Apparatus Roundtable: Manufacturers Roundtable

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...


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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