WFC News

Posted: Dec 5, 2014

Fire Apparatus: Repair, Refurbish, or Replace?

A fire department's firefighters and officers are usually the best resources in deciding what course of action to take when it comes to a piece of apparatus that is on the edge of its useful life.

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By Alan M. Petrillo

If the apparatus is getting old and needs repair, they have to decide what to do-refurbish the vehicle or buy a replacement. The decision isn't always as straightforward as it might appear. The types of departments that consider refurbishing vehicles vary, Jeff Wegner, vice president of sales for Smeal Fire Apparatus, points out, from large municipal departments refurbishing aerials and pumpers to smaller departments that might not be able to afford a new vehicle and choose to refurbish an existing one to get another 15 to 20 years out of it.

Wegner says that in 2009, when the economy took a nose dive and manufacturers suffered a 40 percent decrease in new truck sales, refurbishments became popular again. "We saw a lot of departments doing refurbishments then," he notes, "and that trend continued for several years. But, new truck sales are starting to come around, and there aren't as many refurbishments as in past years."

Donley Frederickson, national sales manager for Rosenbauer, believes that apparatus refurbishment work has slowed down, a sign he says means "fire departments are watching their finances pretty closely. But when there's too much work to be done on a vehicle, our dealers usually recommend that the fire department buy a new vehicle instead of going the refurbishment route."

Financial Considerations

Don Daemmrich, refurbishment center sales manager for Pierce Manufacturing Inc., believes that a great deal of refurbishment comes about because of finances. "I think a lot of the refurbishment that is done to fire vehicles is due to budgetary considerations in the fire department or municipality," Daemmrich says. "And often, a department that has a custom piece of apparatus it likes might want to update it with the latest safety technology."

Daemmrich says that larger city departments typically are the ones bringing in apparatus for refurbishment. "The bigger cities run a lot more calls, and road conditions might be more difficult, so their apparatus might need to be refurbished more quickly than a department that doesn't have such a high call volume," he notes. Daemmrich's rule of thumb on the value of refurbishment is, "If you can keep the refurbishment at 50 percent of the cost of a new vehicle, it's a good investment."

Chris Lashley, plant manager of the factory service center at E-ONE, agrees with Daemmrich's cost estimate. "If we see a customer exceeding a cost that shows it's not in its best interest, we advise that customer to consider buying a new vehicle," Lashley says. "We usually will consider going to 50 to 60 percent of replacement cost. Beyond that, it's better to replace." He says aerials and aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) vehicles are typically the best candidates for refurbishing.

Mark Albright, general manager at 4 Guys Fire Trucks, agrees that the decision on whether or not to refurbish a vehicle is a tough call for fire departments. "How much money do they have to spend?" he asks. "A refurbish job can run well over $100,000 or more, but weighed against the cost of a new truck at $400,000, it might be more attractive. It depends on what the department can afford."

The cost of a new vehicle also drives some departments to refurbish an existing

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Posted: Dec 5, 2014

Apparatus Purchasing: Make it Simple, Part 1

KISS is an abbreviation for a theory attributed to the military and later adopted by industry to keep things clear-cut, uncomplicated, and easy to understand.

By Bill Adams

Politically correct variants are "keep it short and simple" and "keep it simple and straightforward." Those acronyms should be applicable to fire apparatus purchasing in general and to specifications and standards in particular.


The intent of this article is not to degrade, impugn, or criticize purchasers, apparatus manufacturers, or specification writers (spec writers). Writing fire apparatus purchasing specifications is a major responsibility. It is a demanding job, and I give credit to all who do it. There is no disparaging or passing judgment on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Apparatus. The document is conspicuously referenced because all specifications are heavily influenced and governed by it. NFPA 1901 is the bible of fire apparatus purchasing-regardless of whether spec writers subscribe to its principles and philosophies. It's not going away. Live with it.

One objective when purchasing a new rig is to improve the vocation of firefighting. Any regulatory standard or specification making firefighters' work less hazardous and less complicated to perform is commendable. Specifications and regulatory standards should be as functional as the apparatus they intend to describe. Unfortunately, some regulatory requirements are confusing, hard to read, and harder to understand. As a result, writing effectual purchasing specs can be a challenge. Purchasing fire apparatus should not be a complicated process.


Being unaware, uninformed, and unfamiliar does not necessarily mean one is ignorant or uneducated. Regardless of being career or volunteer, not all firefighters are as well versed in the technical aspects of writing specs as those who professionally write them and the standards that govern them. Infrequent exposure to spec writing and purchasing does not mean an apparatus purchasing committee (APC) lacks the skill or ability to buy a fire truck. Even experienced firefighters and APC members might need a little help. The industry should help them.

