There have been many stories over the past few years regarding fire department’s attempts to replace an aging vehicle only to be told by some higher authority that there “Is no money in the budget for capital expenditures”. After hearing this statement the department officials try to reposition themselves by seeking alternative funding sources such as grants and vehicle lease programs in an attempt to make the new vehicle purchase viable for the municipality.
While there have been some notable success stories (Apparatus Architect Part 54- Firehouse January 2012) the end result is often that no new apparatus is acquired with the fire department having to make do with the existing units.
The fire service has come under attack due to our staffing requirements, cost for training new personnel, overtime and just about anything that adds to the bottom line of our budget requests. When it comes time to ask for funding for major projects such as fire station rehabilitations and new apparatus, all too often these requests are turned down by the municipal officials with the comment being “Come back next budget year and we’ll consider the request at that time”. Unfortunately for our customers, the public and citizens we protect they cannot put off their emergency until we are properly staffed and prepared to respond. In some circles the fire department is viewed as a drain on public funds and resources returning little back to support other operations.
Since 2007 the cost of fire apparatus has increased dramatically due to a combination of three events that have impacted both the U.S. economy and the fire apparatus industry within a short period of time. We will try to discern in this article some of the truth and pure rumors that have created a condition were today the fire apparatus industry is producing almost forty percent fewer vehicles than it had during any recent decade in history.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated regulations governing diesel engine emissions that took effect during 2004, 2007 and again in 2010. While each of these regulatory requirements caused the diesel engine manufacturers to change their engine technologies the ripple effect was for each of the fire apparatus manufacturers to adapt their cab and body designs as well. During the period between 2004 and 2007 virtually every apparatus builder had to make major engineering changes to their cabs or in some cases introduced new cab designs to accommodate the new diesel engine emissions. The net result was a lot of new cabs became available, but at a much higher cost. When combined with the cost of the EPA complainant diesel engines within a short period of time the average cost of a custom pumper increased approximately $30,000 dollars.
Fact #1: Fire apparatus manufacturers represent a very small portion of the overall number of heavy trucks built each year. As a result while various fire service organizations maintain associations with lobbyists to work with legislators, our efforts to obtain exemptions from these federally mandated standards have been ineffective.
Fiction #1: Apparatus manufacturers were making more money with increased profits due to all of the mandated changes. This statement is false as no manufacturer could pass along the total cost of re-engineering their cabs and chassis to departments and still remain competitive in the market place with other builders. While commercial cabs and chassis were cost impacted to a lesser degree, apparatus builders had to devote virtually all of their engineering time meet the new requirements with little time left to develop new products in other areas and little money left for research and development.
The second impact on the cost of fire apparatus was due to changes in the NFPA 1901 Automotive Fire Apparatus Standard that took effect on all vehicles contracted for on or after January 1, 2009. The NFPA 1901 committee has been at the forefront of promoting fire fighter safety, together with the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation to enhance the available technologies on fire apparatus. The 2009 version of the standard included requirements for vehicle data recorders, rollover stability, portable equipment and cab integrity testing among other items. While there has been much discussion about the merits of individual requirements the net result has been a safer vehicle to operate while responding and operating at incidents.
Fact #2: Apparatus accidents involving engines, tankers and tenders represent approximately 44 percent of all fatal vehicle incidents. While the fire service has benefitted from well designed and constructed apparatus in most cases, between 1977 and 2006, 76 percent of the fire fighter fatalities during response/return incidents were not wearing their seat belts. These two numbers are staggering and represent areas where all personnel need to address their attitudes towards safety and increased training in vehicle operations under all types of conditions.
Fiction #2: The NFPA 1901 standard makes it more difficult for us to purchase a new apparatus due to the increased cost. While there can be no disputing the higher costs of new vehicles, the price of a lost time injury or fatality is incrementally more costly for the department not to mention the associated impact on members and their families. Departments need to take a proactive approach to integrate safety components on new or existing apparatus wherever possible. The NFPA 1901 Standard in Annex D offers some excellent guidelines for departments to consider when upgrading existing vehicles. Purchasing any new apparatus is a costly investment for the municipality. In Part 46 of the Apparatus Architect series (Firehouse-July 2010) we reviewed several different programs and polices that departments should consider enabling them to justify new vehicles.
The third cost multiplier on new apparatus is the general state of the economy and the cost of raw materials. Apparatus builders generally do not have the ability to stockpile components such as engines, transmissions and fire pumps to pull off the shelf for use on a particular vehicle. Program apparatus which are pre-engineered to provide a reasonable number of options have become an attractive alternative to the start with a blank piece of paper custom apparatus. The variability on options for major components requires manufacturers to order these specifically for each customer. The material cost for a custom chassis pumper can approach one half of the cost of the completed apparatus. For this reason the cost of doing business with work in progress and other economic factors dictate that manufactures look to operate with lean manufacturing techniques to reduce their overhead while providing a well designed and constructed product.
Fact #3: The overall quality of fire apparatus has benefited from technology and safety standards. Compare a pumper built in 2010 with one built during 1995 and the number of component and safety enhancements is considerable. While it took the fire service until 1991 to adopt a standard requiring a four door fully enclosed cab which was first introduced in 1935, the variety of manual and electronic devices that are integrated into the final design of a new apparatus within the past five years is impressive.
Fiction #3: My department chooses to waive some of the mandated NFPA 1901 requirements such as the rear body chevrons and maximum top speed of the vehicle. As the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) each department has the final say in determining the configuration of their new apparatus. Most specifications require that the completed vehicle meet all requirements of the current NFPA 1901 standard as a minimum. Choosing to ignore specific requirements would create problems for the organization if a member or civilian is injured as a result of not meeting a portion of the standard. While different states and localities have laws which govern the adoption of nationally recognized standards and liability statutes, any department would be well advised to insure that their new apparatus complies with all requirements of the current 1901 Standard. Several manufacturers can provide third party certification in this area which is another manner for the department to insure that their new apparatus fully complies with the current version of the NFPA 1901 Standard.
Purchasing a new piece of apparatus has never been an easy task and given the current economic conditions, departments should protect their investment to insure that the most appropriate components and safety designs have been engineered into the vehicle. In the next edition of the Apparatus Architect we will review some of the new safety technologies which departments should consider on any new apparatus.
Photos for use in AA Part 55:
All photos by Tom W. Shand
#1. The Elizabethtown Fire Company in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania designed this Sutphen pumper with many safety components including reinforced front bumper, LED lighting, low rear hose bed and down view mirror. Careful planning results in apparatus which meets the needs of the response area.
#2. Tool and equipment mounting has improved greatly due to the NFPA 1901 Standards with innovative brackets designed by companies such as Performance Advantage Company.
Apparatus committees need to plan efficient and practical access to hand tools inside of the cab and body compartments.
#3. The Syracuse, New York Fire Department insures that all of their apparatus meet their requirements and NFPA standards with through specifications and in process inspections. Engine Company 10 is assigned this Sutphen pumper equipped with six preconnected lines as well as fixed and portable master stream appliances.
Firehouse May 2012
By Tom Shand and Mike Wilbur