By Bob Vaccaro
Published Tuesday, June 5, 2012
| From the June 2012 Issue of FireRescue
Each spring, I look forward eagerly to the latest introductions from apparatus manufacturers—new models, high-tech features, configurations that seem to produce more compartment space out of nothing. Over the last several years, I’ve been pleased to see that firefighter safety is paramount in all of these designs.
This year is no different, despite the economic challenges we’re facing throughout the country. Manufacturers continue to develop exciting new ideas and concepts for the industry, some of them taking advantage of company structures that allow them to invest in research and development during slow times rather than focus only on profits. Recently, we asked several of the larger apparatus manufacturers to give our readers some input on their new designs and trends in the apparatus industry.
Here’s what they had to say.
It’s the Economy…
If there’s one trend driving fire apparatus purchasing decisions right now, it’s economics. Although it’s easy to generalize and say that fire departments just don’t have money to buy new apparatus, clearly many communities are moving ahead with purchases—but with some key differences. “We are seeing less of the high-end pumpers and a bit of a shift to more functional units,” says Harold Boer, president of Rosenbauer America.
Several manufacturers report increased interest in multipurpose apparatus. “The apparatus trend over the last couple of years has been toward multipurpose vehicles, and we feel this trend will continue for a while,” says Amanda Gummer, marketing and communications manager for E-One. “Since the recession began, departments have been asked to do more with less and, as a result, they are requesting apparatus manufacturers to design one piece of apparatus that will essentially do it all.”
Phil Gerace, KME marketing and sales manager, says the company is having success with rescue/pumpers and pumper/rescues. “Rescue/pumpers are full-blown rescues with a pump and water tank, while pumper/rescues have 29" deep compartments and plenty of storage, but usually a traditional mid or rear pump and larger water tank,” Gerace says. The KME PRO rescue pumper was created in response to those demands.
Pierce continues to see growth with its multipurpose Pierce Ultimate Configuration (PUC). “The PUC minimizes the vehicle space used for fire suppression, and maximizes the space for tools and equipment,” says Mike Moore, vice president of business development for Pierce. “Yet the PUC still provides a big pump, foam, and CAFS capabilities. The PUC also allows for lower crosslays and a smaller, more compact wheelbase that enables enhanced maneuverability.”
The economy is affecting not only the type of apparatus that departments buy, but how they buy them. KME has seen an increase in group purchasing. “Contracts like HGAC, Florida Sheriffs and others allow fire departments to achieve volume pricing with a minimal cost of administration of the acquisition,” Gerace says. “The process also minimizes delays so that current low pricing can be utilized.”
Many fire departments have also increased the apparatus replacement cycle timeframe. “The buying cycle for fire apparatus has expanded as municipalities—even ones that are budgeted to purchase apparatus—more closely scrutinize any type of vehicle purchase,” Moore says.
As a result, many domestic apparatus manufacturers are focusing on increasing international sales. Crimson Fire was awarded a multiple-year contract to build and deliver custom fire apparatus for use by multiple fire departments throughout the country of Chile, while Rosenbauer won an order that is stated to be the largest in its history from the Saudi Arabian Ministry of the Interior. Spartan ERV, formerly Crimson, recently announced a partnership with two French manufacturers, Gimaex and Renault, for apparatus designs that could be marketed in the United States and overseas.
Pierce is on the move internationally as well. “Pierce has experienced increased sales activity outside of North America, as demonstrated by the just-announced purchase of 30 Arrow XT custom pumpers to Brazil,” Moore says. “Pierce has also seen growth in other regions of the world. We attribute, as key factors in this growth, our excellent international distributors, and the correct product mix.”
But apparatus manufacturers are also doing all that they can to aid domestic fire departments in purchasing new apparatus. “Rosenbauer is working with suppliers to use their high-volume components to reduce our costs even though we have a low-volume industry,” says Rich Schalter, president of Rosenbauer Motors.
Gerace says KME focuses on offering competitive pricing, but also on “a wide range of financing and leasing options with interest rates that are less than the rate of inflation, so it makes financial sense not to delay when apparatus is needed.”
Pierce provides financing options through Oshkosh Capital, including several tax-exempt municipal leasing products that enable customers to finance equipment with no long-term debt, eliminating the need for a voter referendum. “Municipal interest payments are exempt from federal income taxation and Oshkosh Capital passes this savings onto Pierce’s customers through lower rates and payments,” Moore says. “Prepayment options allow customers to further reduce both payments and the effective interest rate.” For customers with extremely tight budgets, Oshkosh Capital’s “Turn-In Lease” offers the lowest payment option possible, with total payments over seven years less than the original purchase price for the apparatus.
“Green” technology seems to be all the rage in every industry, and it’s starting to reach fire apparatus as well. Rosenbauer’s Boer notes several motivations behind the drive for green. “We are seeing more interest in green technology, from both a PR perspective and from a cost and maintenance point, especially with the new emissions of trucks,” he says.
