Fire Department, People, Pumpers

If You Can Afford A Sutphen, Buy It

Issue 10 and Volume 13.

A Sutphen, Hmmmmm !

We were recently at a gathering of fire industry people when someone asked a dealer if he was going to bid on a pumper for a local city. “No,” he replied, “That’s a Sutphen fire department and once they start buying Sutphens they pretty much don’t buy anything else.”

Well, that’s about the strongest recommendation we’ve ever heard for an apparatus maker. Of course we’ve always touted Sutphen’s aerial ladders and mid-mount towers as the strongest and best-built in the industry, and we never have been shy to say that if you can afford a Sutphen, buy it.

But we are less familiar with Sutphen pumpers, and were surprised to hear a competitor’s dealer remark that he wasn’t even going to bother bidding against them. That helps explain why Sutphen has been around for 118 years under family ownership and the fourth generation of Sutphens is now running key operations.

Drew Sutphen, president of Sutphen Corporation, heads things up, assisted by his cousin Julie Sutphen Phelps, president of Sutphen Towers and vice president of the Sutphen Corporation. As you look around their five plant locations, you’ll also find Dan Sutphen, Dareth Sutphen Fowler (Drew’s sister), Judi Sutphen, Harry Sutphen and fifth-generation family members Scott and Andy Herb, grandsons of Tom Sutphen.

But the real story is that the company is still growing at a strong pace. This summer the Sutphen Corporation broke ground for a 25,000-square-foot addition to its chassis manufacturing plant in Springfield, Ohio. That 40 percent expansion is on top of a 6,000-square-foot warehouse the company opened there last fall.

The addition will be devoted to expanding production of aerial and pumper custom chassis, as well as handling construction of the new Sutphen C-Series, which mates bodies like the company’s mid-priced Shield Series to the International 4400 commercial chassis. The C-series will also be built at Sutphen East, the company’s plant in Monticello, N.Y., which currently builds bodies for commercial chassis as well as stainless and aluminum bodies on Sutphen custom chassis pumpers.

The move to offer a regular series of standard and rescue body pumpers on the International chassis, which was announced in June, really rounds out the Sutphen product line, according to President Drew Sutphen.

Asked if the company has been affected by rumors of some big apparatus manufacturers recently offering special deals for cash-in-advance sales and large up-front deposits, Sutphen replied. “We build a high-quality product at a fair price, and we aren’t affected by what the other guy is doing.”

That brings us back to where we started. If you can afford a Sutphen, buy it.

Maxim Returns

You can see by our front cover that the venerable New England fire apparatus name Maxim is back on a full-sized pumper for the first time since the Middleboro, Mass., manufacturer’s plant and remaining parts inventory were sold at public auction in January 1990.

But it’s more than just the name that’s back. It’s a quality rescue-pumper with a stainless steel body being fabricated on a custom Spartan chassis by a well-staffed and highly experienced sales and service facility less than 30 miles north of the old Maxim plant.

Tim O’Neill, president of Greenwood Emergency Vehicles of North Attleboro, Mass., has spent the last four years acquiring the Maxim name and a registered trademark. Maxim produced fire apparatus in New England from 1914 through 1989 – 75 years – although the final 15 years saw multiple changes of ownership while the company traveled a rocky road.

Greenwood has been the primary E-ONE dealer in New England for the past 29 years, and during most of those years it has been the sole supplier of apparatus to the City of Boston.

Greenwood’s E-ONE territory includes the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine, plus several counties in southern New Hampshire. The company is one of E-ONE’s largest dealers nationwide.

O’Neill’s two plants in Massachusetts employ more than 60 people in service. The company has many years of experience rebuilding Boston-traded E-ONEs from the ground up and reselling them.

Building the new Maxim line is seen as much less of a challenge.

Normally, under its franchise agreement with E-ONE, there would be no way a dealer could build his own apparatus brand, but two things changed recently. First, E-ONE has dropped its stainless steel body line; and second, E-ONE is no longer owned by Federal Signal Corp., a company that lost its way in the fire apparatus business.

