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...

Savings, Wade said comes from a limited number of options and efficiencies of volume, not from skimping on quality. Another way departments can save money, and time, is to consider stock units, apparatus the company builds for demonstration or for immediate delivery. Some of those units are priced at around $250,000 for a basic pumper and can be delivered in two to four months, including aerial units, Wade said. And, when the company has a backlog of demonstrators, it is possible for departments to still have some limited options and “tweaks” before taking delivery.

And when it comes to doing more with less, Daniels said departments should consider apparatus that can do more than one function. He said E-ONE has a new line of apparatus, called E-MAX, which combines a rescue and a pumper functions into one unit with obvious savings.

There are ways to finance apparatus and come up with creative purchasing solutions too, Wade said, noting that E-ONE offers lease-purchase programs from three to 15 years. When considering payments, Wade said it is important to note when interest and payments are due. It is not a good deal when the payments come due before the apparatus is delivered, Wade said noting that it can take up to 16 months for some aerials to be built and if interest starts from the time of the contract signing, it can be unnecessarily costly for the departments.

Another pitfall to be aware of is a demand for 100% pre-payment from an apparatus maker, Wade said.

I don’t need your money ahead of time to build your apparatus,” Wade said, noting that E-ONE is a financially solid company that can wait for the apparatus to be built before payment. The company does, however, offer the option to pre-pay apparatus that can save departments “a chunk of money” for those who decide to take advantage of the offer.

Daniels said departments should be creative about ways to raise funds too. Colleges and hospitals sometimes will help departments pay for apparatus that will be used to help protect their properties. And Wade said looking for grants in unusual places, like federal Community Development Block Grants, offered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which he said offers money to targeted communities for fire apparatus to help protect growing communities.

Wade also believes that the conservative approach to purchasing apparatus will someday give way as old apparatus wears out and communities are forced to start buying new trucks.

The bubble has to break sooner or later,” Wade said, noting now may be a good time to buy apparatus before demand starts increasing.

Ed Smith, director of sales and marketing for Hackney Emergency Vehicles said he has noticed many departments are buying less apparatus then they are accustomed to, spending only $100,000 on a rescue vehicle when they previously would spend up to $300,000 for apparatus to do the same job.

To keep more expensive pumpers and aerials off the streets and costs down, some departments have begun to purchase smaller units, based on Ford F-550 cabs and chassis and using utility bodies instead of custom apparatus. When departments are faced with closing stations and laying off firefighters, they have to be extremely conservative buying new apparatus.

You should really look at what the apparatus needs to do and question what needs to be on it,” Smith said. “…You should look at things that don’t really provide any more safety or fight fires more effectively. Look for something that still gets the job done.”

While Hackney will never compromise quality and safety, the company has begun looking at manufacturing processes that will save money. For instance, Hackney recently started looking at the material it uses in smaller compartment trays and slightly reduced the thickness, which saves about $1,100 per unit without any sacrifice to strength or quality.

Along those same lines, custom apparatus can have hundreds of hours of engineering time built into each unit, Smith said. Departments buying apparatus that have been pre-engineered can have money on the bottom line because the final unit will not need all those engineering costs built in.

I think we’re going to see another three to four years of tight budgets,” Smith said.

Steve Jahn, the president and chief operating officer of H&W Emergency Vehicle Group, believes one of the best ways to save money on apparatus purchases is to do it through a negotiated sale. Using request for proposals (RFPs) and then talking with the prospective manufacturers can often lead to a better price than in the traditional sealed bidding process. Departments must check local laws and regulations to make sure negotiated sales are permitted, Jahn said.