Ironically, the new focus on green comes when fire apparatus emissions have never been cleaner, due to the 2010 EPA regulations. “Today’s diesel engines are quite clean under the current emission standards,” Gerace says. “KME offers engines from both Maxxforce and Cummins that are fully compliant. KME is also working with fire departments to use Air Quality grants to replace or refurbish older units.”
Idle reduction appears to be a key focus for manufacturers. Rosenbauer has been a leader in this area with its Greenstar idle-reduction technology, which cuts emissions, fuel costs and maintenance costs. KME also reports working with suppliers on idle reduction and auxiliary power unit technology that would eliminate the need for the apparatus to operate its main power source (i.e., diesel engine) when not necessary. “By partnering with vendors that have vast experience with this technology, we continue to strive for a cost-effective method to not only reduce diesel exhaust emissions but also promote fuel savings,” KME’s Gerace says. “Additionally, the constant evolution of battery technologies opens the possibilities of new technologies.”
Pierce has delivered a hybrid rescue vehicle to a New Jersey department, and Moore expects more hybrid technology to penetrate the fire apparatus market. “There is considerable green technology research and development taking place at Pierce as well as at Oshkosh Corporation, our parent company, for both defense and commercial applications,” he says.
At FDIC, Pierce showcased “green” lithium ion batteries that replace traditional Group 31 batteries. Six of the lithium ion batteries provide up to 150 amps of power for five continuous hours and emit no emissions while activated. “Pierce believes there is growing potential for idle management technology that reduces overall fuel consumption, diesel fumes and noise pollution and extends service intervals over the life of the apparatus,” Moore says.
Technological Innovations & Advances
With all the new bells and whistles being added to fire apparatus, it can be difficult to keep up. One promising development over the last several years: Apparatus manufacturers are now seriously focused on firefighter safety. Whether it’s low hosebeds, wider steps, easier-to-use pump panels or better in-cab communications, it’s clear that the new designs take firefighter safety seriously. Some highlights from the last year:
- Pierce’s Dash CF apparatus, introduced in 2011 (read more here), features an innovative, tilting, cab-forward design, with an open interior configuration that helps firefighters better prepare for the unexpected situations they face when arriving on scene. “The vehicle design dramatically increases driver and officer interior cab space, improves visibility and serviceability, and sets a new benchmark for heavy-duty construction—all in a compact, easy-to-maneuver wheelbase,” Moore says. Pierce has now set about integrating many of the Dash-CF technologies and features into its other apparatus, including a major upgrade to the Velocity chassis. “The Velocity now offers a more open interior with improved visibility and an advanced HVAC system,” Moore says.
- E-One introduced the eMAX, with a dramatically reduced pump area footprint, which increases compartment space. The eMAX offers enclosed ladder storage and large rooftop storage compartments for less frequently used items. “The eMAX design also takes firefighter safety into consideration by lowering the speedlays and pre-connected handlines,” Gummer says. “In addition, the eMAX is available on a commercial chassis, making this unique multipurpose vehicle more affordable.”
- Earlier this year, Rosenbauer introduced its own custom chassis (read more here), the Commander. “We are also introducing a new ‘Smart Screen’ for our aerials, which will give the operator much more information about the aerial operation,” Boer says.
- In addition to the PRO, KME introduced a new rear-mount ladder family of 79', 103', 109' and 123' ladders. The company’s new Storefront Blitz feature allows for a first-floor interior attack with the aerial device while allowing the monitor to travel up to 30 degrees above horizontal. “Along with the extended monitor travel, the aerial is capable of going 8 degrees below horizontal, giving the fire department the flexibility to get the water where it is needed,” Gerace says. “In addition, such work can be done without putting firefighters in the building, thereby increasing safety.”
What’s to Come
As for future trends, these manufacturers point to the continued growth of several trends noted in this article. Rosenbauer’s Boer expects to see more emphasis on green features, smaller pump compartments and enhanced equipment mountings. KME’s Gerace anticipates a bigger emphasis on combination units that serve multiple functions, including structural firefighting, EMS, rescue and hazmat. “These apparatus have existed for many years, but the push in the future will be to take this style of apparatus and put it on a smaller footprint with a more manageable wheelbase for maneuverability,” he says.
Whatever the changes, the most important aspect is that they are created to fill firefighter needs and are designed with input from firefighters. As Pierce’s Moore puts it, “Pierce relies on the thousands of firefighters who visit our engineering and manufacturing facilities each year to provide feedback and share ideas for new products and technologies. It’s a system that has resulted in advances to the fire service such as TAK-4 independent front suspension, Command Zone electronics, side-roll protection, frontal air bag protection and, most recently, the Dash CF apparatus.”
Clearly, despite the last few years being quite “slow” in terms of apparatus sales, the field is hardly standing still. It will be exciting to see what the next several years bring.
Most-Requested Apparatus Features
We asked major apparatus manufacturers what features their customers most frequently request in new apparatus purchases. Here’s what we heard (listed in no particular order):
- Systems to control in-cab moisture and heat
- Improved in-cab visibility and communications
- Easy-to-service cab and chassis using off-the-shelf parts
- Foam system (pumpers)
- Extensive compartment space and equipment-mounting options
- Service and support after the sale
- LED scene and warning lighting
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