Havis-Shields Shines In Scene Lighting

Havis-Shields is a family-owned business with vice president Mike Bernert and president Joe Bernert.
Havis-Shields is a family-owned business with MikeBernert, left, as vice president and Joe Bernert, right, serving as president of the company founded in 1928 by the brother’s grandfathers. (Fire Apparatus Photos by Ed Ballam)
Dave E'nama has refined lighting hardware with the Silver Billet line.
Dave E’nama, engineering director, has refined lighting hardware to an art with the Silver Billet line.
Havis-Shields first emergency scene lighting company design own light heads
Havis-Shields was the first emergency scene lighting company to design it own light heads.
Edward Texidor with Havis-Shields applies a finish to aluminum light heads. The finishing department is environmentally friendly.
Edward Texidor, a master painter with Havis-Shields applies a white powder coat finish to a die cast aluminum light heads. The company’s finishing department is environmentally friendly. (Fire Apparatus Photos by Ed Ballam)
Havis-Shields has the FX Series of 12-volt scene lights.
With its FX Series, Havis-Shields has a complete line of 12-volt scene lights.
Bill Chappell has been with the company more than 17 years.
Bill Chappell, a bending brake operator, has been with the company more than 17 years.
Pat Costello puts together a telescoping pole.
Pat Costello, an assembler for 10 years, puts together a telescoping pole. (Fire Apparatus Photo)
Bill Niemier tests of all lighting products before they are produced and marketed.
Bill Niemier, the company’s research and development manager, does extensive testing of all lighting products before they are produced and marketed. Among the things he tests is bulb life and on/off cycles. (Fire Apparatus Photos by Ed Ballam)

When it comes to scene lighting, Havis-Shields Equipment Corporation is a shining star with a long history of firsts in the industry.

Havis-Shields was the first company to develop its own light heads for emergency scene lighting and the first to use metal halide HID technology for fire and emergency services.

Cold cathode compartment lighting, custom-designed cab brow lighting, Xenon quick strike lights, truck-mounted demountable lights, replaceable reflectors as well as manual, gear-driven, remote-controlled telescoping lights are just a few additional firsts for Havis-Shields.

Some product names are iconic. Kwik-Raze, Magnafire, Collins Dynamics, Kwik-Strike and now Silver Billet, all in the Havis-Shields stable, are known far and wide by firefighters and rescue personnel. With the exception of Collins Dynamics, which Havis-Shields bought in 1988, the products and names were all developed in house. And the names are synonymous with quality and reliability.

“We want the best name in the industry,” says Bill Niemier, Havis-Shields’ research and development manager. “Firefighters and rescue workers need good quality products that hold up.”

That’s a philosophy the family-owned company in Warminster, Pa., has followed for three generation.

Company History

In 1928, Dan Havis and Jim Shields started Havis & Shields, rebuilding vehicle generators, carburetors and electrical equipment in Philadelphia. Jim Shields’ grandsons, Joe and Mike Bernert, own the business now called Havis-Shields.

After Jim Shields died in the early 1960s, Joe and Mike’s father, Joe Bernert Sr., bought the business from his wife’s father’s estate. For many years it continued as an electrical supply distributor and rebuilder of vehicle mechanical items.

In the 1970s, after building a couple of utility vehicles for City of Philadelphia, Havis-Shields started building fire trucks under the name Ranger Fire Apparatus.

Joe Bernert says that was a financial disaster because of the lack of the enormous cash flow needed to run a truck building business. He points out that the company made a great product, and stood behind it, but wasn’t able to turn that into a successful business.

By 1979, the Bernerts sold the Ranger name to a company in Rhode Island, sold the electrical supply and rebuilding business and all of its assets.

They moved to nearby Willow Grove, Pa. The house with a one-car garage and Joe and his father were the only employees. Joe Sr. took a job as the East Coast independent sales representative for both Whelen Engineering, a warning light manufacturer in Chester, Conn., as well as Havis-Shields manufactured products.

Undaunted, Joe Jr. and his father continued to fulfill some leftover orders to install lights, sirens and radios in a few police cruisers, part of the Havis-Shields business that had been around for many years.

They also were installing a few mast lights, made by the Will-Burt Company, a lighting company based in Orrville, Ohio. That relationship has continued as Havis-Shields is a major supplier of light heads for Will-Burt’s mast lighting towers.

“Things began to roll a little and we found that we had to build a second bay on the garage at home,” Bernert recalls.

Havis-Shields was back in business, with the financial disaster fading into history with each passing month.

From the brink of extinction in 1980, to seven employees in 1985, Havis-Shields has nearly doubled its workforce every year. During its renaissance, the company started manufacturing in the late 1980s.

Today, the business employs 110 people, working in a 90,000- square-foot building constructed in 2002, and grosses more than $20 million in annual sales. The company also has a facility in Puerto Rico and a third in Chino, Calif.

Mike Bernert, who has responsibilities for sales and marketing, says Havis-Shields sells through resellers and dealers exclusively. Seventeen independent rep groups manage geographically exclusive territories.

The company also sells directly to apparatus builders and is a preferred scene light vendor for E-ONE, Hackney and LDV.  Havis-Shields does business with virtually all American truck builders.

