The Apparatus Architect

Part 46: How Do You Justify a New Apparatus During These Tight Economic Times?


Part 46: How Do You Justify a New Apparatus During These Tight Economic Times? The fire chief and his deputies had just returned to the station after attending a budget hearing with the town council. The chief was discouraged, as he learned for the third year in a row that his request for...


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The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in the 1901 Automotive Fire Apparatus Standard, provides excellent information in Annex D with respect to replacement-cycle recommendations for apparatus. In part, it states: "It is recommended that apparatus greater than 15 years old that have been properly maintained and that are still in serviceable condition be placed in reserve status and upgraded in accordance with NFPA 1912." Since 1991, the NFPA 1901 standard has been revised six different, times including the current edition, which was adopted in January 2009. Apparatus older than a 1991 model lacks a number of significant safety enhancements, including four-door cabs, non-slip step surfaces, slow-close pump intake and discharge valves, improved emergency warning lighting and many more items.

Perhaps your community in the past has historically acquired new apparatus through an outright purchase and has encumbered the entire cost of the new unit upon delivery and acceptance. While this has been the traditional method for many jurisdictions, one alternative is to investigate the use of a municipal lease, in which the cost of the new apparatus can be spread over several years with a smaller annual impact to the overall budget. Use of a lease purchase or other alternative funding strategies may let the department acquire apparatus when called for in a fleet-replacement program as opposed to going to bat for a larger single capital expense. As many communities are investigating methods of providing services to their residents without increasing the tax rate, we in the fire service must begin to think "outside the box" for alternative methods to provide the needed apparatus and equipment resources to ensure the safety of our personnel and those that we serve.

It is unfortunate that at the same time we are called on to do more with less, the overall cost of fire apparatus has increased dramatically over the past four years. The impact of two major changes in diesel engine technology as a result of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that took effect in 2007 and 2010 caused all builders of both commercial and custom fire chassis to make major engineering investments to redesign cabs and electrical systems to accept the new engines. Also, during the past two years, there was a dramatic spike in the cost of metals and raw materials, which also impact the entire fire apparatus industry. Both of these situations, together with more moderate cost increases due to the most recent NFPA 1901 requirements, have all had an impact on the cost of new apparatus. All of this has been beyond the control of local fire departments, which now must increase their budget requests to account for these technological advances.

Some departments may be in a position where although they require a new replacement apparatus, there is simply no available source of funding to meet that need. For departments in this situation, there are several alternatives to consider, including the rebuilding of a newer apparatus to extend its life cycle. The NFPA 1912 Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishing contains valuable information and a specification guide in Annex B of the standard to assist a department through the rebuilding process. In addition, the department may wish to gain the advice and experience of an apparatus architect to properly assess the apparatus to ensure that the needs of the department are being met with a rebuilding project.

An apparatus that was built after 1991 and has a four-door cab and a mechanically solid drive train, fire pump and body work may be a candidate to be rebuilt. However, if the apparatus has already been substantially rehabbed, a full frame-up rehab would cost 50% of the cost of a new apparatus or if the manufacturer that built the apparatus is no longer in business, the apparatus probably would not be a good candidate for a rebuild. This is why maintenance and testing reports are vital to properly assess the apparatus for a rebuilding project.

Used Apparatus

Another alternative may be to look to acquire a newer used apparatus that is in good condition or could be rebuilt to enhance safety components while extending its useful life cycle. With the cost of a new aerial apparatus approaching $1 million, the acquisition of a used aerial ladder or platform apparatus may provide the needed apparatus for a smaller community at a fraction of the cost of a new unit.

It is important to review the maintenance and testing records of any used piece of apparatus, including pumper service testing and a current aerial testing certification, to ensure the basic condition and safety of the vehicle. Once again, a department may wish to consider gaining the expertise of an independent outside consultant to evaluate the prospective apparatus prior to making any financial commitment to acquire the unit.