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It should be no surprise the soft economy is affecting the fire apparatus market. Manufacturers say fire departments are looking for apparatus that can do more with less, lower maintenance costs and high-quality rigs that will last longer than a budget cycle.
“We’re certainly seeing a lot less of the ‘monument’ units,” said Donley Frederickson, Rosenbauer America’s national sales manager, about apparatus with all the bells and whistles. “We’re seeing a lot more smaller trucks that can do more.”
His observations are nearly unanimous with apparatus manufacturers surveyed to examine trends in the market. Firehouse® Magazine spoke with representatives from Darley, E-ONE, KME, Pierce, Rosenbauer, Smeal and Spartan ERV to see what fire departments want when they are in the market for apparatus. This is an excerpt from the roundtable; the complete discussion is available at firehouse.com/2012-apparatus. We thank the manufacturers that joined this roundtable and invite other manufacturers to participate in future discussions.
For W.S. Darley & Co., trends are often set by the company rather than followed. In fact, Peter Darley, executive vice president for apparatus, said his company is “a niche builder” – “The way I look at it, whatever we go out and promote is what we are successful in.”
For the company, that means copolymer bodies for the fire and emergency vehicle industry through its PolyBilt division and compressed-air foam systems (CAFS) through its Odin Foam division. With the continual “doing-more-with-less” mantra so many departments seem to be chanting these days, Darley said, he has noticed increases in the number of units being sold with CAFS.
Along those same lines, Darley said, there has been an uptick in the number of mini-pumpers being sold. He attributed that to the increased gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWRs) now being offered by Ford on its F550 cabs and chassis, a popular platform for apparatus. “With the increased GVWRs, we can put a lot more on them,” Darley said, noting it is possible to specify a smaller apparatus and still meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requirements for firefighting.
“Departments are saying, ‘We have to economize on some things,’ ” Darley said, noting that a PolyBilt body on an F550 makes for an inherently lighter vehicle on which more firefighting equipment can be installed or carried. The smaller apparatus still have sufficient pumps and tanks to provide firefighting capabilities, especially when CAFS are added.
Mini-pumpers can also carry extrication equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), Darley said, making them truly versatile apparatus.
Darley said his company, like other builders, has seen requests for more pumper/tankers as well as quints, proving departments are looking to consolidate vehicles and reduce fleets.
Alan Hollister, E-ONE’s Northeast regional sales director, sees a trend of downsizing, particularly among rural and volunteer fire departments having challenges staffing apparatus, particularly during the day. To meet that challenge, Hollister said, fire departments are looking to combine apparatus to do more than one function, like rescue/pumpers, pumper/tankers and quints.
“They want to combine more activities into one apparatus,” Hollister said, noting it is not unusual to have a pumper with an 1,800-gallon tank with “a fairly significant hosebed” giving the department more options. When it comes to aerials, Hollister said, the vast majority are quints, whether they are 75-foot, 100-foot ladders or 100-foot platforms, he said.
In Northeast cities, Hollister sees a slightly different trend in that departments are not going the route of rescue/pumpers. Rather, they carry no rescue tools at all. Cities now want lower hosebeds, a bit of water and some compartment space for hydrant kits, rapid intervention team equipment and high-rise packs. “They’re strictly city trucks,” Hollister said.