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...

Many departments require committees and then bidding which have pluses and minuses, he said. “As a general rule of thumb, the larger the committee, the larger the price,” Jahn said.

And speaking of larger, larger is also not always better when one is considering drive train components like engine and transmissions. Jahn recommends department look at the call types as well as the geography of the response area.

Departments often do not need the kind of “firepower” they think they need when it comes to horsepower, he said, and often end up spending much more than necessary. Smaller engines, with the proper gearing will hardly affect performance at all, he said, and the cost savings can be $20,000 or more.

Jahn recommends departments watch out for the items that would be “cool to have” and do more to impress others than provide service or value to the apparatus.

These (accessories) are often designed and marketed to make the manufacturer some serious coin and are not always in the best interest of the buyer,” Jahn said. “Do your due diligence before buying these options.”

Jahn said the apparatus market is off by about 35% and that has some positive effects for consumers.

“It drives apparatus manufacturers and distributors to be more creative in offering competitive options, features and packaging (and financing) to make apparatus affordable and spur sales,” he said.

Phil Gerace, KME Fire Apparatus’ director of sales and marketing, says there is a real Catch-22 going on with apparatus when it comes to cost compared to budgets. Emission requirements are driving the cost of apparatus up as much a 10%, NFPA requirements are driving costs up and the general inflation drives costs up too. However, departments have less and less funding to purchase apparatus. There will come a time, however, departments must purchase new apparatus and Gerace said customers must look at the total cost of ownership when they make their decisions.

Factors in the final costs include not only the initial price, but the cost of financing and perhaps most important of all is the cost of maintenance, Gerace said. Departments need to look at the manufacturers’ abilities to support the apparatus over its life.

“You’re not buying apparatus for just year one,” Gerace said. “You have to consider the total life of the product.”

Gerace said departments that look to grants for funding must be especially thoughtful when writing them. Too many times, grants sought by worthy departments are kicked out because they are poorly written and not well-thought-out. “Poor presentations by rushed individuals can jeopardize the departments’ chances,” Gerace said.

Shane Krueger, sales manager of the rescue, fire division of Marion Body Works, is a big proponent of pre-sold demonstrator units for saving money. Companies, including Marion, are all going to build demonstrator units for shows and sales presentations. If a department can negotiate with the company, Marion will build exactly what the department wants with the understanding that it will be driven a certain number of miles and be on the road for a certain period.

“We give a pretty good discounting on that kind of apparatus,” Krueger said, noting it can be as much as $10,000, depending on the original cost of the apparatus and how long it is out on demonstrations.

To save money, Krueger said, Marion will reuse and remount certain equipment on new apparatus – cord and hose reels, for example – if they are in good shape and arrangements are made at the time the apparatus is specified. “That can save departments a lot of money,” he said.

Another way to save money at the time of specification is to build into the apparatus accommodations for future accessories and equipment, he said. A light tower, for example, can cost up to $15,000 and if a department does not have the money for it now, but will in the future, Krueger said, it is better to build the apparatus as if it had a light tower now rather than retrofit something later. “It becomes almost plug-and-play when the department can afford to buy it in the future,” Krueger said, noting it is far less expensive to build for the future than it is to try to reconstruct after the apparatus is completed.