Apparatus Roundtable: Manufacturers Roundtable

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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.

DARLEY

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.

E-ONE

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.

Another trend, particularly in rural communities, is for mini-trucks based on Ford F550 cabs and chassis, he said, adding the mini-apparatus can be fitted with up to 300-gallon tanks, 1,250-gpm pumps and even CAFS. The small trucks have the advantage of being able to get into tight spaces with serious fire power, Hollister said, noting that even the smaller-capacity cab can be an advantage when departments are having difficulty staffing larger apparatus.

On the other end of the spectrum are custom E-ONE 80-inch extended cabs that are popular with some departments that have large volunteer staffs and large budgets to afford “no-expense-spared” apparatus. There are far fewer of those kinds of customers, but they do still exist.

Most departments are looking for short-wheelbase apparatus of which E-ONE’s eMAX apparatus is particularly suited. “Customers want apparatus that’s as short as you can get,” Hollister said, noting that the eMAX apparatus has a smaller pump house and more compartments than traditional apparatus.

Even rescue apparatus have undergone a transformation to have the combination of walk-around access and walk-in capabilities for command centers, Hollister said, noting that some rescues even have pull-out sections to provide more space without increasing the wheel base.

Larry Daniels, E-ONE’s Southeast regional sales director, said departments need compartment space more than ever before. He said E-ONE answered that request with the eMAX apparatus.

Ironically, in his region, Daniels said he sees an uptick in the number of custom cabs and chassis being sold, compared to commercial cabs and chassis. “It may be a bit of a strategy,” Daniels said. “Many departments are running a longer replacement cycle, say from a 12-year cycle to a 20-year cycle.” With a custom cab and chassis, they get closer to what they want and something that is better quality because they must live with it longer.

Fire departments are also shopping for financing options and ways to save money, Daniels said. Customers who save money with tax-exempt loans often put the savings back into the purchase price so they can “buy more features,” he said. And lately, those extras mean more “no-nonsense” features, like LED 12-volt scene lighting and other essential equipment. Safety concerns are being addressed as departments move to apparatus with airbags, lower hosebeds and options to keep firefighters firmly on the ground, including technology that can control the deck gun remotely.

Heading into the future, Daniels said, he believes the apparatus market will be flat for the next couple of years, but there will be some continued growth for E-ONE because of aggressive marketing and good products. “We’re looking at some nice growth into the future,” Daniels said.

KME

When it comes to combining functionality of apparatus, Phil Gerace, KME’s director of sales and marketing, says KME has a number of products that offer unique versatility. For example, to meet a trend in the market, KME combined Type I and Type III apparatus to give customers true urban interface, as well as the ability to respond to wildland fires as well as some structure fires with the same apparatus.

“We have seen an increased demand for multi-function units,” Gerace said. “Departments are trying to combine apparatus, particularly rescues and pumpers.” To meet that demand, KME developed its PRO series apparatus, something the company is calling a better multi-purpose response vehicle.

Hand in hand with the need for multi-purpose vehicles is the need to make better use of storage space on apparatus, Gerace said. “There’s a trend toward using every available square inch of space for equipment,” he said, noting that dunnage areas are now far more organized and used and even backboards are given space on apparatus where available.

Gerace said there has been a trend to make apparatus shorter overall with smaller pump panels and mitered corners to provide more clearance. To go along with shortened apparatus, KME has been working on cramp angles to make apparatus – even aerials – easier to maneuver.

Safety never goes out of style and Gerace said truck committees are looking at all aspects of safety. “When you look at it, people are getting hurt getting in and out of cabs,” Gerace said, “so we’re making lower steps to get in and out of the cab.”

Hosebeds are also lower than ever with firefighters wanting to make sure they avoid injuries, especially to the back. Gerace said not only is KME making lower hosebeds, it makes the Lock-N-Load, where the hosebed slides out on a tray and then is reloaded and placed back in the apparatus. KME is also making apparatus with discharges and intakes only on the officer’s side of the rig, keeping all the hoses away from the pump operator completely.

As for the future, Gerace said, he is certain safety and versatility will be trends for the long run.

PIERCE

Pierce Manufacturing has tried to meet market demands with versatile apparatus, said Tim Smit, national sales manager.

“The new big is little,” Smit said, of the trend to compact apparatus that can perform a number of tasks. “Customers are looking for more versatility with apparatus. They want one piece of apparatus that can do it all.”

Pierce developed its Pierce Ultimate Configuration (PUC) to create a small apparatus with a pump under the cab and a small pump-control panel. The result, according to Smit, is a maneuverable apparatus with an increase in compartment space made available by relocating the pump.

Gone are the days of 10-person cabs, Smit said. “They just don’t need them,” he said. Departments do, however, need comfortable room for those occupants who do ride in the rigs and departments need room for EMS equipment, he added. Pierce’s Dash CF chassis meets that need and provides plenty of room for the new norm of three to four firefighter crews, plus some EMS equipment as needed.

