For W.S. Darley & Co., modern firefighting is about much more than spraying water on a blaze.
In its more than 100 years of business, Darley has made innovation its trademark.
“If our business stayed the same, in the place where we were comfortable, then we wouldn’t be where we are,” said Jeff Darley, chief operating officer and executive vice president at Darley’s Chippewa Falls location.
And Darley has numerous products that have helped the company position itself at the top of the market.
One innovation is actually based on an old idea: back in the late 1980s, engineers at Darley began to look into an old method of fire suppression used in the 1930s in Britain, where firefighters used a liquid foam mix on blazes.
“Nobody really developed it beyond that, so we began playing with the concept and brought it back to life,” he said.
Darley’s compressed air foam systems, CAFS, combine their firefighting foam with air and water. This system can suppress fires better than using water alone. This is especially helpful in fighting fires in rural or wooded areas, where water access is much more difficult.
“Most of the water deployed onto the fire would typically run out of windows, off the roof ... and it was wasted,” Darley said. “CAFS uses water much more efficiently.”
Depending on the mix ratio, the foam can use 7-10 times less water; additionally, the foam can reach to greater heights than water.
The CAFS system hasn’t really caught on yet with U.S. and European fire departments, due in part to the initial costs for upgrades, but developing nations are flocking to Darley.
“In rapidly-developing countries, like China, they’re all over that technology,” Darley said.
Darley was recently awarded a major contract to provide fire equipment and training for Lagos State, in the African country, Nigeria. Darley’s first shipment will contain 32 fire vehicles equipped with CAFS technology.
In 2012, Darley did business in more than 100 countries. A big selling point for Darley’s equipment in foreign countries is tied to water conservation.
“Water is huge,” he said. “It’s something that’s truly a natural resource for anyone in the world.”
With this in mind, Darley has also moved into the business of water purification systems. Their line, called PuriFire, will feature systems ranging from small-scale personal use all the way to large-scale systems.
And Darley is incorporating this new technology on fire trucks as well—another big selling point for developing countries that have limited financial resources. No other fire equipment manufacturer is doing that, according to Darley.
“In developing countries, they’re thinking multipurpose use for these vehicles,” Darley said. “So it’s not only fire trucks, but trucks that can transport potable water to the masses.”
Darley also boasts new technology to help make fire trucks last longer. Instead of a typical stainless steel body, Darley has developed a composite material to mold bodies.
The PolyBilt division of Darley uses thermoplastic technology to make truck bodies that resist cracking and fatigue, and come with a lifetime warranty. Unlike metal, PolyBilt bodies won’t corrode from repeated exposure to water. And with Darley having a patent on their composite material, no other competitor is making these truck bodies.
“It used to be the largest point on a fire truck to look to replace — being 20 years old and rusted,” Darley said of metal bodies. “These PolyBilt bodies last indefinitely.”
PolyBilt’s copolymer technology can also be applied to water containers, as well as food services because the material holds constant temperature very well.
Darley is also looking into home fire protection, having recently acquired a company that manufactures home fire protection and sprinkler systems. Darley said the company anticipates that in the future, more homes will be built with these systems in place.
Another advance for Darley is in an unusual market — drones. A few years ago, Darley came out with a small drone, weighing about 4 pounds, that has thermal imaging to give firefighters on the ground a view from above. These drones were especially helpful in wooded areas, but also for law enforcement.
And while Darley started out manufacturing water pumps over a century ago, the company is still making innovations in this area, too. Darley recently came out with a 3,500 gallon/minute industrial-rated water pump — the largest-performing pump on the market.
Darley said this pump is aimed at firefighting efforts for blazes that would require much more water to suppress, such as a fire at a refinery or other heavy-industrial area.
“When a refinery goes up, it needs millions of gallons of water to cool it down and possibly contain it,” Darley said. “It really never goes out, because the fuels are so great, but they have to contain it.”
With an eye ever to the future, a company that started in 1908 has remained a force in its market space.
“One of the reasons why Darley is where they are today in business at 105 years old is because we’ve always had that innovative vision,” Darley said. “We built our business on looking ahead.”