By Andrew Lingel
You may be familiar with the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) from the FAMA Forum technical articles published each month in Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment. This article is not intended to be a technical article because today’s circumstances are different for everyone. As I sit not in my office chair but instead on my porch with the new reality of working from home, I would like to share with the first responder community how FAMA and its member companies have responded to ensure you continue to have access to new fire apparatus as well as the service and maintenance that your community depends on.
The Early Stages
During the early stages of the COVID-19, most were unaware of the impact it would have. Initially, FAMA member companies begin practicing social distancing polices, limiting nonessential travel, sending sales, customer service, marketing, and engineering resources to work from home. During this time, I’ve witnessed many examples of sharing best practices among organizations. To protect their employees, many organizations began tracking the spread of outbreaks by county to determine the risk factor their populations may be facing in order to be prepared to institute any additional guidelines. Many manufacturers began limiting visitors at their facilities and are now conducting virtual truck inspections to mitigate exposure to both first responders and their staffs.
I have also witnessed very generous behavior from our member companies. There are many stories of companies donating to first responders and medical staff any extra PPE they had, including N95 masks. Some companies offered items at reduced cost or even at cost to help communities facing this challenge.
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Shelter at Home
As the spread of the Corona virus increased, many states began to issue shelter at home orders and restricted business operations. Many FAMA members were concerned they would not be allowed to continue to manufacture the emergency vehicles and related goods the fire service counts on.
As a trade association, FAMA relied on its Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC) for their help in ensuring fire apparatus manufacturers and components be included as essential businesses. On March 19, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)drafted the “Memorandum of Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure works During the COVID-19 Response.”This memo defined which businesses should be deemed critical and should be exempt from any stay-at-home orders.
FAMA businesses met the following criteria:
CRITICAL MANUFACTURING: Workers necessary for the manufacturing of materials and products needed for medical supply chains, transportation, energy, communications, food and agriculture, chemical manufacturing, nuclear facilities, the operation of dams, water and wastewater treatment, emergency services, and the defense industrial base.”
However, members of the GAC inquired for further clarification of the intent of the language from DHS. This resulted in a revision with a clearer definition of Critical Businesses for LAW ENFORCEMENT, PUBLIC SAFETY, AND OTHER FIRST RESPONDERS,stating,“Workers supporting the manufacturing of safety equipment and uniforms for law enforcement, public safety personnel, and first responders.” This language ensured the critical infrastructure, service, and distribution channels of first responder goods could remain open and operational.
For our Canadian apparatus manufacturers and component suppliers, the mission has been a bit trickier as no guidelines have been established. Through the work of the Canadian GAC and the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs a letter was crafted to the Solicitor General stating “… need to ensure those organizations and companies who provide important equipment and services to our fire departments are allowed to remain open so they can continue to support our emergency service efforts.” This letter along with templates for letters to employees and suppliers were provided to FAMA members to assist with their communications and outline the critical nature of our work.
As the fight continues against COVID-19 it is hard to predict the future, just like I am sure no one was predicting two months ago this would be where we are today. I am not a pandemic expert, so I will not forecast what the next four weeks of COVID-19 will bring. The same goes for predicting the next four weeks of apparatus manufacturing, another impossible task. When looking at the thousands of parts that make up an emergency vehicle and the number of suppliers involved, you can easily determine there’s a high possibility for delivery disruptions. What I do know right now is FAMA member companies are committed to doing our part to remain open and manufacturing the emergency vehicles you and your communities depend on.
ANDREW LINGEL is the president of United Plastic Fabricating and the 2020 FAMA board president.