved to move forward and transition to this next-generation product. We expect this to be a significant shift for the industry for the next several years.
AF: What are some of the most significant future threats to the industry, and how do you see business evolving to meet those threats?
JE: As we look forward to the next decade, we’re in an industry that has changed dramatically. The scope, scale, and breadth of fires worldwide have expanded exponentially in the last 10 to 20 years. With that expansion, there are many states not traditionally considered to be at high risk for wildfires, now seeing unprecedented activity.
You have countries across areas of Europe that today have to put new aerial programs in place and never had that consideration in the past, and we are partnering with these countries to support a proper roll-out. The risks and the magnitude of fires continue to increase. With that, the whole industry needs to continue to evolve. You can look across several areas, and Perimeter has a significant role in each.
First, what is our business model? And how should the business model be structured? Just this past year, we’ve seen an industry group formed. We are part of the United Aerial Firefighting Association (UAFA). The group will raise awareness of some evolving needs, such as advancing our government contracting business model and the need for increased consistency in aerial asset availability,
It will require changes to that business model to ensure that the industry can continue expanding and scaling faster than the wildfires themselves. I believe it’s critical that we play a rolein moving away from the large dependency on so many call-when-needed contracts and move towards a little more exclusive use. We must work hand-in-hand with some of the findings on the Wildland Commission report that was recently posted and look to see what we can do to help put some of those recommendations into place, whether that be through legislation or work with the agencies.
We want to ensure an incentive for companies in our space to invest appropriately in air tanker-based technology to make it as efficient and effective as possible. Part of that is structuring daily availability rates into the mix, not just a pay-by-the-gallon type of structure. Our agency customers have already started to recognize these needs and are taking some positive steps to initiate changes that will improve the health of the entire aerial firefighting footprint.
AF: Data now plays a considerable part in aerial firefighting; how do you think that will continue to evolve?
JE: The evolution is happening now, and we play a significant role there. We need to consider embracing data as it evolves in emerging technology and building collaboration across different players in that space.
As an example, you have the capability for predictive modeling today. We have imaging capabilities that we couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago. There’s data available now to go back and take a better look at the effectiveness of all of our aerial operations in different scenarios based on the fire behavior we’re seeing and its response to retardant drops. The whole industry must collaborate to understand how we can take some of that data generated today and make ourselves more effective.
We need to be more proactive about where we may put preventative products out. Likewise, we need better pre-planning for where we think the fire is going. It’s like the old Gretzky quote from years ago: “You always want to skate to where the puck is going, not where the puck is.”
We should apply that same logic to our aerial and ground-applied retardant operations as well, and that will come through better understanding, extensive data analysis, and learning to take that data, consolidate it, and use it more effectively as an industry.
AF: Do you think industry regulations and processes need any improvement throughout the industry?
JE: There is a real need to advance today’s standards and test protocols. We’ve had aerial operations in place now for over six decades, and over that entire period, the qualifying products list has changed a handful of times. You compare that to other industry standards such as NFPA, which often have a five-year review cycle, which allows continuous improvements to the testing thresholds and can open the door for new innovation. We should take a hard look at how we can continue raising the bar on fire safety products’ performance. And as we look at those standards in place today, such as the USFS QPL, what can be done to raise performance and environmental protection standards? This also includes looking at the operational realities, existing infrastructure, and products to ensure compatibility with the rest of the ecosystem.
A recent example is when we saw two different chemistries enter the market. An unexpected result was that you had chemistries that did not operate well together when commingled. That was never envisioned in the standards that were developed. It was only considered once we got as far as field evaluations. And on the back end of that, I think the whole industry is trying to figure out how we incorporate these different chemistries coming into the market without compromising the safety of the firefighters on the ground, the security of the pilots, and the aircraft in the air and the ability to have airplanes available when needed.
All these changes are happening in real-time. I think the industry needs to take a step back and think about how we can evolve the testing and the standards that we have to make sure that we’re effectively encouraging new technology into the space while still ensuring that we are protecting those most critical attributes of life safety and aircraft performance.