Chassis Components, Fire Department, People

Fire Industry Outlook for 2012: Optimistic?

Issue 12 and Volume 16.

Mark Mordecai
Despite the challenges, there isn’t any other place we would rather be.
Mark Mordecai, director of business development, Globe Manufacturing Company
Chad Newsome
We have always tended to focus on innovations that have definable and impactful purpose. 2012 will be a continuation of that long-practiced tradition.
Chad Newsome, national sales manager, PL Custom Emergency Vehicles
Paul Darley
Look for continued innovations in electronics, CAFS and UHP, and firefighter locator equipment.
Paul Darley, president and CEO, W.S. Darley & Co.
Steve Toren
The current state of the economy appears to be improving slightly. If it continues, we will see a slight rebound in our industry.
Steve Toren, director, North American sales and marketing, Waterous Co.
Rod Carringer
While many departments are making do, eventually, apparatus must be replaced, old stations updated, and pensions paid.
Rod Carringer, vice president, sales and marketing, Task Force Tips

It’s never easy to predict the future, but as far as the United States economy—and the world economy, for that matter—goes, most people are fairly certain that things have not improved drastically, and not many expect dramatic improvement in 2012. It would be easy to be doomsayers, but although many municipalities lag behind general consumers as far as when the budget crunch hits, there are reasons to be optimistic for 2012. In addition, don’t expect to see any shortage of innovation from fire industry suppliers.

These suppliers feel the pinch as much as anyone as they work to be leaner and more efficient in operations, but they will continue to churn out new products to help firefighters work more efficiently as well.

Various Market Outlooks

In general, 2012 is not expected to be much different from 2011 in terms growth in the fire industry. “For 2012, the United States domestic municipal market looks to be flat at best,” says Paul Darley, president and CEO of W.S. Darley & Co. “With the weak dollar, export sales should continue to increase.” However, he adds, there’s reason to be optimistic. “Despite widespread military cuts, firefighting and rescue equipment opportunities will continue to offer some good promise,” he says.

Rod Carringer, vice president, sales and marketing, Task Force Tips (TFT), echoes Darley, particularly about exports. “Domestically, we anticipate activity to look very much like 2011, with a patchwork of departments that are struggling with continued budget constraints, others who have spent conservatively for years, and others that have saved extensively for planned purchases,” he says. “Internationally, we continue to be enthusiastic about our continued growth in the Indian, Brazilian, and Chinese markets. Although we do not see resurgence in domestic fire market spending in the short term, we believe the prospects for continued growth in our global markets remain very high.”

Unfortunately, many municipalities will continue to struggle during 2012. Although widespread purchasing from these towns isn’t expected to change during 2012, some municipalities have delayed purchasing to the point that they won’t have any choice but to place orders.

“The fire service market in the United States is being negatively impacted by the economic downturn,” says Mark Mordecai, director of business development, Globe Manufacturing Company. “Cities and towns are struggling to fund necessary services including the fire service. We do not expect to see this dynamic change in 2012.”

At P.L. Custom Body and Equipment Co., Inc. (PLCB), Chad Newsome, national sales manager for PL Custom Emergency Vehicles, says PLCB is looking toward 2012 optimistically.

For PLCB’s PL Custom Emergency Vehicles division, 2012 is expected to see an increase in sales activity because of a slowly rebounding economy and the impact of delayed purchasing practices. “The changing landscape of our industry, brought about through bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions, and other fiscal hardships, coupled with the impending arrival of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1917, Standard for Automotive Ambulances, is one that will bring about opportunities for a privately held, family company like PLCB,” says Newsome.

He says PLCB’s Rescue 1 division is seeing interest in purpose-built products. “Many departments, given the fiscal restraints of recent history, have come to us after trying the multitasking apparatus approach,” says Newsome. “They tell us that this decision, while initially filled with optimism, led to realities of a unit that falls short on multiple fronts.” He asserts that the ever-increasing operational roles departments play today cannot always be met by one-size-fits-all apparatus. “Specialized rescue services are unique unto themselves, and many of these customers are realizing the pitfalls associated with the generalist approach,” he states.

