Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur continue this series with a discussion about fleet replacements for fire departments. With the increasing cost of new apparatus due to technology and requirements in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, fire chiefs and fleet-maintenance personnel are...
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Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur continue this series with a discussion about fleet replacements for fire departments.
With the increasing cost of new apparatus due to technology and requirements in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, fire chiefs and fleet-maintenance personnel are often tasked with having to provide fire and emergency services with aging apparatus that cost more per mile to keep on the street than may be desirable. Many fire departments have experienced a significant rise in the number of annual runs with the result being increased wear and tear on front-line apparatus.
To provide appropriate service levels by sending the closest-available unit, both engine and ladder companies are responding to more alarms with a subsequent increase in fuel and maintenance costs. As a result, maintenance budgets, which historically covered most routine expenses, are being exhausted before the end of the budget cycle. In the end, we are often faced with responding on apparatus that is past its prime while the alternative may be running on a spare or reserve unit that is in even worse shape than what we just dropped off at the maintenance shops to be repaired.
While the fire service has generally enjoyed a favorable position with respect to public support at budget time in the past, we have had to adjust our thought process as many municipalities are reaching the taxable limits that people are willing to pay for the many government services that are provided. School district budgets, public works projects and now even our fire department budgets are coming under close public scrutiny. Many departments have had to delay and put off major apparatus acquisitions as demands to "hold the line" on annual budget increases causes us to make do with our present apparatus fleet. Some fire departments have even had funding referendums voted down by the very public that they serve.
The life cycle for front-line apparatus may need to increase in order for departments with larger fleets to develop the financial resources to replace units when needed. If history is any barometer of what we can expect, there will be a renewed interest in purchasing used apparatus or rebuilding apparatus, with some departments opting to provide emergency services with alternative vehicles such as mini-pumpers, smaller rapid-response units and combination apparatus. No matter what service delivery option we choose, front-line engine and ladder company apparatus eventually will have to be replaced with new units that not only meet the requirements of NFPA 1901, but more importantly meet the needs of the department and the first-due response areas.
Departments such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City have large fleets that require them to purchase and place into service new apparatus on almost an annual basis to maintain a 10- to 15-year life cycle. Cost avoidance of more than several years usually results in a single massive order for apparatus that have to be engineered, built and delivered within a short period to keep a sufficient number of rigs on the street. It is certainly more beneficial to have a well-developed plan for new apparatus acquisitions in which a smaller number of units are acquired on a programmed schedule that allows sufficient time for the department to place the units into service. This long-range plan also allows the fire chief and fleet maintenance personnel to work with the financial folks to ensure that adequate funding will be available to make the program work. Consulting services can help departments with this long-range planning.
So what happens when circumstances dictate that you need apparatus right away or when the needs of the department change to the point that your present apparatus fleet is no longer working properly? One consideration is to look at a fleet-replacement program. Most apparatus manufacturers offer different programs in which they will help a department develop specifications, provide trade-in values for present units and provide an annual cost of ownership based on the number of years that you wish to keep the apparatus. There are several advantages of fleet-replacement plans: