The Hemisphere transportable monitor.

Company visit: Task Force Tips Inc

Published:  20 November, 2013

With world headquarters in Valparaiso, Indiana, USA, Task Force Tips remains a family owned business dedicated to being a worldwide leader in providing emergency responders with high quality, innovation agent delivery solutions since 1971.

It is clear when entering the Task Force Tip facility just how seriously the staff and management of the company are committed to the firefighting community worldwide.  At the entrance is a museum exhibiting three antique fire appliances, as well as a wide range of equipment and tools used through the ages to combat flames and heat – starting with leather buckets and transitioning to the latest Task Force Tips nozzles and monitors. The museum also houses department patches from all over the USA and throughout the building are portraits of firefighters that have had a significant influence on product innovations. Also on the wall is the founder of the family-owned company, Clyde McMillan.

While leading the Gary Fire Task Force, Fire Chief Clyde McMillan arrived at the idea of an automatic or constant pressure/variable gallonage nozzle, which he drew on the back of a paper napkin in 1968. Shortly after the McMillan family basement became a small business and Task Force Tips was born.

Today the company’s new headquarters, employing nearly 200 team members, includes over 168,000 square feet of high tech manufacturing and production systems supplying equipment through distribution partners in over 100 countries.

Still central to the Task Force Tips philosophy is understanding the firefighter and the challenges that he faces – wherever in the world they may be - explains R&D Director Bob Steingass: ‘Firefighters need to interact completely with their equipment and that interaction has to be intuitive and fit with how they perform their duties. The fit, finish, feel and function of our products create the ability to perform to the highest level during emergency operations. They are putting themselves and their team members at risk during every initial fire attack and they need to have confidence in the equipment they are using.

‘In life-or-death situations firefighters need to be able to trust and rely on their equipment in every possible situation.  It takes decades of experience with the design, production, support, and the long-term durability found in TFT products to create that trust.’

It is not surprising that firefighters can become emotionally attached to the tools they use, especially when, in emergency situations, adrenaline is pumping through the body and instincts and training start to take over, says Steingass, ‘A firefighting product needs to be designed to be used intuitively, similarly to how the computer mouse had been designed. Nobody needs to be taught how to use a mouse because it fits in your hand and is an extension of the body. We design equipment in a similar manner while realising as well that lives may depend on our concepts. You cannot expect a firefighter to be thinking about the equipment while they are using it. During emergency operations responders always have other things to worry about. At Task Force Tips we take great pride in our continued attention to detail and that we are always in a learning mode. As we learn how our customers use our products, we are always striving to constantly improve the design and operation of every component.’

Steingass points to the innovative G-Force range of nozzles as an example of this approach. The G-Force nozzle platform has been ergonomically designed to such an extent that the user need not look at it to operate it.  Even with gloved hands, they can feel the nozzle shape and functions and choose an appropriate function, all intuitively. ‘It provides you a distinct notion of what it is doing and why it is doing it, so you don’t have to keep your eyes on the equipment. This level of functional intuitive ergonomic design delivers a firefighter a level of performance found in few other products.

‘And that doesn’t just mean the US market either. The G-Force is available with 21 different standard hose couplings as well as different threads in 112 different versions to meet any customer’s global performance requirements.’

Learning through experience is what drives Task Force Tips, explains Steingass, and customer feedback is essential for this. Consequently the company fosters many special and longstanding relations with its clients – which can lead to unexpected results in terms of innovation. Steingass says that he often encounters clients who use their monitors and nozzles in new and different ways, resulting in fertile ground for innovative new idea development. ‘Tools need to fit all needs,’ says Bob, ‘and if it wasn’t designed for that need, it can be redesigned and adapted and made better.’

The Certified ISO 9001 quality and design control process is instrumental to validating these product enhancements, and interestingly, all customer comments are documented (what worked, what didn’t) within the process, resulting in appropriate changes and improvement to the equipment. ‘Continual improvement, continual testing, and a commitment to a consistent documented product development process are all critical aspects of our internal initiatives,’ adds Steingass.

The new G-Force nozzle platform is designed for the needs of the global firefighting marketplace.

Markets

Task Force Tips is well known in the municipal domestic market and is especially strong in the international industrial market – to the extent that its monitors are being used to cool the reactors in Fukushima, explains International Vice President of Sales, Nathan Calabrese. ‘We have very strong product recognition throughout most of Asia, and especially in Japan, where our product performance, warranty and brand name are widely known. We use our partner’s feedback in this core market segment for product development as well. They often come back to us with advice on how their particular market requires modifications or enhancements, and that is integrated into the product and development process.’

Global markets vary of course, and in Europe there is a tendency to choose nozzles with a pistol grip installed for firefighter control, though Calabrese points out that in the US there are even regional differences on nozzle design and configuration that vary greatly.  TFT’s commitment to meeting customer needs lead to designs customised to individual operational techniques and performance criteria. ‘There are even differences in operational pressure control. In the US for instance people operate most typically at 5-7 bar, for many other global destination 4 bar is he desired choice.

Fires burn similarly all over the world, but how agencies approach a fire tactically and think about putting fires out varies a huge amount. You cannot say one is right or wrong – all that matters is that it can be done efficiently and safely for that particular department,’ adds Steingass.

Trends – doing more with less

The main challenge faced by the fire service, Steingass believes, can be summarised simply: rapidly diminishing manpower and limited resources. ‘Firefighting teams are responding with fewer people, with less experience, and are being asked to accomplish more. Much of that demand is being focused on modern equipment development, so we are constantly asking firefighters about the true nature of their challenges. Often the resulting outcome of these discussions reflected in our latest product launches, are all being based on the philosophy of “doing more with less”.’

Nathan Calabrese adds: ‘Here in the US we are focused on tax collection and spending for municipalities’ safety efforts, to ensure they have the latest equipment available. Politically, every country - and regions within it - has their own issues with budget constraints and political influence. We have always been strong in North America devoting funds to causes such as the fire service, fire prevention and research. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen in every country in the world.’

There are also some stark differences in emergency response assets between municipal and industrial sectors. As an example Calabrese compares a high-risk chemical processing facility in Whiting Indiana, where the local municipal fire department is highly prepared and equipped in case an incident should happen on the industrial site – nevertheless the facility’s industrial fire department is probably even better prepared. ‘However, if you where to go to a processing plant in a less economically developed country, you will probably find that while the facilities emergency response team is very prepared, the local region surround the facility might not even have a municipal fire department.’

Last year alone Task Force Tips launched 14 new products, including a unique portable monitor called the Hemisphere that can be mounted in a variety of positions.  This sort of new product development, production and delivery is consistent with what happens every year at this company.  Task Force Tips remains excited about this new product and hundreds of other revolutionary designs it has produced since 1971. ‘It is all about creating high performance equipment that enables firefighters to do more with less and being able to accomplish those tasks safely and effectively in the harsh firefighting environment,’ concludes Bob Steingass.

  • Operation Florian

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