The Apparatus Architect - Part 38: "The Times They Are a-Changin' "

Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur discuss the effects of the changing economic times pertaining to apparatus purchasing and design.


Much like the title of the Bob Dylan album released in 1964, "The Times They Are a-Changin' " as the fire apparatus industry undergoes significant changes and upheaval. While there is no one factor to attribute the changes in the apparatus playing field, in this article we will attempt to discern...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

Much like the title of the Bob Dylan album released in 1964, "The Times They Are a-Changin' " as the fire apparatus industry undergoes significant changes and upheaval. While there is no one factor to attribute the changes in the apparatus playing field, in this article we will attempt to discern the important factors for your fire department to consider when specifying apparatus in the future.

One factor that the apparatus industry must deal with goes beyond the bounds of the fire and emergency services and impacts just about every aspect of consumer goods and services. The economy in this country is going through a very rocky period with respect to inflation and the costs of many consumer products. The rate of inflation has advanced due to the cost of petroleum and crude oil products, together with the weakened value of the U.S. dollar in the global market. You only have to look at the cost of a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel just 12 months ago, compared to what you are paying now. There are many countries in the Middle East and Far East where their national economies are booming, thereby strengthening the value of their currency against the dollar. As a result, the balance of trade favors these emerging nations and weakens our nation's economy, at least in the short term.

As most fire apparatus bodies are constructed of aluminum or steel, the apparatus industry is closely tied to the cost of these materials. During the first six months of 2008, the cost of these two materials increased between 28% and 42%. Combined with the increased costs of component parts such as pumps, gauges, generators and other hardware, this has dramatically increased the cost of producing a completed fire truck. In the past, the apparatus industry has been able to maintain annual cost increases that were in line with the general pace of inflation. One could analyze the government figures released covering the Producer Price Index to predict what financial resources would be needed for major acquisitions. Unfortunately, during 2008, the cost of new fire apparatus has outpaced inflation with actual costs increasing almost monthly with no apparent end in sight.

While there may be skeptics who believe otherwise, you only need to look at the apparatus industry's history over the past few years to reveal that there has been a fair amount of upheaval within the market. Whether due to changes in ownership or management or a lack of product definition, a number of manufacturers have dramatically changed their operating systems and product offerings in an attempt to remain competitive and viable in the marketplace. The overall numbers of fire apparatus purchased in North America has not changed significantly for the past several years. Combined with the impact of the 2007 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-compliant diesel engine design, this caused all of the custom-chassis builders to re-engineer their cabs to accommodate the new engines and required cooling systems. As the number of custom-chassis apparatus has also remained constant, the opportunity to capitalize on these designs is somewhat limited. Once again, in 2010, diesel engine emissions will change with the next round of EPA regulations with all of the custom chassis apparatus builders having to work on the packaging necessary to install these engines within the confines of their respective cabs. Consider as well that Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel engines are no longer going to be available to the emergency services market in custom fire chassis and you may get a sense of the overall future of fire apparatus in our country.

During a recent Firehouse.com podcast, one of our guests made an astute observation relating to the 2010 engine availability when he said, "We are one corporate decision away from the demise of the custom fire truck industry." Sad, but true. Fire apparatus design in North America - whether engine, truck or rescue squad - is unique to our geographic area. Consider the overall design of an engine company for FDNY as compared to engine apparatus in your area. The similarities are that each unit carries personnel, hose, water, a fire pump and equipment. Beyond that, there is probably little commonality between your department's standard engine and any one of the 204 engines in the FDNY fleet.

This content continues onto the next page...