A pioneer of fire safety: Exclusive interview with Jeff Darley

February 6, 2024

Jeff Darley, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President at Darley, talks about his career as a fire safety pioneer spanning over 40 years

In the fire sector, the name Darley is synonymous with tradition, innovation, and excellence.

Established in 1908, W. S. Darley & Co (now Darley) is a family-owned and operated company that has stood the test of time.

With over a century of experience, the company now known as Darley has become an esteemed name in providing high-quality firefighting equipment and apparatus, continually adapting to the evolving needs of firefighters and emergency service professionals across the globe.

The company’s origins trace back to its founder, Darley, who began by selling firefighting equipment through a catalog.

From these humble beginnings, Darley has grown into a global enterprise, still maintaining the core values of dedication to its customers and commitment to providing top-tier products.

This dedication has led Darley to expand its product range extensively, including everything from fire pumps and apparatus to gear and technology solutions, addressing a wide array of firefighting and emergency service needs.

Among those leading Darley’s current operations is Jeff Darley, the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President.

Jeff, a 1981 graduate of Marquette University with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, has been a part of the Darley story since 1974, initially joining the company in a seasonal capacity.

His full-time journey began in 1981 at the Chippewa Falls facility, crucial to the company’s manufacturing operations.

Jeff’s diverse experience in various company departments, including manufacturing, operations, engineering, customer service, and marketing, has given him an all-encompassing view of the industry and the company.

Jeff Darley’s role in the company is not limited to operational oversight; he is deeply involved in the broader fire industry community.

His active participation in the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association and leadership roles in the Foam and Electrical Subcommittees showcase his dedication to enhancing industry standards.

Jeff’s commitment extends to educational and community development, as evidenced by his involvement with the Chippewa Valley Technical College Fire Service Advisory Board, the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire International Business Advisory Board, and the Chippewa Valley Technical College Engineering Advisory Board.

His past role as president of the Chippewa Valley YMCA highlights his community service ethos.

Jeff’s extensive involvement and leadership within the company and the broader fire industry underline the enduring legacy and ongoing commitment of Darley to excellence, innovation, and service in the firefighting and emergency services sector.

With a career spanning several more than four decades at Darley, Jeff’s leadership and innovative approach have significantly influenced the fire safety industry.

Duncan J. White, Managing Editor of Fire and Safety Journal Americas, sat down with Jeff to delve into his journey, accomplishments, and the company’s pivotal role in shaping modern fire safety practices.

Could you share a bit about your background and what inspired you to pursue a career in the fire safety sector?

From the age of 16 working part time for the Darley Family business, I always thought I would be working at Darley in the manufacturing side of our fire business.

I always wanted to know how things were made and how they worked.

I attended Marquette University and graduated with a mechanical engineering degree.

I was an engineering co-op student through college meaning every other semester I was able to work full time for Darley.

I graduated with my BSME in 1981 and went right to work for Darley in Chippewa Falls Wisconsin at our fire pump manufacturing facility.

As the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Darley, what are your primary responsibilities?

My primary responsibilities were our fire pump and fire apparatus manufacturing Operations in Chippewa falls Wisconsin.

I started with Darley in 1974 mowing lawns and odd jobs during High school.

In 1976 I worked in Darley’s shop in Melrose Park, Illinois building fire apparatus the following two summers.

During college, I worked in Chippewa Falls operating the mills and lathes, worked in quality control, pump assembly and testing.

July of 1981 I started my full time career as an engineer, then to a shop supervisor, to assistant VP of Fire apparatus manufacturing  ( it was relocated to Chippewa Falls in 1987 ) then to VP of Chippewa Falls Operations in 1993.

In 1997 an Executive Team was appointed by Bill Darley Chairman and CEO of Darley and I was appointed Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Darley Company and have been since that time.

How has Darley evolved under your tenure, particularly in terms of product development and technological innovation?

When I came to Darley in Chippewa Falls, we were manufacturing fire pumps with manual equipment such as lathes and mills and manual checking equipment.

We were testing pumps with gas and diesel motors.

We had a small manufacturing facility of roughly 25,000 square feet.

Today, Darley Chippewa Falls has three facilities combined are approximately 125.000 square foot.

 We use all CNC controlled lathes, mills and machining centers, hobbs and even coordinate measuring equipment to inspect the geometry of the parts.

 We have 5 test bays, all driven electronically.

Darley has a world class manufacturing operation today.

You’ve travelled extensively to market Darley products. How do these global experiences influence your approach to product development and customer service?

I would estimate that I travelled to approximately 60 countries during my years with Darley.

I have seen a huge diversity in fire apparatus, fire equipment and personal protection equipment.

Darley’s approach was to manufacture and distribute products that were safe, reliable, of high quality and easily serviced.

We for years offered lifetime pump warranty that was unmatched.

We today make parts for all pumps we have ever manufactured.

This past year we rebuilt a 1941 pump for a department in Colorado, we have a customer service team that responds in less than 24 hours and over 90% of the time shipped current production model parts in 24 hours or less.

Not many, if any, companies I know in our industry can offer this and has a world reputation of the same.

Darley recently launched a new technology division focusing on virtual reality and robotics. What was the motivation behind this move, and how do you see it impacting the fire and safety industry?

We were and still are seeing the world changing rapidly into a three-dimensional world with artificial intelligence here to stay.

We saw an opportunity to bring this into the fire service and have developed various partnerships to do so.

Advanced technologies like drones, virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and robotics will be a big part of the future.

These advancements will enhance the safety of first responders in more ways than we can imagine.

Can you talk about Darley’s partnerships and their role in enhancing fire safety and emergency response​​?

Darley has a wide variety of partnerships around the world.

They span from Original Equipment Manufactures “OEM’s”, to agencies like California Division of Forestry and Fire Protection CALFIRE, Bureau of Land Management BLM, National Fire Protection Association NFPA, Fire Apparatus Manufactures Association FAMA, Fire Equipment Manufacturers Association FEMA to many suppliers and distributors around the world.

We either provide products we manufacture or equipment and/or I and other Darley employees volunteer their time and talents serving in these organizations.

We are all about doing things safer and smarter and with alternative technologies.

How is Darley utilising partnerships to transform the training and education of first responders​​?

Darley has Partnerships with many key manufactures and suppliers of fire apparatus, drones, robotics, augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligent, thermal Imaging and more.

The smarter technologies help advance the first responders training when todays live fire and rescue training just about does not exist.

However, where it does exist there is no replacement for the real live event.

But the new technologies are almost as good and so much safer.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the fire safety industry today, and how is Darley addressing these issues?

There are many challenges facing the fire safety industry from PFAS to cancer, mental health, fitness, training to handling and cleaning of personal protective equipment.

Communication grids, wildfires, first responder tracking systems, and catastrophic emergency disasters which we are seeing a good amount of around the world.

Where do you see the future of fire safety technology headed?

Smart systems will continue to replace today’s technologies.

Darley will continue to be a leader an innovator and partner with those we believe have the right smart products to bring to market.

Since 1908 when my grandfather started the company his vision, and our vision today is: To be a global, family-owned and professionally managed company with a long-term perspective for our stakeholders as the first choice of fire, emergency, and tactical professionals worldwide.

Looking back at your career, what do you hope will be your lasting impact on the fire safety industry?

I’m not sure it’s any one thing specifically. However, my mission to manufacture fire apparatus and fire pumps which were of high quality, safe and innovative with an unmatched customer service team behind it and bringing these products to the world market while building relationships all over the world, will be what I leave as my legacy.

Serving those whom serve others. The fire, emergency and tactical professionals worldwide.

This article was originally published in the February 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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