Fire Industry Gives 2012 Economy Mixed Reviews

The economy is one of the top stories for 2012, according to editors and publishers from across the nation, affecting everyone whether positively and negatively. The fire service industry is no exception.

Firehouse.com talked to several experts in the fire market industry to get a feel for how things went in 2012 and a glimpse of what 2013 might hold when it comes to the business side of public safety services. And like the economy – they gave a mixed review of business as the fourth quarter of 2012 closes.

The Fire and Emergency Manufactures and Services Association (FEMSA) and Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) both commented for Firehouse.com. They each have leaders with decades of experience in the fire service business and each have different ideas of how things went in 2012.

Greg Kozey is the outgoing president of FAMA and is president and founder of Kochek Co., Inc. a business in Connecticut focused on water movement products for the fire market and other uses. Kozey thinks 2012 was a bit better than previous years when it comes to the business of fire and public safety service.

Dan Reese is the president of FEMSA and the general manager of Alexis Fire Equipment, an apparatus builder in Illinois. He believes 2012 was flat, at best, and that 2013 doesn’t look much better, especially with federal government issues regarding the deficit, health care and tax reform.

Kozey said he’s experienced a bit of an uptick in his business and hears similar stories shared by the FAMA membership.

“Truck sales were a little better for 2012 and everything seemed to be a little bit better than 2011,” Kozey said.

Kozey acknowledges municipal budgets are tight, but fire departments and emergency service providers still seem to be buying the things they need to get the job done.

“Towns and cities still have to spend money for buying the necessary stuff,” Kozey said.

However, that doesn’t mean the vendors who provide equipment for fire and emergency services didn’t take a hit like most other segments of the economy.

“It was pretty dramatic at first and it was across the board,” Kozey said.  “It seemed to be getting worse and worse, but it seems to have stabilized and there’s been a bit of an uptick. ...There have been a few bright spots in general.”

That makes Kozey cautiously optimistic for 2013. Now that the national election is over, there may be some clearer direction of where the economy might go, Kozey said, but he is nervous about the federal tax feud brewing and how it might affect all business.

Reese, FEMSA’s president, is nervous too.

He believes 2012 was “just another year” with nothing remarkable happening – just flat.

“There was no major growth and there were no major companies going out of business,” Reese said. “Everyone seemed to be just holding their own.”

By his estimation, the fire service markets were off by as much as 30 percent.

He said the businesses that seemed to do better in 2012 than other years did so by going into different markets, especially in the area of exports, or started manufacturing different products.

“The companies that did well in 2012 had to redouble their efforts globally,” Reese said. “In many cases the global market is much stronger than the U.S. market.”

And if the federal government “doesn’t get out of the way,” Reese said 2013 won’t be any better than 2013.

“We’re looking for some growth in 2014,” Reese said, noting that everything that’s done, or not done, won’t affect the fire market for at least a couple of years.

“Everybody is worried about it,” Reese said, noting that he hears it from the folks building trucks for Alexis all the time.

As business owners and managers have to spend more time worrying about taxes and regulations that means they’ll have less time working with end users and customers and virtually no time with research and development for new products.

“They’re focused on remaining competitive,” Reese said.

As for the future, Reese thinks 2013 will be much like 2012 but he’s hoping there will be some pent up demand in 2014.

“It takes a couple of years for the fire service to catch up with the rest of the economy,” Reese said.

“That’s probably when things are going to be stronger,” Reese said. “We can hope.” 

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