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Thank goodness that assorted fire service products we routinely use are manufactured by small, privately held, family-owned companies. This is primarily because family-owned businesses tend to be started by entrepreneurs who have identified and solved common fireground problems. One such company is Fol-Da-Tank in Milan, IL.
Starting in 1954, Fol-Da-Tank has grown today to a staff of 18 people and manufactures an array of portable tanks and accessories, including self-supporting tanks for rural water supply. I met with Chad Christensen, co-owner of Fol-Da-Tank and grandson of the company’s founder, to discuss issues ranging from company history to new product development.
Fol-Da-Tank based itself on listening to rural firefighters with unique water-delivery needs, a tradition started by Chad’s grandfather. What’s fascinating is that, in the 1950s, Giles Eldred had a chance to meet with a firefighter who was explaining challenges in setting up makeshift water tanks by using tarps and extension ladders. Listening intently, Giles immediately made a connection between, of all things, a folding child’s playpen and the water tank concept. Thus, the folding water tank concept that is still in use today was born.
RFA: The folding tank has become a vital centerpiece of rural water-on-wheels operations. What are a few of the changes you have seen over the last 20 years in the evolution of the folding tank?
Fol-Da-Tank: While there are many, a few that stand out include when we implemented a patented hinge guard to protect hands from pinch-points in the folding frame, and when we installed handles on the inside of folding tank liners in 2003. Another recent important improvement is through-the-tank-wall drafting in 2012, which eliminates the potential for air pockets in suction hose.
RFA: What processes are involved with Fol-Da-Tank innovation and product development?
Fol-Da-Tank: Product development has a lot to do with our commitment to firefighter training and education. We make it a priority to participate in fire schools across the country. Attending and assisting in water-on-wheels training sessions allows us to stay close to our customers and their water-delivery needs. For example, we have a great relationship with the Ohio State Water Delivery Technical Advisory Committee.
Supporting training sessions that incorporate the use of our products is important since, as veteran firefighters retire, it gives us the chance to train new firefighters on the use of our products. Working with firefighter groups of all age and skill levels during training results in unfiltered feedback from those directly using our tanks and water-supply accessory products. It’s where we do a lot of problem solving and it’s a great way to get grassroots input into new products.
RFA: What challenges do you see affecting the rural fire service over the next five to 10 years?
Fol-Da-Tank: With little doubt, rural department funding will remain an issue. We know of several departments who have older fire apparatus that have broken down, and now they can’t afford new replacement equipment. The same goes with older folding tanks that have been in use in the field for many years. When fire chiefs call for folding tank repairs, we are equipped for fast turnaround to reduce out-of-service times. With new products, Fol-Da-Tank strives to produce the best equipment possible, at an affordable cost. We place a lot of value in the relationships we have developed with fire officers around the country – those relationships are our greatest investment. From new custom designed tanks, to quick tank repair turnaround, we work side by side with fire officers to make their job safer and easier.
RFA: What are some of the more unique products or features that you have produced to make rural water supply more effective?
Fol-Da-Tank: Most recently, our Single Lane Tank was released. Figuratively, this tank is the intersection between providing maximum flow rate and efficient water tanker/tender traffic. Two or more of our SLT 2000 tanks provide maximum capacity without affecting the opposite lane of traffic. It is perfect for narrow rural roads that have little or no shoulder. With regards to new features, we now offer newly designed heavy-duty floors on our entire line of tanks. Also, exclusive to Fol-Da-Tank, we offer a new, larger, easier-to-use drain sleeve.