From humble beginning, US Midwestern firm Task Force Tips continues to lead the way when it comes to providing first responders with ground-breaking, state-of-the-art firefighting equipment. When Task Force Tips bought an old Coca-Cola factory on 25 acres of land, the company's chiefs believed that someday they be utilising that building and land to grow. What they didn't know was how quickly the Midwestern firefighting equipment supply company would nearly double in size and outgrow its 40,000 square feet of factory TFT had called home for a better part of its history.
Nor did they expect that they would have to invent moving equipment to get their “delicate” multi-tonne computerised machinery from the old factory to their new plant. As if that wasn't complicated enough, someone in the ranks had decided that the move was going to be made without losing a single moment of production time.
“When we were starting our move I thought that there was no way we were going to pull this off without losing some orders, screwing up deliveries, making people wait as we got back up running,” said Rod Carringer, Task Force Tips vice president of sales and marketing. “Then I find out that we're going to move all of the machines ourselves. These are multi-million-dollar, delicate machines that many professional moving companies wouldn't touch. And yet we were going to move them.”
It just made sense that the people who knew these machines inside and out would also be the ones to move them. The only problem was how to move them? TFT CEO and President Stewart McMillan found four large tyres on eBay that had been used to move houses. These were then rigged to two large steel beams, and within a day the Mega Mover, or ‘Radio Flyer', was born.
McMillan, Chuck Ransom (TFT's facility maintenance supervisor) and other key team members reasoned that the plant could afford to take down and move two machines a day, if weather, the Mega Mover, and area traffic all somehow perfectly aligned. Although weather forecasts threatened rain for over half of the scheduled moving days, not a drop fell. The Mega Mover, which was designed on the fly by anything but professional movers, worked perfectly - and not a single customer mentioned slow or disrupted service.
It wasn't unusual for TFT employees to reason out a probable solution to a seemingly impossible challenge. That same reasoning allowed TFT founder Clyde McMillan to invent the world's first automatic nozzle some 30 years previously. Aside from revolutionising the firefighting industry by using the principle of automatic pressure control, the new nozzle also introduced the world to TFT - a Midwestern-based company that was driven by a need to create and improve on products that would make life easier and safer for firefighters the world over.
It should come as no surprise that, since its early days, at least a third of TFT's staff has been made up of people with either professional or volunteer firefighting experience. That type of listening, insight, and creative thought was what lead to the design and introduction of a new, unique, powerhouse of a portable ground monitor, called the ‘Blitzfire' - a lightweight 2,000 lpm (500 gpm) device with a distinctive, patented, blue finish. It is the first ever-initial attack monitor for high flow interior and exterior attacks.
“That little blue monitor is a perfect example of our new product development,” says Carringer. He has a personal interest, too, as an active member of Center Township Fire and Rescue, with more than 30 years' experience with the department he once served as chief of operations. He is also a lauded structural firefighting instructor.
“Fire departments are typically understaffed and underfunded,” he noted. “They are often overtaxed on what they are being called upon to do. So we are trying to make their existing staff more effective with what they have. The Blitzfire is just one of those products.”
Another TFT brainchild is the PRO/pak, a portable foam eductor system ideal for small spills, extrication applications, and similar incidents. “Most fire departments can't make good foam,” Carringer says. “They don't do it a lot, they don't train on it, and it's expensive. Plus, there are some environmental considerations.”
The eductor idea was sparked by a crude prototype Carringer saw while visiting Germany. “Some guy there had taken a water extinguisher, filled it with foam concentrate, duct taped an eductor to it, and used that to make foam,” he said. “I thought it was pretty cool, so I bought one, brought it back, and used it on a tyre fire,” Carringer says. “Darn if it didn't work. So I showed it to our engineering department. It took them a few months to design and build it. Today we have some 20,000 units in service, with instructions printed in six different languages.”
TFT's purchase of Jaffrey Fire Protection Company was also an attempt to fill a weakness seen in the firefighting community. “We picked up Jaffrey because we, as firefighters, knew that we were unhappy with the LDH equipment that was being produced at the time,” Carringer said. “Across the board, all LDH equipment was suffering from the same problem: corrosion. You could put out the best product, but after it sat on site or wherever for a time, corrosion would eat away at it in every case, every time.”
