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Firehouse® Magazine asked a cross-section of apparatus manufacturers, large and small, about their recommendations and creative ideas on how to specify and finance apparatus in this challenging economic environment. This is an excerpted version of the roundtable; the complete discussion is available at firehouse.com/1111-apparatus. We thank the manufacturers that joined this discussion and invite other manufacturers to participate in future discussions.It is no secret the economy is in deeply troubled times. Fire stations are closing. Firefighters are losing their jobs and taxpayers are having trouble paying their taxes. Yet, your department needs a replacement engine and the aerial is getting a little shaky too. You say there is no money and you have been turned down a few times for federal FIRE Act grants, but there is hope that you can afford that new apparatus you actually needed yesterday.
Some apparatus manufacturers offer exclusive financing deals, others have program apparatus designed to save money and all say it is best for fire departments to take a serious look at what they truly need and what they would like to have. Deleting the “bells and whistles” without sacrificing safety and quality is one of the best ways to save money. Another way is to look carefully at how to pay for the apparatus. Lease-purchase agreements, tax-exempt financing and even looking at lesser-known federal grants are all ways to find dollars to make that crucial purchase.
Richard Ball, director of marketing for American LaFrance, is convinced there are ways departments can get the apparatus they want and need even though the economy is in the dumps.
“You can afford the custom truck you want,” said Ball. “You don’t have to settle for a commercial truck. We have programs to help.”
Ball said American LaFrance had a program truck that was built on a commercial cab and chassis, called the Liberty Series, and the company found its custom-cab apparatus was still favored and more popular. So, the company found ways to make that apparatus more affordable. This month, American LaFrance will start a new lease program backed by its partner Sovereign Bank. The program has five- and eight-year terms. Ball said leases often make it easier for departments to get into new apparatus with no need for bonding and predictable payments.
The company has also developed a Parts Credit Program where departments can choose options that will allow them to purchase parts or accessories for the new apparatus, or for use on their existing fleet up to 6% of the apparatus purchase price, based on advance payment for the new unit. American LaFrance also offers a guaranteed trade-in price, based on the value of the apparatus purchased. After an eight- to 10-year lease is concluded, the company will buy back the truck for 20% of the original price. Ball said that option allows departments to have some predictability when it comes to future purchases. “We are all about creating real value for the customer,” Ball said. “Lowering the price is not a good idea for the customer or for us. We would rather provide tangible value.”
Bill Doebler, vice president of sales and marketing for Crimson Fire, said today’s apparatus market is off by as many as 1,700 units annually compared to the best years.
“It’s been like that for three or four years,” Doebler said. “For the first time, ever, it looks like the global apparatus market is going to exceed sales in the U.S.”
For the purchaser, that means makers are willing to deal and one way is deferred payments for up to a year, he said. That gives departments up to three years to come up with the first payment from the time of specifications. There is, however, an interest cost for that, but some departments are willing to accept that cost so they can be better prepared to make the payment with more coin drops, pancake breakfasts and other fundraising activities.