Smit said departments frequently ask for idle-management technology, not only for green initiatives, but for maintenance reasons. Whenever the main apparatus engine can be shut off, emissions are reduced as is the problem with soot buildup in the apparatus’ expensive exhaust systems, he said. Pierce has developed a system using lithium-ion batteries that can power most all the critical functions of an apparatus, like lights and cab air handling. The batteries will last five to six hours with a 150-amp load – plenty to run warning lights and LED scene lights.

Like many other manufacturers, Pierce has seen a rise in the popularity of rescue/pumpers and quints, Smit said. “There are not as many niche apparatus as there once was,” Smit said. “We see a lot more function in apparatus.”

ROSENBAUER

Rosenbauer Vice President of Sales Scott Oyen said fire departments are looking at mid-range apparatus and are content with slightly smaller engines, with a few less horsepower, to save money while still ensuring adequate performance.

The company says customers are also asking for electronic controls and multiplex apparatus. Electronic over hydraulic controls and valves have gained popularity as well. The company has seen an evolution into more technologically advanced vehicles as “Nintendo”-generation firefighters come up through the ranks.

Mike Harstad, Rosenbauer’s aerial product manager, said “the joystick” generation has come to expect that mechanical devices must work with lots of technology.

“Technology is available in industry and agricultural equipment and it’s being adopted for the fire industry,” Harstad said. He added that “envelope” technology monitors all aerial functions and helps keep the operator within safe operation parameters.

Oyen said combination pumper tankers are very popular, particularly in rural communities. “They find themselves having to do more with less,” Oyen said, adding that departments everywhere find themselves in the same boat.

Fire departments are also asking for more green technology, according to Rosenbauer, which has met the challenge with Green Star, an idle-reduction system that shuts down the engine and runs electrical systems with a backup generator system.

Ergonomics are also important with customers and, Harstad said, there is a lot of interest in Rosenbauer’s Aerial Command Seat. That provides a place for the aerial operator to sit adjacent to the aerial device and to swivel and pivot with the turntable and the aerial device for better comfort and visibility. There is also more thought about steps and grab rails as fire departments recognize the need to keep firefighters safe as they operate on apparatus, said Oyen.

Donley Frederickson, the company’s national sales manager, said departments find themselves weighing what they want with what they can afford. “We still do custom pumpers, but most of them are more realistic for the mission,” he said.

Moving forward, Oyen said, he believes there will be many more rescue pumpers in service in the future as the fire service shifts from fire suppression to EMS. “A traditional fire engine devotes 50%, or more, to fires when only 5% are really fires,” he said. “I see a shift to more EMS/rescue applications in the future.”

SMEAL

At Smeal Fire Apparatus, trends seem to have some regionalism, said Jeff Wegner, a regional sales director for the company. In the Northeast, for instance, Smeal’s RPT, which stands for Rescue Pumper Tanker, has caught on.

“It’s a do-everything kind of truck,” Wegner said, noting that one was recently sent to Waretown, NJ, that is 45 feet long. “It has lots of compartments, dump valves, rescue tools and there are a number of those kinds of truck out there.”

Wegner said that kind of truck is gaining popularity because departments want to “do a little more with less.” Making “do-it-all” apparatus takes creativity and Wegner said Smeal will customize anything to make it work for the customer. “If you have an idea and we can design and build it, safely, we’ll do it,” he said.

Safety and quality are always in style, Wegner said, noting Smeal decided it would not make cheaper apparatus just because the economy is soft. And customers seem to have responded, he said, noting that because departments may have to keep apparatus 25 to 30 years, firefighters do not want to compromise quality. “They might not know when they are going to get funding again, so they want to get the best truck they can so it will last,” he said.

By adding foam systems and CAFS, departments are also concerned about making tank water last as well. Wegner said as much as 80% of all apparatus built by Smeal had some form of foam system on board and far more than ever were CAFS. And of those apparatus with foam systems, as many as 50% have some sort of automated refilling system designed to keep firefighters off the tops of apparatus, especially to hoist heavy foam pails.

Moving to the future, like other builders, Wegner anticipates a wider acceptance of electronics and technology to control apparatus.

SPARTAN ERV

Departments want lower-cost apparatus and that’s a fact driven by the economy, said Bill Doebler, vice president of sales for Spartan ERV.

“They want more cross functionality,” Doebler said. “They want to be able to do more for less.”

At trade shows this year, Spartan ERV was displaying a new wildland concept vehicle based on a Renault Gimaex 4x4 off-road vehicle. It was a very different vehicle and Doebler said it was interesting to take in the “wide range of reception” the vehicle got from firefighters.

“They were saying if you gave me a little more water or a little more wheelbase or something, they said they would use it for a rapid intervention vehicle or for structural fires,” Doebler said. From that, he figures a trend in the market is toward all-wheel-drive vehicles that are small, yet deliver a punch if necessary. “A Gimaex apparatus with CAFS would be a big help, especially since there’s such a restriction on manpower we see today,” he said.

Doebler said safety is always in vogue and that is a trend he sees continuing. Departments are also looking at the real costs of ownership and considering maintenance issues and quality, trends he predicts will continue into 2013.

“The way we’re going now, we’re going to see more safety and green initiatives,” he predicted. n

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