At the end of each year Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment magazine recognizes companies that have introduced new products that we believe will make a significant impact on the fire service in years ahead.
Best New Apparatus Model
The Best New Apparatus Model was no contest this year. Pierce’s Velocity wins the honor hands down for numerous reasons.
Not only will the innovations offered by the Velocity and its smaller sister chassis, the Impel, offer many things standard which were previously optional, but they help streamline the manufacturing process and cut delivery time to fire departments.
More important, the Velocity incorporates many suggestions from firefighters in the field. And the biggest contribution is to occupant safety, an area where Pierce has led the industry. For the first time, fire apparatus will have front seat air bags to protect both the driver and the officer.
The driver’s air bag deploys from the middle of the steering column, but the difficult one was designed for the officer’s position in the right front seat. This bag exits a knee-level bolster on the dashboard. Side impact air bags and occupant rollover protection systems have been available in Pierce apparatus for nearly five years. Now the system is complete.
At the same time Pierce introduced a dual-retractor, three-point seat belt system to easily permit seat belt use with an SCBA pack already donned. Furthermore, the new Pierce seat developed with 911 Seats exceeds NFPA requirements for air bottle retention in accident. The crew compartment floor was also redesigned to eliminate the rear stairwell, replacing it with useable flat deck space.
According to Mike Moore, Pierce’s product development director, other features of the Velocity cab and chassis include a quarter-inch thick steel firewall protecting the cab from the engine compartment and half-inch thick engine tunnel walls. These provide increased safety as well as dampen noise. And neatly covered raceways for all the electrical wiring at the inside roof edges allow faster construction and easy access for maintenance.
Moore says the huge one-piece front windshield has 86 percent of its surface area swept by three simultaneously moving windshield wipers for maximum visibility. All interior surfaces are of a hard composition material which resists wear and marking by tools or equipment and several small conveniences suggested by a firefighters development panel have been incorporated.
The Velocity and Impel chassis development, in our view, represents a far greater impact on future fire apparatus manufacturing than is apparent to anyone but a few visionaries at Pierce and Oshkosh Truck Corporation, its parent company. As soon as build-out of present orders is complete, the Dash, Saber, Lance and Enforcer models will be replaced by either a Velocity version or an Impel. While the Arrow XT and the Quantum will continue to be produced through 2010, emphasis on Velocity series production will increase.
The basic platform will offer virtually unlimited options and the economies of production will give the manufacturing division a lot more flexibility in pricing and delivery times. Pierce will dominate the fire apparatus market for years to come by developing the Velocity/Impel line.
Best New Product
With the emphasis on safety being at the forefront, the European-developed Rosenbauer SCBA seat gets our 2006 Best New Product Award. While the Pierce SCBA seat is excellent, the Rosenbauer model clearly takes the edge in several areas, especially in providing comfort for the return ride from a working fire or during non-emergency use for in-service inspections, hydrant testing or other duties.
When a firefighter sits down, the ready-to-don SCBA harness is pre-positioned for immediate access. The same type system holds the seat belt in position so that it can be fastened as the SCBA is donned. The air bottle itself is held securely in a built-in “gripper” which will withstand a 10-G force in the event of an accident.
The Rosenbauer SCBA Safety Seat earns the best new product award because it was the first to address a problem that contributes to more than half the Line-of-Duty Deaths in the fire service each year.
This system, introduced in February, is complemented by many similar features that came out with the new Pierce SCBA seat that first appeared on the Velocity chassis in September. These two companies are leading the way and we believe others will soon follow to make improvements in this crew protection area.
Best New Component System
Waterous, one of the three major suppliers of firefighting pumps in the United States, gets the 2006 Best New Component System Award for its new Advantus Foam Proportioner. The unit actually analyzes various qualities of the water going through the pump – whether from a hydrant or from draft – and adjusts the amount of Class A foam concentrate being injected to provide maximum firefighting effectiveness.
Less sophisticated proportioning systems have been based solely on volume, usually mixing .4 percent or .5 percent foam concentrate to the discharge side of the pump.
The Advantus foam system not only accurately measures the precise amount of foam solution needed by the type water being used, but it also uses conductivity-based sensors to control the foam solution volume for the most economical application rate.
Now for a few year-end State of the Industry comments.
Pierce Manufacturing, America’s largest maker of fire apparatus and emergency vehicles, is also the most profitable. And with nearly one-million-square-feet of modern production capacity in Wisconsin alone, few other companies are in a position to challenge it.
Ten years ago Pierce held a slight edge over E-ONE, but then John Randjelovic took over. With a steady hand and a realistic vision, he built the best dealership network in the country for Pierce, and year-by-year kept the company pulling away from its chief rival in both market share and quality.
In the meantime, E-ONE went through a series of presidents and CEOs as well as multiple phases of redirection coupled with delivery problems. E-ONE makes a quality product at a competitive price and there is no doubt about that. Its 75-foot aluminum rear-mount quint has been the standard of the industry, but two years ago Pierce came into the aluminum aerial market with a competing product.
Then Sutphen – the Mont Blanc pen, the Omega watch, or the Rolls Royce of the aerial fire apparatus industry, introduced a mid-mount 75-foot aluminum quint as well. E-ONE’s best product was threatened by two premium manufacturers who began chipping away at its market share. E-ONE’s president Marc Gustafson has made several moves to counteract these threats, including improving production facilities and delivery times.
While many companies have benefited by the Assistance to Firefighters Act – which technically is not a Homeland Security program – none have done so more profitably than Spartan Motors Corporation.
At the end of September Spartan reported third quarter sales of $108.9 million, up from 2005 – its previous best year – of 89.3 million. And the company’s stock price has zoomed from $14 a share a couple of months ago to more than $22 a share. Spartan makes a wide range of apparatus chassis for the independent body builders, plus special chassis for such customers as Smeal and Rosenbauer. It also operates Crimson Fire and Crimson Fire Aerials as well as Road Rescue ambulances and rescue trucks.
Crimson Fire – representing the merger of Quality Manufacturing and Luverne Fire Apparatus under Spartan – was the brainchild of former Spartan Chairman George Sztykiel who went into the acquisition mode when Jim Hebe was running American LaFrance for Freightliner and buying up a lot of smaller manufacturers.
At the time, there were a lot of doubters, but in the long run George will be proven to have been right in doing so. Being a manufacturer of apparatus – and aerials – keeps the company close to the end users, the fire departments. That gives a chassis maker the edge in reading consumer demand and reacting quickly to serve the marketplace.
Ferrara and KME at this writing continue to exhibit strong sales. The biggest unknown in the industry is American LaFrance (ALF), which is constructing a new plant near Charleston, S.C., to be opened next spring. ALF, now owned by a private investment banking company, could surprise everyone when its plant begins to operate and President John Stevenson introduces product line changes late in 2007.