Massive New Sutphen Fire Truck Plant Opens in Urbana, OH

March 20, 2024
Sutphen Corporation merged three facilities into a single, 185,000-square-foot factory for chassis, pumpers and a service center in Urbana, OH.

It was a proud day for the Sutphen family Tuesday, with many from the family owned fire truck manufacturer gathered for the opening of a new factory in Urbana, OH. 

The new plant, which brought together the workforce from three smaller factories in the area, is now the home to a dedicated chassis manufacturing line, a pumper line and their expanded national maintenance center.

While the facility officially opened in October, they met full operational capacity by the end of 2023, and now have 230 workers in various capacities at the 185,000-square-foot facility about 50 minutes west of Columbus.

“It's been about two-and-a-half years since the groundbreaking. And I just can't believe that,” President, and fourth-generation family member Drew Sutphen said. “I remember the day we were trying to figure out the landscaping out front, the day we got to shuffle some stick shovels in the sand and call that the groundbreaking. And those were all the things that are monumental to me. But wow, look at this place. I mean, it's awesome.”

Sutphen thanked everyone involved in the process, from the local and state officials to the local workforce organization, the bankers, the builders, and all the new employees who joined the existing team.

“It's our workers. It's the people in the community and the environment that you, as all leaders of the city of Urbana, have helped us grow,” Sutphen said.

During the process, the Sutphen’s met with all the local restaurants and hotels to ensure the fire department visitors will have a continuation of the “Sutphen Experience” before and after their time at the factory, whether for pre-construction meetings, or on the final check over of a new rig.

“We appreciate the hospitality and the generosity amongst the city of Urbana, all the restaurants, all the different venues around here that have been willing to support something,” said B.J. Laney, general manager of operations.

“Imagine your outside customer base being the fire service,” Sutphen Phelps said, as she thanked the local Urbana Fire Department for being on-hand. “I want to thank you so much for bringing your truck here today. We are so honored to be able to have built that for you and to have the protection from your service, from your fire department.”

“We like to listen to what they want and don’t want on their apparatus,” she added. “We love to come up with the solutions they need.”

The facility

The building has three distinct work areas, plus the offices and welcome area. It includes the production lines for the Sutphen Monarch chassis line, the heavy-duty custom pumper line, and Sutphen’s Corporate Service and Technical Center.

The two-story welcome center proudly displays the company’s history, with three pieces of original equipment, including a handcart and handpump sold by C.H. Sutphen to Dearborn, MI in the 1800s. The walls are covered with a detailed timeline highlighting Sutphen's innovations, facility openings, leadership appointments and key milestones, including:

1963 – The first mid-mount aerial was built and delivered to Norwalk, CT

1964 – The company’s current headquarters in Dublin, OH, opens, bringing together all operations into one building

1968 – Sutphen built their first custom chassis for the Washington D.C. Fire Department

1978 – The Hilliard facility opened, allowing Sutphen to build a 65-foot aerial 

1997 – Drew Sutphen becomes president and the fourth generation to lead the company. Julie Sutphen is named president of Sutphen towers.

2016 – The Sutphen East plant moves to Scranton, PA 

The area has meeting rooms for departments that are visiting, a lounge for firefighters to relax between meetings and a patio atop the first-story roof for lunch with a great view of the service delivery area where apparatus committees finalize their rigs before delivery. 

A 60-seat training room is used for Emergency Vehicle Technician training, including certification testing, plus pump training and vehicle maintenance classes. 

An open-concept office space allows engineering and customer service teams to collaborate easily from each person's area. There are several huddle rooms for workers to sit down for more in-depth meetings.

On the floor, rows of areas dedicated to each program are neatly organized to get trucks and parts down the line, including mounting all components on chassis, dropping a cab on the chassis where all wiring and harnessing is organized and adding pumper bodies to the completed cab and chassis.  

The production areas include a massive painting booth, and an assembly area where Sutphen's heavy-duty bumpers are customized.

Several pump housing modules, from top-mounted to side-mounted units were in varying stages of completion as gauges, piping and wiring were being brought together.

