Elkhart Brass develops Hero Pipe

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

Michiana is home to all sorts of manufacturing from Humvees to RV's, and a local company called Elkhart Brass is diversifying the list with a device that will soon be saving lives around the world.

Don Sjolin, COO of Elkhart Brass says, "The origins of Elkhart Brass have been in the basic fittings, and couplings that are used in the fire service."

The nozzles and valves may not be as glamorous as the fire trucks they ride on, but they have been saving lives for 106 years, and they have been made in Elkhart since the beginning.

"Whether it is to connect hose or simple nozzles, all of that has progressed over the years to what you see around us."

Through the years, the tools have evolved to better meet the needs of firefighters. Their latest creation is called the Hero Pipe.

The Hero Pipe is an apparatus for fighting high rise fires. It is a product invented by Mike Wielgat.

Lieutenant Wielgat of the Chicago Fire Department recognized the need for a tool to help extinguish high rise fires.

He says, "Once I became a lieutenant, I was assigned to the first district, the high rise district, and starting to face these types of fires, I started to realize the challenges and how hot these fires were and how they are contained within a building. So, facing those fires and seeing some of my friends get injured, seriously burned and other firefighters being killed in these types of incidents, something really needed to be developed, and we have known it for years it was just overcoming the challenges."

Mike estimated it would take six months to develop the device.

"The first prototype was complete in about four months, but there were a lot of things that worked great, but operation was difficult. There were a lot of safety factors involved, that we couldn't be sure of."

That was in 2001. Fast forward ten years, and you have an all aluminum fire fighting machine that can be assembled and used by only two firefighters.

"There are no special tools required. It is all made of aluminum, it is light weight, it transports in an elevator you get it to the fire floor."

Once the Hero Pipe is on the desired floor, it is clamped to the window sill, and the stabilizing bars secure the base to the floor. Two firefighters then slide the pipe onto the track and hoist it into the air.

Once in the air, a remote controlled nozzle is used to attack the flames.

"I think the final product, the finished product, is a lot easier to use and can handle extreme high rise incident better than I even thought myself."

Mike is not the only one that is impressed with the final product.

Don says, "New York City will be the first to use it, they are currently awaiting their units."

FDNY has placed an order, and while that is reason enough to be excited, this means much more than just a sale.

Mike says, "It really feels great. New York is probably the most extensive research and development team in the world, and for them to review it, research it, test everything, but the end result of them actually testing the product and using it and ordering it is fantastic."

Don says, "Our hope is the use of the product will be validated by FDNY, and that will give other municipalities around the world the confidence to employ the device in their own procedures."

It is giving firefighters another tool to save more lives thanks to Midwest innovation and Michiana manufacturing.

"Being a company that has been around for over a hundred years, we pride ourselves in innovation. We see this as just another step, a big step, one that we think will take Elkhart Brass forward."

Elkhart Brass currently does business in over 100 countries, and Don is optimistic that growing countries, like China, will be interested in the Hero Pipe.

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