“A Chicago firefighter is suingÂ Elkhart BrassÂ and two of its executives, alleging the firefighting equipment maker has violated their contract to make, market and sell a device he invented to fight high-rise fires, and is trying to claim it invented the device.
The HERO (High-rise Emergency Response Offensive) Pipe mounts to the window sill or floor below a fire that breaks out above the 12th floor, which is too high to reach with water from a ladder truck, and extends a telescoping arm upward, delivering water to the floor above.
The Chicago firefighter who invented this device for fighting high-rise fires on Jan. 9, 2015 sued Elkhart Brass, alleging the company schemed to steal his invention.Â (Supplied)
The suit states that Michael Wielgat, now a captain, conceived the idea in 2004Â after battling a fireÂ at Chicagoâ€™s 45-story LaSalle Bank building that trapped dozens of people above the 29th floor for hours as firefighters struggled for access. The fire injured 37 people, including 22 firefighters.
In 2007 theÂ U.S. Patent OfficepublishedÂ Wielgatâ€™s patent, and in 2009 his inventionÂ won a Chicago Innovation Award. In 2010, after years of building and testing prototypes with the Chicago and New York fire departments, the NYFD asked that the HERO Pipe be fitted with a remote control or movable monitor to better direct the water spray from side to side, the suit states. Wielgat asked Elkhart Brass to loan him such a monitor, and theÂ tests using it proved successful, prompting NYFD to order four HERO Pipes.
Wielgat formed Hero Systems Inc. in April 2010 and sometime late that year, Elkhart Brass chief operating officer Don Sjolin approached him with an offer to manufacture the product, projecting sales that would top $1 million in the first year and grow exponentially thereafter, the suit alleges. In April 2011, the parties entered into a license and manufacturing agreement.
But a month before that agreement was signed, unbeknownst to Wielgat, Elkhart Brass, having received Wielgatâ€™s drawings and engineering analysis for the HERO Pipe, filed patent applications in the United States and China for the HERO Pipe in its own name, identifying Elkhart Brass employees Steve Bollinger, Curt McDowell and Bruce Behenna as the inventors, the suit alleges.
The suit accuses defendants Elkhart Brass, Sjolin and president/CEO Hans Ashbaugh in scheming to fail in their efforts to sell or market the HERO Pipe, eventually terminate the agreement,Â â€œfeigning an inabilityâ€ to sell the device, and once the agreement was terminated, start marketing and selling it as its own invention. Their agreement with Wielgat effectively ended in December when Elkhart Brass stopped paying him for expenses, the suit states.
Hero Systems Inc.â€™s suit was filed Friday, Jan. 9, in theÂ northern Indiana U.S. District CourtÂ in South Bend. No attorneys had yet entered appearances for the defendants.
An Elkhart Brass official declined to comment when contacted Monday, Jan. 12. Thomas Ruge, Hero Systems Inc.â€™s Indianapolis attorney, deferred comment to Chicago-based attorney Jamie Robinson, who did not return e-mails seeking comment.