APC members can be intimidated, perplexed, and even confused by technospeak-technical jargon beyond their grasp. Some may be overwhelmed by a lack of clarity in the written word. Asking for clarification of specifications and standard verbiage is not an indication or admission of ignorance. Some APC members may refrain from asking too many questions for fear of appearing foolish. In my opinion, regulatory standards and specifications should be simplified and made easy to read. Doing so will make firefighters and (some) spec writers better educated and an APC's job less complicated.

Specs and Standards

Fire apparatus original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) publish standard specifications proprietary to their products. They use them to educate prospective customers and to promote their products. OEMs encourage purchasers to use them as purchasing specifications. That is their job. Although using proprietary specifications is questionable in some political arenas, it's a common practice, and most everyone does it. Get over it. I do not address the validity of proprietary specifications herein, but I do address making them and the regulations that govern them understandable and easy to read.

Historically, fire apparatus specifications were considered long if they exceeded a couple dozen pages. Thirty years ago, one manufacturer was ecstatic when his specification broke the 75-page mark. Today, specs for a simple pumper can easily exceed 100 pages. I question if they need to be that long. It is understandable if the intent of lengthening the document is to educate the consumer. It is debatable if they are lengthened

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Posted: Dec 5, 2014

Looking Ahead

Every year, the issue theme for December is a forecast for the following year or basically what we see ahead. Most of the time, I try to relate to the theme as best I am able. In the case of serving as a foreseer of the future, I don't always feel comfortable because predicting the future is challenging-no one is really sure how things will go during the following 12 months. On the other hand, it can be a fun exercise to determine if you indeed have any talent as a prognosticator.
Chris Mc Loone   Richard Marinucci

One way to look at the future is to look at the past. Someone once told me that the best indicator of what lies ahead may be found in past history. By looking back, we may be able to look forward, if that makes any sense. We may have to look into this more deeply to see if we can make any sense of this.

Government Connection

Government and the fire service are not usually on the leading edge of technological advances. This is not to cast any aspersion but only to point out that government, particularly on the local level where the fire service resides, is not prone to investing in research and development. It relies on the private sector in most cases and then adapts as things fit the mission of government. For example, government wasn't the first industry to embrace computers for everyday use for virtually all employees. Now you would be hard pressed to find anyone in government not connected via this technological means of communication.

Of course, there are always exceptions to this in that the military often develops the latest and greatest with respect to technological advances. Thermal imaging cameras were used in the military long before they reached routine use in the fire service. Developments from NASA and the space program eventually made their way into the fire service and are now commonplace.

With that said, perhaps one way to look at the future is to consider where these two elements of society have been recently and some of the advancements they have made. In both cases, they continue to embrace technological advances to progress. They look for a competitive advantage to improve profits or, in the case of the military, to gain an edge on their enemies. There are ways to gain information through media, magazines, Web sites, and the like. Some of the items get more mainstream coverage while others are still released in more controlled ways.

Unmanned Aircraft

One example is the use of drones. The military has developed some very reliable and functional apparatus. Today there are many knockoffs, and the price range for these flying machines is huge. Consumers can buy small versions for recreational use for a relatively small price. There are much more expensive units that do a lot more and are more durable with longer flight times among other advantages. Regardless, the growing use of these devices would seem to indicate that their use will make it into government and the fire service more and more, likely sooner rather than later. It might be prudent for members of the fire service to look seriously at the potential uses and also some of the drawbacks. What can be gained and at what expense? This is just one example of looking at some emerging technologies and determining potential uses. It behooves professionals in this service to continually look for ways to improve, including methods made possible through technology.

Technology is advancing with videos, mapping, geographic information systems (GIS), spin tours, and other spatial options that can be beneficial in providing reconnaissance to responding personnel. Google and others can provide virtual tours of properties. This offers t

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Posted: Dec 5, 2014

The State of the Industry

The Fire Apparatus Manufacturers' Association (FAMA) tries its best to stay informed about the big picture of the fire industry.

Jeff Hupke

The health of the fire apparatus and equipment market may not seem relevant to everyone, but the ability of the industry to turn a profit greatly affects the amount it can spend on product research and development. Better and safer products are very relevant, as they can improve the way firefighters perform their jobs. In this edition of the FAMA Forum, FAMA shares the state of the industry from the point of view of the fire apparatus industry.

Fire Department Survey

Earlier this year, the FAMA Education Committee completed its annual "Industry Outlook" survey. A total of 1,537 North American fire departments participated. Almost 50 percent of the respondents were chiefs, commissioners, or officers. The survey was geographically well distributed, with each of the Canadian provinces and United States represented.