While scene lighting is, by far, the second largest business component, Havis-Shields continues to go gangbusters in police cruiser and fire command vehicle consoles for radios, computer and data terminals and other electrical equipment. It also makes aluminum prisoner and K-9 transport systems for public safety vehicles.

The company sells consoles coast to coast and installs equipment on more than 1,000 vehicles in-house annually, according to Mark Sundy, products specialist. He is entering his 25th year with Havis-Shields, making him one of the most senior employees.

Sundy once ran the service shop. “We used to make custom everything, and before we knew it, we had national products,” he says. “We’ve built our reputation on making quality products that fit well, work well and are reliable.”

He has seen the company grow and expand under the Bernerts’ leadership and has continually been impressed by their commitment to investment in the business.

A tour of the shop area quickly reveals the Bernerts’ level of capital investment. Machines are automated and computer aided. A state-of-the-art combination laser and punch turret cuts out steel and aluminum components at a dizzying pace, working up to 20 hours a day, often without the need for an operator standing by.

Peter “PJ” Spera Jr., Havis-Shields’ production manager, is responsible for all the machines and people in this area.

“Some of these machines are less than six months old,” Spera says during the tour. “We need to stay on the cutting edge of technology so we can remain competitive. Everything needs to work together efficiently – the fabrication area, the paint line, assembly and shipping.”

One way to maintain efficiency is to have machinery and personnel do processes in-house, he says, noting the company can do MIG and TIG welding of steel and aluminum.

Havis-Shields even has its own automated 400-foot conveyor powder-coat finishing facility that is supervised by Dave Hoover, facility manager.

Aluminum die cast heads for the lights, made by outside vendors, are painted white, while the consoles for emergency vehicles and computer mounts for fire trucks are painted black. Hoover says that the company can finish products in any color requested.

The powder coat finish system is a model of efficiency and environmental friendliness, says Hoover. Pennsylvania officials often use Havis-Shields as an example for others to emulate.

Powder coating stands up to the rigors of fire and police service better than wet painting, he explains, because it doesn’t chip or nick like ordinary paints.

Not all Havis-Shields’ products are painted. In fact, the beauty of its light poles is bright-dipped anodized brushed aluminum which produces a rugged chrome-like finish popular with fire departments.

That’s where Havis-Shields’ latest innovation in lighting has led – the Silver Billet. It’s name comes from the aluminum billets which are machined to make the hardware.

It’s a new design in telescoping poles and locking hardware and the culmination of 20 years’ work for David E’nama, director of Havis-Shields’ engineering department.

Silver Billet System

The Silver Billet system is so revolutionary because of its attention to detail. E’nama says customers didn’t like nooks and crannies associated with most cast pole brackets because they were difficult to clean. So, the mounting brackets are machined round with recessed bolts.

The mounting collars are two pieces, which makes it easier to remove the lights and poles for servicing. The locking collars are made of knurled aluminum and lock with a quarter- turn. An internal slip ring makes it impossible for them to be over-tightened no matter how strong the firefighter.

In some applications, mounting can be done with one bolt, allowing lights to be placed in locations never before considered.

O-rings are used to seal the interface between the brackets and the body as well as the seal between the inner and outer poles and top and bottom. The locking collars are also sealed and have a grease trap to make sure no dust or water can invade the hardware.

“It looks high-tech, high-end,” E’nama says. “You hold it in your hand and you can feel it’s a quality piece.”

He says, “The fire market has to be able to function and it has to have products that can be put in use quickly and put away quickly. They also have to have an appealing look to match the rest of the truck.”

Bill Niemier, the research and development manager, has responsibilities for the light head attached to the top of the poles. He uses his knowledge of the lighting industry to make Havis-Shields’ lighting products the best possible.

“Customers have lots of perceptions about what they want, but what they want might not be what they need,” he says.

Niemier is fastidious in his attention to the intricacies of lighting and its nuances, talking about lumens, candelas, the way the eye reacts to light and color spectrums.

He is constantly looking in lighting trade magazines for innovations that he can apply. “A lot of people think the higher the wattage, the better the light. That’s totally not true. The efficiency and color of the light are equally important.”

Product Testing

Niemier is also responsible for testing and standards  for Havis-Shields’ products and those of its outside vendors.

“If the customer is going to get a good product out in the field, it has to start with the parts that go into it,” Niemier says. “That’s why we have standards.”

To that end, Niemier has two laboratories and testing facilities to do long-term light testing as well as on/off cycle testing. The company also has a salt spray chamber which subjects parts used outside of the vehicle to harsh conditions – 95 degrees with 95 percent humidity with a five percent salt solution in the mist and fog.

“It’s like the worst day you can think of at the shore,” Niemier says. Components must perform to third-party standards, and then exceed them to pass his muster.

“I’m not interested in making things appear to be better than they are,” he says. “I want to know what they will really do. They have to meet, and even exceed, our warranties by several years.”

Havis-Shields poles and brackets are warranted for life and the light heads, excluding the bulbs, are covered for two years from the date of purchase. The company’s products are certified to Underwriters’ Laboratories standards through ETL Testing Laboratories Inc. in Cortland, N.Y.

Sundy, the products specialist, says everyone at Havis-Shields is focused on improving products and offering customers the best available.

“I’m very proud of the products we make,” he says. “When I see a fire truck, I can say, ‘that’s our light.’ It feels good to know we’re out there.”

For information call 800-524-9900 or go to www.havis.com.

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