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There have been many stories over the past few years regarding attempts by fire departments to replace aging vehicles only to be told by higher authorities “there’s no money in the budget for capital expenditures.”
After hearing that, fire department officials often look for alternative funding sources such as grants and leases in an attempt to make new-vehicle purchases viable for their municipalities. While there have been some notable success stories (see “The Apparatus Architect – Part 54,” Firehouse®, January 2012), the end result often is that no new apparatus are acquired and fire departments must make do with existing units.
The fire service has come under attack due to staffing requirements, the cost of training new and experienced personnel, overtime and just about anything else that adds to the bottom line of department budget requests. When it comes time to ask for funding for major projects such as fire station rehabilitations and new apparatus, all too often these requests are turned down by municipal officials who reply, “Come back next budget year and we’ll consider the request at that time.”
Unfortunately, our customers – the people we protect – cannot postpone their emergencies until we are properly staffed and prepared to respond. In some circles, the fire department is viewed as a drain on public funds and resources returning little back to support other operations.
Since 2007, the cost of fire apparatus has increased dramatically due to a combination of three factors – emissions standards, safety rules and material costs – that have impacted both the U.S. economy and the fire apparatus industry within a short period. This article will discuss the facts and rumor-fueled fiction that have created a situation in which today the fire apparatus industry is producing nearly 40% fewer vehicles than in any decade in recent history.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated regulations governing diesel engine emissions that took effect in 2004, 2007 and 2010. While each of these regulatory requirements caused the diesel engine manufacturers to change technologies, the ripple effect was for fire apparatus manufacturers to adapt their cab and body designs as well. Between 2004 and 2007, virtually every apparatus builder had to make major engineering changes to cabs or in some cases introduce new cab designs to accommodate the new diesel engine emission standards. The net result was that many new cabs became available, but at a much higher price. When combined with the higher cost of EPA-compliant diesel engines, the average cost of a custom pumper quickly increased by approximately $30,000.
Fire apparatus manufacturers represent a very small portion of the overall number of heavy trucks built each year. As a result, while various fire service organizations maintain associations with lobbyists to work with legislators, our efforts to obtain exemptions from these federally mandated standards have been ineffective.
“Apparatus manufacturers are making more money with increased profits due to all of the mandated changes.”
This is false. No manufacturer could pass along the total cost of re-engineering its cabs and chassis to fire departments and remain competitive in the market with other builders. While commercial cabs and chassis were cost impacted to a lesser degree, apparatus builders had to devote virtually all of their engineering time to meet the new requirements with little time left to develop new products in other areas and little money left for research and development.
The second impact on the cost of fire apparatus was due to changes in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus Standard, which took effect on all vehicles contracted for on or after Jan. 1, 2009. The NFPA 1901 committee has been at the forefront of promoting firefighter safety, together with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), to enhance the available technologies on fire apparatus. The 2009 version of the standard included requirements for vehicle data recorders, rollover stability, portable equipment and cab-integrity testing, among other items.