Respondents were slightly more optimistic than recent years, with just more than 40 percent indicating they were expecting to make a major purchase in 2014. Ninety-two percent indicated they expected their major purchase to be an apparatus.

The biggest trends cited include a challenging economy, lack of funding, and reduced staffing. Thirty-five percent of those polled indicated that their standard operating procedures would change, down from 46 percent in 2010. Regarding funding, 32 percent of respondents indicated they had applied for an apparatus grant over the past two years, with three percent noting their applications were accepted. The numbers were 66 percent and 19 percent for equipment grants. Not surprisingly, 56 percent of the departments indicated that helping raise the overall awareness of funding sources was one of the most important actions that FAMA and Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association (FEMSA) members could take. More than half indicated that they have changed their apparatus specifications because of cost or budget restrictions.

The Education Committee uses the survey to try to identify the most important factors that contribute to choosing apparatus and equipment. As indicated in Figure 1, quality, safety, and price were the top three influencers, while the use of alternative fuels was at the bottom of the list.

Figure 1

The survey also asked the departments to rate the importance of different sources when they were seeking information on apparatus and equipment. Figure 2 shows that manufacturer salespeople finished at the top, followed by dealers and word of mouth.

Figure 2

Other observations from the industry survey include an increase in vehicle data recorder usage; the majority of respondents indicating that they use foam at some point in their operations; and a slight increase from previous years in respondents that indicated tank size, pump capacity, and cab size would increase over the next five years.

Apparatus and Equipment Provider Survey

Both fire apparatus and fire equipment manufacturers were also surveyed. Even though a higher percentage of company revenues is because of exports, the results indicated an increase in optimism with companies expecting improvements in revenue growth, capital investment, and hiring. The fire industry lags behind the general economy both going into and out of recession, so this is promising news that we may be finally coming out of the 2008 downturn.

Most concerning to member companies were insurance and health care costs. Seventy-two percent indicated they were affected by the economy. The top strategies employed to weather times of economic challenge were

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Posted: Dec 5, 2014

Slow Down in 2015

At various places in this issue, you'll find prognostications about 2015 and how the fire service industry will perform in a variety of sectors-apparatus manufacturing, equipment manufacturing, and so on.
Chris Mc Loone   Chris Mc Loone

As usual, the outlook from industry leaders is good. The various segments are expecting continued growth, albeit slow but steady, and no one is anticipating a year like 2008 when the economy tanked. That being said, anything could happen despite our best educated guesses for what the future holds.

All that news is good to hear. A healthy market means that companies can invest in research and development and reinvest in themselves to produce cutting-edge products that push the boundaries of ingenuity. A healthy economy in general means that firefighter inventors who consider taking a shot at creating a tool we can all use to make our operations more efficient and safer might be more inclined to take the leap because money will be available to them to invest in their projects.

My predictions for 2015 are a little different in that they revolve around our operations a little more.

First, apparatus operators across the board are going to slow down. Why wouldn't they? It's clear that driving too fast leads to preventable accidents, injuries, and sometimes death-both for firefighters and private vehicle operators. It's so obvious that everyone will slow down, right?

To make sure that apparatus operators slow down, the company officers sitting across from them are going to firmly ensure that the safety of the crew responding to whatever the emergency is supersedes the adrenalin coursing through the driver's veins and will order him to slow down. We hear it all the time that we don't do anyone in trouble any good if we get into our own trouble en route to a call. The good news is that our officers are going to ensure drivers slow down.

The wild cards are the personal vehicle operators who have become so distracted that they fail to see even the brightest warning light systems, chevron striping, or scene lighting and manage to run into us while we are driving or when we are already parked trying to protect an accident scene. What this means is that during 2015, drivers and officers are going to be even more vigilant than they are now in making sure we are looking out for these distracted drivers to avoid collisions with them. We would all like to think that the moms and dads driving their kids to school, soccer practice, band practice, and other activities were paying exclusive attention to the road, but these days we know that this just not the case.

As we all work to adjust the behavior of current drivers, I predict that in 2015 instructors all over the country are going to enhance their driver training programs to ensure that tomorrow's apparatus operators will get into fewer accidents and perhaps, more importantly, experience fewer close calls. Close calls are just that-close. And, they are that way only because of luck. Fewer opportunities for close calls should lead to fewer accidents, and I'm optimistic that 2015 will get us on the right track.

Is all that overly optimistic? I don't think so. We have worked so hard in recent years to reduce injuries and line-of-duty deaths at fire scenes that it's the logical progression to take a good look at the trips to and from incidents and identify where we can all tighten up. My first chief in the fire service used to say he was more worried about the trips to and from a scene and especially backing into the firehouse than the actual calls. For the leaders, don't be afraid to take your operators aside to say, "Let me tell you something a

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