“This has been a project from the very beginning to secure growth for the many generations to come,” said Vice President Julie Sutphen Phelps, also a fourth-generation leader. “He (Drew) and I started here about 40 years ago and never in our wildest dreams, I'm sure you never thought so either, that we would be outgrowing already the Dublin, the Hilliard, and the Scranton facilities.”

The facility is now home a large national service center where Sutphen rigs will be brought for maintenance, repairs or to be refurbished. The space allows them time to decrease turnaround time for apparatus involved in accidents that are brought in for repairs.

The new Sutphen Delivery Center features three arched, overhead bay doors where apparatus committees will complete their final inspection.

“The only thing that we're going to be needing to do is get a bigger parking lot,” she said with a chuckle. 

The move

Combining three busy facilities was not a quick, or easy feat.

“It takes an army to move three factories into one,” Drew Sutphen said, adding that more than 13,000 parts from their inventory needed to be packaged and moved.

It took 2,000 pallets to get the equipment, tools, parts and fixtures consolidated at the three sites and relocated to the new facility. 

“Hundreds and hundreds of truckloads of inventory. And it took a long time. When I say long, there was a lot, it was all done internal.”

He said they moved one area at a time to make the process easier, and more efficient.

“We were very successful to think about every nut, screw, roll of tape and everything that had to be moved besides the bodies, the chassis, and all this inventory.”


It truly is a family business

“We're proud of our heritage. There's a lot of things that have happened over our history, but our great-grandfather started the business back in 1890, 134 years ago,” Sutphen said. “And to see how big that the family has grown and the leadership teams, we have the best support structure for the company we've ever had.”

Members of the fourth, fifth and sixth generations of the Sutphen family were on hand to celebrate the occasion, Sutphen Phelps proudly shared.

“I'd like to announce that we do have five members of the fifth generation, phenomenal young adults, who are already on board in the company and doing a fabulous job,” Sutphen Phelps said. 

The pumper that served as the backdrop for the event Tuesday was being delivered to Harrison Township, OH. Sutphen Phelps said it had a special meaning to their family – their grandfather was Harrison, and some of the sixth-generation children — Drew and Julie's grandchildren — are named Harrison.

And it’s not just the Sutphen family that has deep roots in the company. There are several generations with legacies across the company, Sutphen Phelps boasted.

One family, the Clarks, have had four generations working alongside the Sutphens. 

There are several husband-and-wife couples, or parents whose children also work in various capacities across the company.

"About 40 percent of our employee base has another family member working here,” said Sutphen Phelps. “There is no better compliment that both Drew and I feel as when somebody says, can my son, daughter, cousin, wife, husband, come work here? That is the ultimate of compliments and we are so fortunate for that. I believe that's one of the things that we're dedicated to them, and they're dedicated to us.”

“The facility is a testament of a lot of hard work and dedication by a lot of teams. It's not just our family, it's our leaders who are here that run this facility, it's the facilities in Hilliard, OH, Pennsylvania and in Dublin, OH. It takes all the factories. We're 500-plus strong people to get to where we are today. And as we move towards this in incredible building, and the future with the building, it's really very proud.

Poised for growth

Before the new Urbana facility opened, they worked from three facilities with a total of 70,000 square feet of space in the Springfield-Urbana area, plus operations in Hilliard, OH, and Scranton, PA, and Dublin, OH, where the headquarters is located.

Today, the company employs 530 people across the sites in Ohio and Pennsylvania with plans to grow more to meet the demands of the fire service. Sutphen said the purchase of land for the new facility included additional acreage to continue growth in the future.  

"It's the people in the community and the environment that you, as all leaders of the city of Urbana, have helped us grow. And we look forward to growing another 25 acres on the other side of the building in the future," Supthen said.

"When we think about our leadership, we know they're strong, they're certainly resilient, but ultimately when we think about our leadership team, we know we have the most complete team in the fire industry," said Shelby Sutphen Chambers, head of strategy and culture advances at Supthen. "And what I mean by that is between having five generations working across the business and then having our outstanding non-family member leaders who are driving the action, we are making these wheels spin every single day."

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