S&S Fire Apparatus, a privately-held company with facilities in Fairmount, Ind., and Keller, Texas, shut down operations shortly before Thanksgiving.
"We found out about it when the fire departments started calling us needing parts," said Jo Ann Treon, the manager of the town government office in Fairmount, a rural town of 3,000 known as the boyhood home of actor James Dean about 55 miles northeast of Indianapolis.
She said she does not know what happened. Her only source of information is a Fairmount firefighter who knows people who worked for S&S. "They just closed up," she said. "I don't know why because I thought they had a good business. All of our fire trucks have come from them."
Officials with the Huntington Manor Fire District on Long Island, N.Y., had a pending order with S&S for a brush truck, but haven't been able to get any information since visiting the company for a pre-construction meeting in mid-October, according to Dane Martin, a Huntington district fire commissioner.
"They didn't have a lot going on at the plant, but everything looked fine," he said. "We got a tour and they said, 'Great guys, we'll see you in a couple of months and your truck will be done.'"
Since then, he said, there has been no contact despite repeated attempts to reach someone, including registered letters. "At first they took messages and said somebody would get back to you," Martin said. "And then you couldn't even get through to them any more."
The company's automated phone systems in Indiana and Texas direct callers to voice mailboxes that will not accept any more messages because they are full.
A government listing shows S&S is owned in whole or in part by Lee Finley, who owns another business in Fort Worth, Texas, called BrandFX Body Company. He did not respond to requests by Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment for an interview and his assistant referred questions about S&S to an Indianapolis lawyer, Michael O'Neil, whose practice is focused on business workouts and insolvency law, according to his firm's Web site.
O'Neil did not return phone calls or respond to a request for information about S&S through his assistant.
S&S, which bills itself as a leading manufacturer of stainless and fiber-composite apparatus, was formed in the early 1980s and became known for its elliptical tankers. The company boasts on its Web site of growing by more than 100 percent in the last decade, and says its "lofty goal" is to be the worldwide apparatus of choice.
It made tankers and a variety of wildland, brush, interface and quick attack apparatus.
The company had 80 employees as of last summer, and its biggest customer for wildland apparatus was the federal Bureau of Land Management.
A number of apparatus manufacturers have run into financial trouble in the past few years. Last year American LaFrance sought Chapter 11 refuge from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy court and emerged a much different company after reorganizing. ALF's difficulties were preceded by the failures of the New Lexington Fire Equipment Company in 2006 and Elite Fire Apparatus in 2007.