Greenwood Open House

For a number of years – since E-ONE stopped building ambulances – Greenwood has been the New England dealer for Horton Emergency Vehicles of Grove City, Ohio. As long as it will not be producing a product that is competitive with E-ONE, Greenwood has the OK to pursue the Maxim line of stainless steel bodies, and stainless still constitutes a portion of sales in New England.

In fact, E-ONE President Peter Guile attended the Greenwood open house and public product presentation of the new Maxim pumper in September. He wished the company well in its new venture.

While the first unit is built on a Spartan Furion chassis with a four-man cab and rescue pumper body style, O’Neill says he will build anything the market demands in stainless steel. If customers want bigger units or more horsepower, he will build on the Spartan MetroStar or Gladiator chassis.

As shown, the first new Maxim has a Caterpillar C7 engine of 350 hp, a Hale 1,500-gpm Qmax pump and 750-gallon UPF Poly II tank with a 30-gallon foam cell. Components include all Whelen LED warning lights, OnSpot chains and R.O.M doors.

This demonstrator had no foam system, but that is an option. The Hale pump was of the new configuration, being supplied as a modular unit, ready to drop in and plumb up.

Asked about the body fabrication, O’Neill just laughed. Metal Fab Engineering has a 48,000-square-foot ultra-modern facility in the same industrial park, two buildings away from Greenwood’s main office.

 “It couldn’t be any more convenient, and they have all the latest in laser cutters and fabrication machinery as well as a full engineering staff,” he said.

O’Neill said that he hopes to eventually sell 20 to 25 Maxim pumpers a year throughout New England, but he plans to remain a regional builder.

“That’s the way it should be,” he said. “A chief should be able to hop in his car, drive about two or three hours and inspect progress and or make suggestions while his truck is under construction. We intend to stay small so that we can provide really good customer service and a high-quality pumper at a reasonable price.”

An Aerial Supplier

The original Maxim Fire Apparatus company’s history is pretty much divided into segments of before and after World War II. In 1947 Maxim started building its classic custom cab configuration with vertical grille lines, a theme carried into the 1960s.

It also began production of its own line of all-steel aerial ladders, with Maxim eventually becoming the aerial supplier to Mack Fire Apparatus, Ward LaFrance and even Crown Fire Apparatus in California.

The company was founded by Carleton W. Maxim before World War I and was the major supplier of apparatus in New England along with American LaFrance, Seagrave and Mack up through WWII. Carleton’s son, Ernest Maxim, took over running the company in 1935, but 21 years later, in 1956, he sold the company to Seagrave of Columbus, Ohio.

For the next 20 years, Seagrave pretty much let Maxim run independently, even after FWD Corporation bought the Ohio company and moved production to Clintonville, Wis. In 1975 Seagrave sold Maxim to an investment group that also owned Ward LaFrance and they moved pumper production to Elmira Heights, N.Y., building only aerial ladder trucks in Middleboro, according to apparatus historian Walt McCall.

That’s when the ability to drive a couple of hours to see your new fire truck under construction disappeared and long-time New England chiefs began looking elsewhere for their pumpers.

The company was sold three more times before it finally collapsed in 1989 after just about 75 years in the fire apparatus business. While most of its sales were in New England, Maxim did sell apparatus as far west as California and Washington state. Walt McCall says that at one time there were more than 80 Maxim pumpers and aerials sold in Indiana by Midwest Fire & Safety of Indianapolis.

The 1947 through 1960 Maxims are considered collectors’ items these days and many fully restored examples are seen in parades and at musters.

Pierce Shuffle

Wilson Jones has been appointed executive vice president of Oshkosh Corporation and president of the company’s Fire and Emergency group, which includes Pierce Fire Apparatus and Medtec Ambulances, as of Oct. 1.

At the same time, Tom Fenner was moved up to executive vice president of Global Manufacturing Services for Oshkosh with responsibilities to adjust production levels across several business segments to meet current market conditions.

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