Chicago-based private investment firm Madison Industries has acquired a controlling interest in Task Force Tips, which Chairman and CEO Stewart McMillan said poises the company in Valparaiso for more growth.

McMillan said he has been looking for a buyer to enter into a partnership for the last 12 years and chose Madison Industries because it lets company founders stay involved. He will continue to serve as CEO of Task Force Tips, which now has the backing of a multibillion-dollar buyout specialist.

Task Force Tips now aims to grow through the acquisition of other firefighting equipment companies.

"They 100 percent want me to be here," he said. "They believe in preserving company culture. They believe in manufacturing. They're going to keep the company right here in Valparaiso. They're not one of those companies that moves companies offshore."

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.  McMillan said he and others on the management team bought an equity stake in the company.

Task Force Tips makes fire hose nozzles and other firefighting equipment at its 168,000-square-foot headquarters at 3701 Innovation Way, which includes a firefighting museum. The company was founded when Gary Fire Chief Clyde McMillan jotted an idea for an automatic nozzle down on a napkin in 1968, and it has since grown to employ 240 people in Valparaiso.

"All the same people are going to be working here," McMillan said. "There are going to be more resources to do bigger things."

Task Force Tips sells its products worldwide, garnering about 30 percent of its sales from exports overseas. McMillan said he's always tried to position Task Force Tips as the market leader in innovation.

"I love what I do," he said. "I was looking to find the right ownership, and absolute best partners. (Madison Industries) is a company that buys and holds. It's like Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway. It doesn't buy and flip."

Last year, Task Force Tips acquired Amkus Rescue Systems in Downers Grove, Illinois, so it could branch out into hydraulic rescue tools such as cutters, rope rescue systems, and spreaders that pry apart car doors. It also bought out Iowa-based RescueStrut 911, which makes vehicle stabilization devices.

"Fires are going down these days," McMillan said. "But fire departments are doing more rescues out of vehicles. In my 31 years as a firefighter what I remember most were not fires but vehicle crashes. It was the worst day of their life, and we would save their life. Fire departments need rescue tools, and there's growth there."

McMillan has been involved in Task Force Tips for 45 years, working for his dad in their basement when he was still a college student at Purdue University Calumet. The family-run business was an early adopter of new technologies, starting to use email in the 1980s and first launching a website in the dial-up days of 1993.

Madison Industries owns water filtration, medical and industrial companies and was interested in firefighting equipment manufacturing because it's a stable, steady business, McMillan said.

"They hope to establish a new vertical with Task Force Tips as the lead company," McMillan said. "They will give us the resources to do more things."


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.