The National Fire Protection Association’s new requirement for chevron striping has spawned a lucrative, specialized market – applying stripes to the uneven diamond tread plate found on the rear of so many fire apparatus.
While the NFPA requirement in the 1901 apparatus standard applies only to new apparatus contracted after Jan. 1 of this year, many fire departments are retrofitting existing apparatus with chevron striping because it is recognized as an effective safety measure, particularly for apparatus deployed on highways.
Two companies have emerged to meet the demand for striping on protective tread plate – SCENEdots and DiamonDiamonds – and their owners say orders for their products have been overwhelming.
“Compared to 2007, when we started selling SCENEdots, our sales have gone up 400 percent,” said Dennis Moore, the company’s owner. “It is such a big market, and the answer for it was very simple. That’s what we get at the shows – ‘It’s such a simple idea, how come nobody came up with it before.'”
He sells sheets of reflective circular dots made from a material developed by 3M. The dots are applied individually between the raised portions of tread plate. The product was introduced at the 2007 Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis.
“The patterns to make perfect chevron striping and letters and numbers are built right into the tread plate,” Moore said. “You can never go wrong. With one dot at a time, you can create most anything you want without any measuring, cutting or using a straightedge.”
He said he didn’t anticipate the product would take off so fast or that he would have so much trouble with “people stealing the idea.”
Moore’s lawyer, Michael Antoline, said he has sent a number of cease and desist letters to discourage would-be competitors who developed versions of SCENEdots after seeing the original. The letters were effective, he said, except in one case – Jay Feinberg, the owner of DiamonDiamonds who also owns a custom graphics company called FirehouseDecals.
Intrigued By Concept
Feinberg said he was intrigued by Moore’s concept when he saw it at the 2007 FDIC trade show and suggested that the two of them join forces. Because Moore did not give him any encouragement that they could work together, Feinberg said he developed his own product.
He said he heard some people grumble about SCENEdots because every dot had to be individually placed. “So I thought of a strip to set a bunch of them at one time,” he said. “It would be a significantly better product.”
He said he had worked in his graphics business with people at Reflexite, a manufacturer of reflective products, who were aware of SCENEdots and were considering developing a competing product. Feinberg said he partnered with the company to develop strips of dots and became the exclusive distributor of the product, initially called Diamondots.
A New Shape
He had started taking orders when one of his friends, a firefighter who worked in graphics, suggested he use squares with the corners cut off rather than circles. The new shape, called DiamonDiamonds, made its debut at the Fire-Rescue International trade show in Denver last August.
“It looked better and gave more coverage. It looked like it belonged as opposed to an afterthought,” Feinberg said. “We came up with a price, we came up with a technology and we’re selling zillions of them.”
Asked for a more precise estimate of sales, he declined to be specific, saying only, “We’ve sold a lot.”
Feinberg said he has a lot of money invested in legal fees due to Dennis Moore’s demand that he stop selling his product, claiming it is an infringement on a patent application filed by SCENEdots.
Antoline, Moore’s lawyer, said he and his client have been considering strategies for a lawsuit against Feinberg.
“We’re persuaded that there has been an infringement,” Antoline said. “We have a competitive marketplace, but if you see a product that you think is marketable, you don’t automatically have a right to produce a similar product and place it on the market. You’ve got to consider the intellectual property rights of the people who were first there.”
Regardless of what happens on the legal front, both Feinberg and Moore expect to exhibit their products at FDIC next month in Indianapolis, and by all indications they will have a lot of traffic at their booths.
Chevron striping is a practice that began in Europe where it is said to have significantly reduced the number of accidents involving parked fire and emergency apparatus being hit by other vehicles.
Even before the NFPA 1901 committee began considering chevron striping as a requirement for the revised standard that took effect Jan. 1, fire departments in the U.S. were specifying it for their new apparatus and some were retrofitting existing apparatus.
Moore was a volunteer firefighter for 25 years and has 17 years in the fire equipment sales and service business through another company he owns. “I saw trucks delivered with the chevron striping on the back and was a huge advocate of it,” he said. “I was thinking, what do you do with a 10-year-old truck? And that’s what developed the SCENEdots.”
Then, he said, came the announcement in 2008 of the new 2009 NFPA striping requirements that “just literally has been the driver of the sales of our product.”
The NFPA stamp of approval for reflective striping is contained in Section 15.9.3 of the 2009 edition of NFPA 1901. The part that provided the impetus for SCENEdots is Section 126.96.36.199, which says: “At least 50 percent of the rear-facing vertical surfaces, visible from the rear of the apparatus, excluding any pump panel areas not covered by a door, shall be equipped with retroreflective striping in a chevron pattern sloping downward and away from the centerline of the vehicle at an angle of 45 degrees.”
Comments in Internet forums show widespread acceptance of chevron striping by American firefighters and recognition of its effectiveness in preventing accidents.
Feinberg said he is getting a lot of referral business, where one department orders DiamonDiamonds and neighboring departments follow with more orders after seeing the result. In other cases, he said, chiefs order enough product for one truck and then decide to do several more.
He said he has also received orders to stripe tread plate on the inside doors of ambulances.
In most cases DiamonDiamonds are installed by the fire departments that buy them. Some departments, he said, also use local sign shops that have done their graphics before.
Both Feinberg and Moore estimate 90 percent of their business is for retrofits of existing apparatus and 10 percent for new apparatus.
Feinberg would like to increase the number of new apparatus. “We’re on a campaign to dispel the rumor that you can’t have diamond plate on the back any more,” he said.
“My product was never intended for new apparatus,” said Moore. “It was intended to be an aftermarket product for existing apparatus. Something we weren’t expecting was customers who put it in their specs for new apparatus, tread plate on the back with SCENEdots.”