The American LaFrance financial situation may be confusing or perhaps frightening to many especially if a department has an apparatus order involved. But on the Firehouse World exhibition floor of the San Diego Convention Center, you could still order an American LaFrance truck, sort of.
In January American LaFrance filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, listing inventory problems and a depressed market for emergency equipment as major reasons. It left trucks that had been ordered in a questionable position along with those who had been considering purchase of one of their pieces.
But Steve Fisk, a sales representative for HI-TECH Fire Apparatus, Inc and distributor of American LaFrance of Northern California said if a customer came to him, "I would tell them exactly what the situation is. I would sit them down (at his computer) and build their truck and see what happened."
The American LaFrance Corporate sales rep had little to say. There was one American LaFrance truck on display on the show floor along with a custom built Type 3 wildland pumper built by HI-TECH. The space that American had originally reserved at this show was taken over by Valley Fire, a west coast dealer for E-ONE who placed six pieces of equipment on that floor space.
Valley Fire general manager Eric Reed said they were offered the space months ago after American gave it up. But so far, he wasn't seeing at this show anyone abandoning American for them. "No one is coming in here saying they want to switch anything. I hope they (American LaFrance) pull it out. They've been around for a long time."
A sales rep with Pierce, who had seven pieces of apparatus on display, said they were seeing customers coming in saying they needed Pierce to put something together for them. He said Pierce has stock items they can move quickly to those who might have had an American LaFrance order but now needed something else. The rep, who did not want to give his name, said they did not want to take advantage of the situation but sensed from those shopping the exhibit floor that they knew there was a vacancy amongst apparatus manufactures at the moment.
Mike Wilbur, FDNY and an apparatus expert who is a contributing writer for Firehouse Magazine and Firehouse.com said, "There are probably only four apparatus manufacturers on the exhibit floor of this show who are making money." He suggested there might be future financial problems for others because the upcoming mandatory changes dictated by the EPA and rule changes by NFPA will add thousands of dollars to the cost of a truck. "But it is not to say that American LaFrance cannot come out of this and be very successful. It is coming down to the haves and havenots, either making money or not."
Tom Shand who has worked for American LaFrance and writes on Emergency Vehicles for Firehouse Magazine said it looks like demand for trucks will be going down and city tax bases suggest communities will be spending less on trucks. Manufacturer problems cause buyers to look to fewer strong builders because the want to feel safe, he said. "Climbing out of the hole makes it difficult for them to hang on to their dealers and distribution channel and causes major problems."
Stuck in a tough spot HI-TECH's Steve Fisk said, "This is new for all of us. We are here for our customers. Just like everyone else we are waiting to see how it all shakes out. We don't have any choice but to be optimistic." He said that the size of the company and their history bolstered their confidence.
As far as the future and American LaFrance at the fire service shows, "Through 2008 we will be a little more limited than we have been in the past when it comes to involvement at trade shows," Michael Gordon, Director of Product Marketing for American LaFrance, said. "In 2009 we expect to return to a fairly normal show presence."
Gordon added that the only appearance dates currently scheduled for 2008 are for April 7-12 at FDIC in Indianapolis and for May 16-18 at the Harrisburg Fire Expo in Harrisburg, Penn.