Finally, PLCB’s NJEV division sees 2012 as a continuation of expanded service work, including refurbishments or remounts as cost-effective alternatives to new purchases. “As budgetary dollars are stretched even further, we expect that more apparatus purchases will be reactionary in nature as opposed to the traditional purchases dictated by planned replacement schedules.”

Steve Toren, director, North American sales and marketing, Waterous Company, adds that although the economy did not cooperate as he had hoped for 2011, “I do feel that we will start to see the industry rebound for 2012. The current state of the economy appears to be improving slightly. If it continues, we will see a slight rebound in our industry.”

Keep an Eye Out

The good news for the fire service is that although predictions for 2012 aren’t overly optimistic, they aren’t overly pessimistic either. This means suppliers are continuing to invest time and money in building products for firefighters to do their jobs more safely and efficiently.

“I would hope there would be exciting innovations available to positively impact providers of emergency services,” says Newsome. “For our PL Custom Emergency Vehicles and Rescue 1 divisions, we have always tended to focus on innovations that have definable and impactful purpose. 2012 will be a continuation of that long-practiced tradition.”

Darley says look for products that address the true needs of the United States fire service. “For fire apparatus, PTO-driven pumps on short-wheelbase multipurpose vehicles that address the true needs of the United States fire service will continue to evolve,” he says. “Look for continued innovations in electronics, CAFS and ultra high-pressure (UHP), and firefighter locator equipment.”

Toren cites “smart” pump controls as products to watch for. “As the electronic technologies currently used in the auto industry migrate to the fire industry, you will see what could be referred to as ‘smart’ pump controls,” he says. “The available electronic technologies are extremely reliable and durable. They can reduce cost, weight, and service downtime.” Implementing these technologies in a pump module, he adds, “can potentially reduce the size of the pump module, leaving more room for compartment space, a valuable commodity to fire departments.”

TFT, according to Carringer, has taken an active research and development position with eight to 10 new or reinnovated products introduced each year. “While our core business is agent delivery, there remain many legacy products in the marketplace that can be redesigned, improved, and produced to be lighter, smaller, and more efficient,” he says, adding that TFT will be bringing a new series of globally designed nozzles to market during 2012.

Globe is commercializing its Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform (WASP) that it expects to introduce in 2012. “WASP incorporates physiological sensors in a base layer fire-resistant shirt and a turnout pants-mounted location/tracking unit that operates in GPS-denied environments while transmitting both sets of data to an external base station for enhanced situational awareness in an integrated system,” says Moredecai.

Economy-Driven Change

Darley cites the League of Cities 2011 report, titled “City Fiscal Conditions,” as showing that there is no relief in sight for most municipalities. “Some predict that the market won’t begin to grow until 2017,” he says. “There will be some large-scale purchases as departments continue to put off capital expenditures much longer.” He adds that volunteer departments seem to be in better shape as their revenue stream, in many cases, has not been as reliant on tax revenue.

Carringer recalls that at the recent FAMA/FEMSA meeting in Washington, D.C., the fire chief’s panel communicated clearly what he thinks the fire service can expect during these challenging economic and political times. “Instead of just doing more with less, we move closer each day to doing less with less,” he observes. “This was their message: that volunteer or career, at the state, county, and local levels, today is the new norm. Operational budget constraints, personnel costs for some, and rising capital improvement needs of our aging emergency service infrastructure are all continuing to place huge burdens on our responders. While many departments are making do, eventually, apparatus must be replaced, old stations updated, and pensions paid. All of this will place pressure on our industry.”

The challenge is clear. “The economy is creating the need to think differently about apparatus design, a shift in paradigm,” claims Toren.

Although Newsome agrees that 2012 will remain a challenge for the entire fire industry regardless of the role one plays in it as a whole, “we feel that our consistent and personal approach to meeting our customers’ complex operational needs will help us not just weather the current financial challenges but continue to build on our legacy of excellence.”

But, like almost everyone involved in the fire service, Mordecai has this to say about 2012: “Despite the challenges, there isn’t any other place we would rather be.”

CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.

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