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:
- The cost of new apparatus is amortized over a specific period and remains as a constant amount in the annual budget. This allows long-range financial planning for the department and levels out the capital expense of new apparatus.
- New apparatus, when properly designed, allow for standardized hose loads, tool and equipment layouts, and greatly simplifies driver training and department operations.
- New product and component technology can be introduced in the department's fleet more rapidly and will generally result in lower operating and maintenance costs over the long run.
A fleet-replacement program is not meant to be a cure-all for a fleet that is well past its useful life expectancy; however, a department with a modest-size fleet may find that replacing all or a portion of its first-line units with new rigs that can be managed both financially and from a maintenance perspective may find well worth considering when evaluating practical options over single-unit acquisitions.
The Syosset Fire District in Nassau County, NY, provides fire and EMS protection to a 15-square-mile area with a population of over 35,000. The fire department staffs four engines, one truck, one quint, one heavy rescue and three ambulances with 140 volunteer personnel from three strategically located stations. During 2006, the department responded to over 1,800 incidents in the first-due area, which includes portions of the Long Island Expressway, Northern Parkway and Long Island Rail Road.
The fire district historically had acquired new apparatus with single-unit purchases and would rotate apparatus based upon age and usage. Under the direction of Ex-Chief Chris Pieper, who now serves as one of the district fire commissioners, the department's engine company fleet was upgraded using a fleet-replacement program that was funded by a municipal lease. The result was a delivery of five identical 2007 Pierce Dash pumpers equipped with 1,750-gpm pumps and 500-gallon FDNY-style water tanks with low hose beds. The pumpers were built with stainless steel bodies with a 198.5-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 31 feet three inches and are set up with identical tool and equipment layouts in each compartment. These engines are well designed and laid out to provide safe and practical pieces of equipment for everyday engine-company use.
One of the engines acts as a fully equipped reserve unit to fill in when any of the front-line units are out of service for repairs or maintenance. Having identically equipped units simplifies department operations and training and lets any member safely staff and operate the pumper. There are significant advantages to having a new engine company fleet that can be funded through the annual lease payment that is predictable and provides for future changes in department operations.
While this is not the solution to every department's funding issues, the Syosset Fire District did an excellent job in specifying safe and effective apparatus to meet the needs of its community. We would like to acknowledge the assistance of District Superintendent Ron Geraci in preparing information for use in this installment of "The Apparatus Architect." Sometimes, thinking "outside the box" is needed to provide a solution to your apparatus funding. The next installment of "The Apparatus Architect" will discuss safety-related issues when designing new units.
TOM SHAND, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 33-year veteran of the fire service and works with Michael Wilbur at Emergency Vehicle Response, consulting on a variety of fire apparatus and fire department master-planning issues. He is employed by Seagrave Fire Apparatus LLC as a regional sales manager. MICHAEL WILBUR, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, assigned to Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx, and has served on the FDNY Apparatus Purchasing Committee. He consults on a variety of apparatus-related issues around the country. For further information, access his website at www.emergencyvehicleresponse.com.