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...
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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 it pays to look 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.
Ed Smith, director of sales and marketing for Hackney Emergency Vehicles said he has noticed many departments are buying less apparatus than 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.
Some departments are buying smaller units, based on Ford F-550 cabs and chassis and using utility bodies instead of custom apparatus, he said.
“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, he said, the company is looking at manufacturing processes that 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.
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 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.
Departments must check local laws to make sure negotiated sales are permitted, Jahn said. 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 engines and transmissions. Jahn recommends departments 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 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 as 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, when 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.”