At 106 years old and operating in 35 different countries on five continents, Falck is a business that clearly knows what it’s doing.
And yet the Danish provider of emergency, healthcare, training and assistance services—operating more than 1,800 ambulances, Falck boasts the world’s largest international ambulance fleet, and is the largest privately owned ambulance company in Europe—was relatively unknown among American EMS providers when it entered the U.S. EMS market about two years ago. How does that happen?
“Not Our Intent to Be the Biggest”
Boo Heffner, president and CEO of Falck USA, says the company has always had an interest in the U.S. across many of the platforms it operates in—with the notable exception being fire service. And for some time Falck has had a presence along the Gulf Coast, offering its safety training services for offshore operations. The decision to enter the U.S. EMS market largely came down to timing, says Heffner.
“I get asked quite frequently, ‘What was the magic deadline? Why now?’ We’ve always felt the U.S. was an attractive market for the growth of the company. It just so happened we had a window of opportunity with talent, and a couple of quality companies we could form platforms with to grow and develop,” explains Heffner.
Wanting to establish a presence on both coasts, Falck first partnered with Care Ambulance Service, serving Orange and Los Angeles counties in California, on the West Coast, and then Long Island, NY-based LifeStar Response, serving seven states, on the East Coast. The company has since added Cape Cod Ambulance and American Ambulance, giving it operations in the Boston area, as well as central and south Florida.
“Now that we have these platforms established, we’re going to be expanding into the northern California area, Pacific Northwest and the middle U.S., filling in the holes,” explains Heffner. “I would say, clearly, we’re very selective on where we go. We’re not doing wholesale buying of ambulance companies. It’s not our intent to be the biggest, and I’m very clear about that. It’s to be the best. We do a great deal of research on every market we enter into to make sure it fits our standards. We brought a lot of talent on board, and interestingly it’s been all tenured U.S. management talent.”
While Heffner says he receives a few inquiries every week from U.S. organizations regarding Falck’s healthcare division and other services, and Falck is continuing its offshore industrial safety training services along the Gulf Coast—it was a primary responder during the disastrous DeepWater Horizon oil spill—the company’s focus right now is “purely EMS.”
“We’re not a publicly traded company, and we don’t do big, grandiose announcements of contracts,” he says. “We really like to work one-on-one with our customers and I think that differentiates us. Although we’ve been here two years, people still are trying to figure out who Falck is and what Falck does. And we don’t say this lightly, we meet our customers’ needs.
“There are some systems that absolutely make good sense to go in and partner with, and there are others where, if we don’t have the buy-in, we’re not going to go to a party that we’re not invited to. We’re growing both organically and inquisitively. Falck is a company that’s been around for a very long time; we believe in investing in a community and being there for a long time. I think a fundamental change you’re going to see in the U.S. is more of these long-term partnerships. That’s our goal.”
Lessons in Operational Efficiency
Because of its longevity and global reach, there’s not a lot Falck hasn’t experienced as a company. Heffner has 27 years of EMS experience, too, and has watched the ebbs and flows of the U.S. industry for years.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the U.S. who would argue the fiscal constraints being placed on both the public and private sector aren’t requiring all of us to rethink how we do business,” he says.