Fire Service Business Brightens in 2013

The year 2013 wasn’t the greatest for vendors and providers in the fire service, but it wasn’t the worst – by a long shot.

There’s a general sense that the business of firefighting and emergency services is recovering, at least a bit. Anecdotal observations indicate more fire departments are looking to replace rather than repair and orders for loose equipment, which is everything that goes in the compartment of apparatus and on responders, is also up.

In the latest issue of Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association newsletter, FAMA President Harold Boer wrote: “Our statistics and other reports show that our market is coming back and we expect this trend to continue.”

And he should know. Boer is also president of Rosenbauer America, one of the nation’s largest apparatus builders. Boer continued “…I am not sure we will see the levels of 2006-2008 in the near future. However, this trend is good news for all of our members.”

Sales and revenue numbers were not the only ones in the news this year.

Several companies marked milestone anniversaries, including Pierce Manufacturing, another huge apparatus builder in the United States.

Pierce, based in Appleton, Wis., marked its 100th anniversary in 2013 with year-long events, a highlight of which was an open house in July.

Pierce CEO Jim Johnson said the company has made more than 50,000 apparatus since it began.

“What most people don't realize is that all of those trucks are handmade," said Johnson.

"They're the first on the scene of a tragedy. We always hope and pray that they never need to be used, but sadly they do like in San Francisco last week," Johnson said. "But, it makes us feel good that at least the mission of what we do every day helps to serve, protect and potentially save other people."

Two other companies marked milestone anniversaries this year.

Streamlight, a lighting manufacturer based in Eagleville, Pa. marked its 40th year in business in 2013.

“We are proud to have provided such reliable and durable lighting tools for our many customers, including first responders, industrial and automotive professionals, and outdoor enthusiasts, for 40 years,” said Streamlight President and CEO Ray Sharrah. “As technology has evolved, Streamlight has continually leveraged it to produce ever brighter, more feature-rich lights without sacrificing our exacting standards for quality and capability.”

This year was the 25th anniversary for OnSpot of North America, based in Stratford, Conn. The company was founded in in Pat Freyer’s basement in July 1988. The company makes traction tire chains for fire apparatus and emergency equipment, as well as commercial vehicles.

 “With thousands and thousands sold every year, we have come a long way since 1988, when the company sold a grand total of 126 sets of OnSpots--and no, we did not make any money that year,” says Freyer who is still OnSpot’s president today.

There were several important personnel changes at the top of several big companies in 2013. Two industry icons retired after decades in the fire service business.

Bill Bruns, vice president of sales and marketing for United Plastic Fabricating (UPF), headquartered in North Andover, Mass., for the past 17 years, retired from the fire service industry.

Bruns started in the fire service industry in 1966 when he began his career at Grumman Corporation in the Aerospace division. By 1988 he became the President of Emergency Products Division. He joined Ladder Tower Inc. (LTI), Pennsylvania in 1992 as their VP of Sales and Marketing. In 1995 Bill was approached by United Plastic Fabricating’s then President, Alan Burnham and asked to relocate and join the UPF family as the new Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

He was also active in several fire service boards and associations.

“I am saddened to leave an industry that I have enjoyed for over 30 years,” said Bruns. He has many activities that will keep him busy in his well-deserved time of rest and relaxation.

Delwin Smeal, president of the family-owned Smeal Fire Apparatus in Snyder, Neb., retired from the business in September after 47 years. For the past 20 years, he served as president of the organization that was founded by his father, Donald, in 1955.

“Del has given his whole adult life to our company and our customers,” said Rod Cerny, Board Chair. “He has earned the opportunity to enjoy retirement with Vicki. We all wish them the best.”

Another leading apparatus builder saw changes at the top this year. In November, first responder veteran Dan Peters took over as president and CEO of E-ONE, headquartered in Ocala, Fla.

Peters replaced Kent Tyler who has been appointed to the position of president and CEO of the bus division of Allied Specialty Vehicles, E-ONE’s parent company.

Peters has more than 15 years of experience in the first responder industry – four years in an executive role with a fire apparatus manufacturer and 12 years with a fire industry supplier where he served as president from 1998 to 2008 and Vice President of sales and marketing from 1996 to 1998.

