Specifying & Financing Fire Apparatus in Today’s Economy

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. An excerpt appears in the November issue...

“It’s been like that for three or four years,” Doebler said. “I mean holy hell. 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.

Doebler has also seen sponsorships as a creative way to pay for apparatus. Some departments will solicit businesses and then put a logo or other notation on apparatus or at the fire station acknowledging the contribution. “Departments are coming up with very unique ways of financing apparatus,” he said.

To save money, Doebler said, he has noticed departments willing to accept stock and demo units that sometimes cost less, but are always more readily available than unique, “blank sheet-design” apparatus built to department specifications. “They come to us and say they’ve got the money, or the approval to buy apparatus and they’ll ask us what we have now,” Doebler said. To meet that demand, Crimson is building apparatus to specification and a backlog that, with minor alterations and options can get apparatus to the customers very quickly.

Peter Darley, the vice president and chief operating officer of the family-owned W.S Darley & Co., said the apparatus market is about half of what it used to be because of the economic slowdown, and it will likely be slow for a period into the future. Nevertheless, he said, departments are going to need apparatus and, perhaps they ought to look at smaller vehicles that are less expensive, but will still do the job. “Something is better than nothing,” he said.

Darley said the start of getting any apparatus in the station starts with convincing municipal officers about the need and “doing a good job” convincing those who will approve the purchase of need.

It’s important to do your homework,” Darley said, adding that time spent on convincing local officials about the need for apparatus is better spent than writing grants for ever shrinking federal money.

“Part of the process is doing due diligence,” Darley said. He added that convincing municipalities that it cost just as much, or more, to keep old trucks in good repair and safe makes it easier to buy new apparatus. He said he is also convinced that now is the best time to buy apparatus because lending institutions and apparatus makers are “hungry” for business and may be willing to offer very attractive loan and lease rates and makers will offer better prices.

One way of getting the best price is to seek a request for proposal or to negotiate with an apparatus maker rather than going out to a bid process, Darley said. As long as the apparatus is National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compliant, negotiating a price often results in lower prices, he said.

Larry Daniels and Chris Wade are both regional sales directors for E-ONE with close to 50 years in the fire apparatus business combined. Both recognize the challenges departments face and both feel there are ways to get new apparatus in the station.

From the volunteer fire departments with one truck in a pole building to the largest cities with the biggest budgets, everyone is struggling,” said Wade, who covers the mid-Atlantic states for E-ONE. Wade said it is easy for departments to exceed one-year payments on new apparatus with maintenance costs. When that happens, it is time to replace the rig.

Daniels said the best way specify an affordable apparatus is to start with a blank piece of paper and write down everything a new unit should have, then narrow the list to the top five “must-haves.” He noted it is likely the list will have a 1,500-gpm pump and a 1,000-gallon water tank. From there, the list can grow quickly and more costly, he said.

The days of the $600,000 custom pumper are behind us,” Daniels said, and the “bells and whistles” are quickly disappearing from most specifications.

Daniels said E-ONE offers a Traditions Series program line of apparatus that is built on the same manufacturing line as the company’s highly customized apparatus so there is no difference in quality.