As Firehouse Sees It: The Fire Apparatus Industry

April 29, 2024
Greater sophistication of rigs reinforces the importance of comprehensive planning by members of an apparatus committee and the people who will operate on the vehicles.

Over the past few weeks, I had a chance to visit two fire apparatus manufacturers: E-ONE, as it celebrated its 50th anniversary at its Ocala, FL, home, and Sutphen’s new, 185,000-sq.-ft. factory in Urbana, OH. Between those outings and a few fire station visits, I saw dozens of new apparatus making their way through the assembly line or rolling out the door of firehouses big and small.

I must say, the dedication and effort that goes into putting these rigs together from raw materials to polished and ready-to-roll vehicles never should be taken for granted. Those who operate on the plant floor and at machine presses and who work in the engineering groups and offices beam with pride that they are building the means for America’s Bravest to arrive at emergencies and save lives.

“Nothing makes me prouder than to hear how our trucks helped save people’s lives from a burning building,” Sutphen President Drew Sutphen told me last month.

Looking back at the innovations since I started working with Firehouse in 1999, I remember an issue of the magazine in which we covered what the fire service would be like in the new century. The cover of the magazine featured artwork that had spaceship-like fire trucks hovering in the sky for an emergency, like a scene from “Back to the Future.” Trucks were forecasted to be smaller, too, but 20 years later, the fire service must meet more responsibility than it ever has, so rigs haven’t decreased in size. Of course, they aren’t flying at this point either, but we are getting comfortable with deploying a drone for a bird’s-eye view, although none is fighting fires, yet.

From the early stages of a planning committee putting ideas down on paper, to the final product, it takes blood, sweat and tears to get today’s fire apparatus designed, built and out the door. With increasingly advanced technology being added to make maintenance and operations easier, more wires, more connections and changes to the power are required.

As you pick up our Fire Apparatus supplement this month, you’ll find that the themes are a bit different than they were in the past, covering topics that include pumper body designs, hosebed concepts, aerial body layouts and outrigger design. Brainstorming with our supplement authors, we decided to develop content that’s focused on helping our readers and fire departments prepare for the evolving apparatus purchasing process. We appreciate the input of authors Jeff Gaskin, Mark Miller and Greg Stone, who have worked on a variety of projects, and them sharing their ideas and concepts.

As new apparatus become more sophisticated and connected with technology, members of a committee must understand all of the warranties, service contracts and life cycles, so an issue with a small component doesn’t create a long-term out-of-service time in their department’s frontline fleet as the repair is handled. If there are questions about a service plan or a part being used, ask the dealer early in the process, so the matter is clear and concise, because the build times continue to be longer than ever.

Apparatus purchasing committees (APC) must ask themselves difficult and honest questions about what truly is needed to accomplish the mission of their department. As important as a “battle-ready” pumper or aerial is, an honest assessment of what’s needed for today and the future must be included in the layout process. The APC must be aware of planned growth or changes in the community’s development, because the 20-year purchase must be designed to include the capability to adapt to space and weight limits.

As you and your associates start to plan an upcoming purchase, pick up this month’s supplement, review it and begin to compile the lists that you need to make your rig mission-ready.

Station design questions answered
There still is time to register—with limited seats still available—for next month’s Station Design Conference in Glendale, AZ. It takes place May 20–23. Much like the longevity of apparatus as mentioned above, fire stations are designed for decadeslong commitments and require responsible and educated decision-making to guarantee that they are ready to operate into the future. Whether you’re rehabilitating a station or building a new one, this conference provides you with in-depth guidance and know-how to build an effective station for your community’s needs. Visit for more.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!