“I’m very excited to be back in the fire industry, especially with E-ONE who is recognized as an industry leader and innovator,” said Peters. “Kent, Peter [Guile, president and CEO of ASV] and the E-ONE team have made E-ONE a name to be reckoned with in the fire industry and I look forward to working with the E-ONE team, dealers and customers to continue building upon that legacy.”

In September Bill Lawson was promoted to  position of president of PBI Performance Products Inc., based in Charlotte, N.C. Lawson has been with the company since 1981 serving in the role as PBI chief operating officer and managing director since 2005.

PBI is the maker of inherently flame resistant and thermally stable polybenzimidazole fibers and Celazole polymers. PBI fiber is used extensively in the making of turnout gear.

Also in September, Tom S. Martin accepted the position of vice president of operations for Paul Conway Shields & Equipment, in New Berlin, Wis. Martin was the director of research and development for Lion Apparel for 13 years before taking the new position.

Northville Township (Mich.) Fire Chief Richard Marinucci was named chief executive of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA), replacing Bob Finley who retired on Sept. 30.

This decision was reached by the Board of Directors after a nationwide search for the new executive. Marinucci said he is looking forward to working with the FDSOA Board of Directors and membership to promote the role of safety officers and “make sure the firefighters go home at the end of the day.”

Marinucci’s wife, Linda Stone, will serve as administrative assistant. Together Marinucci and Stone will oversee the FDSOA’s membership benefits and certification programs and two conferences, including the 26th annual Apparatus Symposium to be held in January.

There were also some noteworthy acquisitions, partnerships and mergers that happened in 2013.

Among those was the acquisition of FoamPro by Fire Research Corporation.

FRC, based in Nesconset, N.Y., completed the purchase and made the announcement on Dec. 11. FoamPro, an asset of Pentair Ltd., based in New Brighton, Minn., will be moved to N.Y. and operated by FRC which was acquired by R.O.M. in January.

This year, two powerhouses in the fire service industry, Scott Safety and Motorola Solutions, announced a partnership to enhance firefighter safety and accountability.

The agreement is a commitment to have critical Scott SBCA data, such as air level and PASS alarm data over Motorola APX Project 25 portable radios.

The agreement represents the first step in a collaborative partnership between the companies, to address common customer needs in the areas of fireground communications and accountability.

Firehouse, had a couple of noteworthy partnerships itself. In April, Firehouse announced a partnership with the Ohio Fire & EMS Expo, an annual event held in September.

“We have been working with Firehouse for the past two years and are very excited by their strengthening commitment to support us, helping us to realize the full potential for our conference within the state of Ohio and beyond,” said Mark Zambito, co-founder and director of operations for the Ohio Fire & EMS Expo.

Firehouse also completed a partnership with The Rural Firefighting Academy (RFA) to allow the new enterprise to leverage the marketing reach and content of Firehouse to broaden its delivery of top-quality online training and education programs to fire departments through its new website;

“We’re very excited by Firehouse’s commitment to support us, helping us to realize the full potential of our online training program,” said Dominic Colletti, chief training officer at RFA. “The Rural Firefighting Operations online course provides a unique solution to small-community fire department training problems of tight budgets, travel obstacles and member availability.”

A few other newsworthy milestones include Rosenbauer America selling its 500th custom, company built cab and chassis. The company introduced the new design in February 2012.

Oshkosh Airport Products Group, a division of Oshkosh Corporation, delivered its 1,000th Oshkosh Striker Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) vehicle. It was placed in service at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nev. The Striker 6 x 6 joins the all Striker fleet – which includes the first Striker 8 x 8 ever manufactured – at McCarran in 2003.

Earlier this year, Kovatch Mobile Equipment Corp. (KME) announced that it has entered into a Joint Venture in Dalian, China. The Joint Venture Company (JV) completed the formal introduction of the KME brand to the Chinese market at the opening of China Fire Expo 2013 in April.

KME will supply the JV with both complete vehicles and partially-assembled kits, all of which will be built in its Nesquehoning facility.

There were also numerous promotions and countless new products and innovations, too many to mention, indicating that 2014 will be even stronger than this year.

Stay tuned.