Adams, Apparatus, Cantankerous Wisdom, Features

Cantankerous Wisdom: Kaza, Menke, and Who Is Sam?

By Bill Adams

Raisin Squads are found in almost every fire department however they are predominantly in the volunteer sector. Career entities really don’t have the time or inclination to listen to white hairs’ stories of riding the rear step and lying to each other. Outside of a few in local dealerships, there aren’t too many raisins in the apparatus industry. The industry is so competitive, you’ve got to be on top of your game to innovate, adapt, promote, and survive. Manufacturers who live in the past will find themselves joining the ranks of those no longer in business.


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Some dealers can act like raisins and be successful in business. When necessary, they will “relate” to the past when dealing with “seasoned” purchasers. They must be taking some sort of medication to enable them to switch back and forth from tomorrow to yesterday. I take medication for aches and pains and so I can wake up in the morning.

I was confronted by Andy Kaza, a fire truck dealer who commented I’m too steeped in the past and should embrace the future. Talk about a slap in face. Forty years ago, we sold trucks for the same manufacturer. He said two-stage pumps, pull-up boots, tin helmets, standard transmissions, relief valves and open cabs are either illegal or soon will be outdated. He’s still selling fire trucks, so I call him a semi-raisin…not really ripe enough to pick but ripe enough to pick ON. It is legal for old people to tease each other.

Regardless, he mentioned he’s going to be delivering a new rig with Sam. I asked who the hell is Sam and why are you delivering him with the rig. My hearing aid batteries were fresh, and I knew I heard him correctly. Come to find out, he wasn’t talking about a person called Sam. He said SAM is a new replacement for engine governors (aka pressure governors). It’s one of them newfangled electronic computer-controlled touch screen pump panels. We bickered back and forth about the value and stupidity of a pump operator having a knee leaning against a supply line, eyes glued to the gauges, continuously adjusting valve controllers and ears attuned to the motor’s rpm.

I looked it up online: “SAM is an integrated total water control system that manages your truck’s pump, tank, intake,s and discharges. The SAM system replaces your pressure governor and takes care of opening and closing valves based on operator settings. Instead of a complex fire truck pump panel, you can have all your pump controls in a 10-inch touch screen display.” It sounds interesting. I told Kaza after he delivers the new sled, I would objectively evaluate and report on it.

Ken Menke III, the founder and owner of PowerArc is one of my go-to people when I have questions about warning lights. He tolerates my bantering about the value of slow-flashing large-sized warning lights, my fetish for beacon rays, and jabbering about the “good old days.” He clued me in to his collection of historical videos of fire departments in action. There are a total of 100 short clips covering the early 1900s through 1970s with some color footage starting in the 1920s. Funding for the short clips was provide by PowerArc; they are free and online at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCogru0h-omdCA5kimhXu_wA/videos.

Ken said, “The footage comes from the historical archives of the Menke family. The archive was created to preserve and share the visual history of the fire service before it was lost.” I believe there is more benefit than just preserving the past. History is a study of previous events. Understanding what occurred in the past, may help us prepare for the future. Better tactics, better strategies, better equipment?

Ken Menke Sr. started in fire service in 1960 and founded Code 3 in 1974 (sold it in 1986). Ken III, started in the fire service in the late 1970s and founded PowerArc in 1992. An interesting tidbit is the Menkes bought the name and remains of Ahrens-Fox in the late 1980s from the last Chief Engineer of Ahrens-Fox and in 2016 they sold it to HME.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.