TFT had already looked at the problem with corrosion. In its past years, it added to its nozzle offerings by acquiring KK Products, a West Coast manufacturer of fixed and selectable gallonage nozzles. In addition to extending its nozzle lines from its namesake automatics, the addition of KK products allowed TFT engineers to work with, and understand, the environment and its effect on equipment.
“The engineers were looking at the different products, comparing them, which was at times was like comparing apples and oranges,” Carringer said. “But then we finally looked and realized that we didn't have the corrosion problems at the nozzle! We don't have corrosion problems with the monitors either.” The simple difference here was not in the metals used, or chemicals in the water to which the equipment was being exposed. The difference was in the coatings - the nozzles and the monitors have TFT's patented coatings and the LDH hardware didn't. Especially for TFT, the problem was solved.
“Coating is something we know a lot about,” Carringer says. “Hard coat anodizing, poly impregnation of castings, and powder coating are TFT's primary methods of retarding corrosion. We are taking some of the things we already knew and transferring them back to the LDH hardware.”
“Our goal here is to never let aluminum and water touch. Period,” explained Bob Steingass, TFT director of research. “To put it simply, when you lay down on a waterbed, it's different than when you lay down in a swimming pool. It doesn't take much thickness to keep the water away from you, but it does keep it away, so that the two of you can live comfortably for years.”
TFT recently had all of its finishes tested by independent laboratories using an accelerated salt spray corrosion test called ASTM B117 (industry standard test). The more hours of exposure - the harsher the test. NFPA requires 120 hours exposure to pass NFPA 1964 for fresh water service. NFPA requires 336 hours exposure to pass NFPA 1964 for marine (salt-water) service. Military equipment requires 336 hours exposure to pass MIL-8625.
The finishes, which were independently tested for corrosion formation up to 2,000 hours, surpassed any test standard by three to four times NFPA or Military requirements. In addition, recent tests have shown that of the thousands of TFT monitors being used in petrochemical and industrial facilities worldwide, corrosion has caused failure on only about 1/10 of one percent of the products - meaning that the remaining 99.9 percent of the products are still in service at this time.
“When we applied what we already knew about coatings to our entire LDH line, it made all the difference,” Carringer said. With the addition of its LDH line, TFT can now handle water coming from a source to the truck, as well as everything from the fire truck out.
“Which is easier for us to explain in our new markets overseas than it is to tell the people who already know us stateside,” Carringer said. “Because people in the US have come to know us as this company that makes great nozzles - which we still do. But we also have great monitors, valves, adapters, Jumbo and regular intake valves, a whole new line of remote control equipment. We even make one of the only hard suction hoses in the world that doesn't leak! TFT is so much more than just nozzles.”
The path new products follow to market has recently been simplified by the addition of the engineering department's new Computational Fluid Dynamic Software. This new software allows engineers to study the design's flow before committing $5,000 to $7,000 prototype casting. Although it can take up to three hours for a computer to render a new design's water flow, cost savings alone will encourage greater exploration into revolutionary or modified designs.
The Typhoon, TFT's newest monitor, went through some 15 revisions and tweakings with CFDS before engineers committed to a prototype. The new programme allowed designers to inexpensively explore and refine strengths and weaknesses of the new 6,000 l/min (1,500 gpm) monitor, that was specifically designed for aerial and platform use.
As the technology evolves, so does TFT's workforce. Many of the 170-plus employees are highly skilled technicians. The new equipment is computer numerical controlled (CNC) and digitally operated, with a heavy influence of automation and robotics.
“The workforce is no longer made up of the artist machinists,” Carringer says. “We now have a group of very young, incredibly technically competent, computer-orientated workers out there.”
TFT draws from the area talent pool, as well as works with regional vocational schools. While some businesses have faced reduction in forces during recent economic fluctuations, TFT has increased its labour pool by nearly 5% over the last year.
“With everything that's going well for TFT, who knows how long this new space is going to meet our needs?” Carringer said. “It's a great problem to have if you're a business. But I'm going to strongly suggest we never move those machines again. At least not for the next 100 years.”