Fire Industry Makes Modest Gains

While at a recent trade show, vendors were reporting some modest gains in the fire service industry.

Fire departments are beginning to think about making capital purchases and fire service manufacturers are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.

While recovery is a long way off, things are getting better. To make an EMS analogy, the patient’s airway is clear, the bleeding is controlled and the monitor is showing sinus rhythm. The patient is going to be OK, but still needs some definitive care.

It’s interesting to note that the public safety industry is usually the last to be affected by an economic slowdown and the last to recover from it. I am told it has to do with funding budget cycles. Many municipalities have capital improvement plans and work on fiscal year budget cycles. And many more have capital improvement plans that forcast big purchases 10 years out.

So, when the economy tanks, as it did in 2008/2009, it took the fire service at least a year to see the dramatic effects. Apparatus manufacturers were reporting drops of up to 40 percent over previous years’ sales and other vendors and manufacturers were reporting similar kinds of losses.

Primary funding for municipalities comes from taxation and fees. When banks foreclose on property and towns and cities are forced to place liens on property, it means the tax bills are not being paid. Therefore, revenue for fire trucks, turnout gear and the myriad of equipment needed for effective firefighting and emergency medical services dries up. And when the municipalities don’t have any money, the manufacturers and vendors see it in bottom line. It’s basic economics 101.

Now, as we are experiencing record breaking growth in the stock markets and hearing glimmers of hope from those in the real estate marketing business, there should be increases in tax revenue.

It doesn’t mean the flood gates are open and orders for fire department fleet replacements are skyrocketing, and each firefighter is getting two new sets of gear. Not yet anyway.

It will take time for municipalities to fill up the coffers again and to make city councilors and local government officials to have the confidence once again to start authorizing big ticket purchases. After all, they were likely affected by the sour economy just as much as the next person. Perhaps they, our neighbors were hit with unemployment. It can’t be easy to disconnect personal experiences and belt tightening at home with the decisions they have to make a city hall.

The reality is fire and EMS stuff wears out and breaks, often with greater frequency than the family grocery getter, or dishwasher because of the type of emergency demands placed on them. First responder equipment HAS to work the first time, every time – lives depend on it.

So, whether communities find themselves flush with cash, or flat broke, the reality is, some of that emergency responder stuff will have to be replaced regardless. They'll have to find the money from some place.

And that’s when the vendors and manufacturers will see that light at the end of the tunnel get a little bit brighter still.