Jon Roy gives fire extinguisher demonstrations to businesses in the area. submitted photo
by Joe Schulz
As Riponite Jon Roy watched his childhood home burn to the ground in 1988, his worldview shifted and the trajectory of his life changed.
From that day on, whether it be spending more than 20 years as a firefighter or becoming a business owner, safety has been at the center of Jon’s life.
Prior to the fire, Jon had a “pretty typical” childhood as he grew up in central Illinois, southwest of Springfield. It was in Boy Scouts that he first became exposed to emergency service officials, and safety became a guiding principle in his life.
“Safety has been a part of my life since I was 10,” Jon said.
On that fateful day in 1988, Jon had been home from college when what he describes as “a typical house fire” broke out.
The cause of the fire remains unknown to this day, but Jon has a hunch that it was an electrical fire.
“My dad usually went to work between 4:30 and 5 p.m., so he was gone already when we noticed the fire,” he said. “It was in the attached garage; I opened the door, saw smoke, got everyone out, got the pets out.”
When Jon’s family called for emergency services, they didn’t come in time because his family lived in such a rural location. The home was a total loss.
Following the fire, he moved to Ripon in 1993, and two years later joined the Ripon Area Fire District. Prior to joining the fire department, he worked in property management and welding.
“I think maybe something deep inside always told me that I wanted to be that person that put that fire out, that was there first and helped those people right away,” Jon said. “And when the opportunity presented itself in ’95, I jumped at it. I spent the first, I’d say five years on the department getting as much training in as I could. I went to every class, every lecture, everything.”
Jon retired two summers ago, as a captain for the Ripon Area Fire District. It was, however, during his more than 20-year career that he met veteran firefighter Dave Balkowski.
Balkowski was a career firefighter in Milwaukee, but he owned a home in the Ripon area, where he spent summers with his family.
“He found a niche within the Ripon Area Fire District, where his experience could be helpful,” Jon said. “For many years he was a safety chief on the ground in Ripon, and that’s where I got to know Dave [Balkowski] quite a bit.”
During his downtime from fire-fighting, Balkowski launched DRB Fire Extinguishers Sales & Service, a business that sells and services fire extinguishers.
Jon explained that many firefighters have a side business for when they have downtime because they typically work four days followed by three days off.
Some are painters, electricians or other skilled trades. For Balkowski, selling and servicing fire extinguishers filled that niche.
“He found this quite advantageous for that time off,” Jon said of his friend’s business.
Then Balkowski asked Jon in 2017 if he would take over the extinguisher repair and service shop.
Jon’s daughter, Elizabeth, remembers that time as if it was yesterday, as she was 18 years old and about to begin school at Ripon College.
FATHER-DAUGHTER DUO Jon and Elizabeth Roy repair fire extinguishers in their shop, located at 631 East Jackson St. in Ripon. Joe Schulz photo
“It was July, and my dad came home one night and he said, ‘Dave really wants to sell his business. And he really wants me to be the one who gets it,’” Elizabeth recalled.
A few days after that family conversation, Balkowski literally knocked on the Roy family’s door and asked it to take over DRB Fire Extinguishers.
“He hand picked our family to do it,” Jon said.
Because Jon’s wife, Jody, has a full-time job as a professor of communication at Ripon College, he knew that he’d need someone to help him run the business if he took it over.
Elizabeth jumped at the opportunity to become an entrepreneur, and the father-daughter duo decided to take over the extinguisher shop.
Balkowski walked Jon and Elizabeth through the business for a few weeks and then they were off.
They haven’t changed the business model a lot since taking over, but Elizabeth has been more hands on in creating a digital presence for the family-owned extinguisher shop.
She’s created a Facebook page featuring fire extinguisher safety videos, candid photos and other posts. Elizabeth also constructed DRB’s website, www.drbjwr.org, which features more specific information about fire extinguisher drop-off sites and scheduling appointments for on-site fire extinguisher inspections.
Jon noted DRB has taken steps to limit close contact with customers when doing inspections to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
DRB mostly services small businesses in Fond du Lac and Green Lake counties, which is something Jon prides himself on.
“We’re a mom-and-pop business, and we serve a lot of other mom-and-pop businesses, that’s our bread and butter,” Jon said.
Overall, the duo hopes to continue to service other small businesses and grow its list of clients.
“Expansion is always good and we’re always willing to take on more new customers, but we’re not itching to expand majorly and get a bunch of employees,” Jon said. “We really enjoy the quality family time.”