Written by Mark Jaeger
Wednesday, 06 October 2010 16:40
Saukville company finds its niche amid latest fire-protection devices
There are plenty of companies that look to profit from the misfortunes of others, but the Saukville-based DeTech Firesense Technologies specializes in helping people avoid disaster.
In fact, company vice president William Driscoll takes more than a little pride in pointing to a running tally of lives that have been saved because of the company’s detection equipment.
“By our current count, there are 274 people whose lives have been saved because of our products, and that is just the people we know about,” Driscoll said.
“We have letters on file from families telling their stories. There is no feeling in the world greater than that.”
The company, which has its international headquarters at 520 Technology Way, markets smoke and heat detectors, along with fire extinguishers and hard-wired warning systems under the
DeTech brand name.
Driscoll and President Mike Hafeman relocated the firm last October to Saukville, after it spent its first nine years in Mequon.
The 12,000-square-foot building serves as corporate offices, warehouse facility and training center.
Manufacturing is done by outside contractors, and sales are handled by a network of independent dealers.
“We are primarily a wholesaler of devices built specifically for us. Sales are handled through 70 independent offices in 26 states,” Driscoll said.
DeTech has a heavy presence in the Midwest, led by nine dealers in Wisconsin.
Driscoll said the company has installations in 40,000 households nationally, with about a quarter of that in its home state.
“Our marketing goal is to grow from the inside out, so we started our business by pretty much covering the whole state and then expanding outward,” he said.
The company maintains close contacts with many area fire departments and is involved in several local National Fire Prevention Week activities this week.
In addition, Hafeman is a board member with the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety.
“Fire education has always been one of our priorities, no matter what equipment you eventually buy. Having something is always better than nothing, but we talk about the levels of protection
we can offer beyond the basic detectors you can buy at a hardware store,” Driscoll said.
He said the optical technology used in DeTech smoke detectors “virtually eliminates” the risk of false alarms and the devices come with a 20-year warranty. Their heat detectors have a 25-year
warranty and a 10-year battery.
“If you have to think about cleaning or changing the battery on your smoke detector, there is a good chance you won’t do it. When you buy one of our detectors, you can pretty much be sure
you are going to have it for the rest of your life,” he said.
Sales have grown between 12% and 15% annually, which Driscoll said is an indication of how concerned most homeowners are about safety.
“Even in this economy, people place a high priority on keeping their families safe and are willing to pay what it costs to get that peace of mind,” he said.
The most basic units cost $50 and a full-house installation can top several thousand dollars, Driscoll said.
Such installation is handled by trained technicians who know how to work with air flow and avoid common problems like dead air space that can render off-the-shelf detectors next to useless.
“Statistics show that the number of house fires has not risen in recent years, but the number of home fire fatalities is on the rise,” Driscoll said.
“That is because of how air-tight most houses are today, and the number of things we have around us that emit toxic gases when they burn. The conventional logic used to be that you have 17 minutes to get out of your house safely once a fire starts. Today, that number is one or two minutes.”
DeTech also sells personal alert devices that provide instant connections in the event of a medical emergency and contact authorities if fire or smoke is detected in the home of a customer.
“We call it the panic button. It is the equivalent of On-Star service for the elderly,” Driscoll said.
DeTECH FIRESENSE TECHNOLOGIES President Michael Hafeman (left) and Vice President Bill Driscoll showed two of their made-to-order detectors. The company has been located in Saukville for a year, after starting in Mequon in 2000. Photos by Mark Jaeger