BY ED BALLAM
It has been said fire apparatus are big toolboxes on wheels. Keeping all those tools organized, secured, and readily available is critical to firefighters’ completing their missions to save lives and protect property. Since 1992, Performance Advantage Company (PAC) has been making tool mounting systems and appliances to help first responders keep their equipment together.
Based in Lancaster, New York, PAC is a family-based, privately-owned business providing specialty tool mounting solutions primarily for the fire service. More recently, the company has diversified, providing products to law enforcement agencies, landscaping professionals, utility companies, the towing industry, as well as all branches of the military.
“A lot of bad things can happen when tools aren’t secured,” says Greg Young, PAC vice president. “Unsecured tools can jam compartment doors. Heavy tools can roll out and hit your first responder, and now he needs help because his leg was shattered by a rescue tool.”
1 Performance Advantage Company has three generations of Youngs working for the business. From left to right are Greg Young, vice president and grandson of the founder Dick Young, who is center. Kris Young, the founder’s son, right, joined the company in 2019 as a quality assurance manager. (Photos courtesy of Performance Advantage Company.)
Greg Young, who is the grandson of PAC founder Dick Young, says tools can become damaged as well if they’re not stored properly, and they can be easily misplaced. “You’re wasting time when you’re rooting around in a compartment looking for a tool that isn’t where it is supposed to be or in a different truck,” Young says. “We believe in having tools mounted properly and when they are properly mounted, you know where they are and they’re not being damaged.”
That’s a philosophy the company has held since the day PAC was conceived. The company has a heritage rooted in the fire service. PAC founder Dick Young was the owner and operator of Young Fire Equipment, a fire apparatus manufacturing firm with origins going back to 1932, with his father being partner in a group building fire trucks in Buffalo, New York. Dick Young operated the family fire truck business until it closed in 1991, paving the way for him to focus his attention on another business opportunity.
In an interview with Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment in April 2006, Dick Young, who will be 90 in June, says PAC started from his experience with building fire apparatus. “It was apparent to me that there was a huge need for a way to mount tools,” Young says in the 2006 interview. “When we were building apparatus, we could have a truck in final assembly that looked like it was in a jewel case and then in would come in a chief or an assistant chief with a pickup truck full of stuff and say, ‘Mount this for us.’ You never knew what it was going to take to do that.”
After running PAC for about 20 years, Dick Young is still active in the business while pursuing his other interests. “Grampa was a visionary,” Greg Young says. “He came up with all the designs and innovations and built up the business. He built a team with energy and experience to continue his vision.” He adds the family business was calling him back and it was time for him to make a move. “Fire trucks have always been part of my family life,” he says.
2 Lancaster, New York, is the home of Performance Advantage Company’s 26,000-square-foot headquarters.
3 Performance Advantage Company makes a wide array of tool mounting fixtures to hold just about any piece of firefighting equipment and appliance in apparatus. The fixtures are bolted to proprietary extruded aluminum mounting panels. The company exhibits its products in a showroom at its headquarters.
TAKING NEXT STEPS
Greg Young says he brought a “new way of thinking” to enhance the growth and success of the PAC team. “PAC was ready to take the next step in their processes,” he says, introducing new technologies to the company such as video conferencing and other advanced business systems. The company has also recently made significant investments in 3D printing machines, making it possible to do in-house prototypes. It also has a large in-house printer for the company to print its own catalogs, flyers, and promotional literature, allowing PAC to keep its promotional material fresh and current. The printer and a new in-house graphic designer permit the company to be nimble with new products and promoting them, according to Greg Young.
Last year, Greg Young’s uncle, Kris Young, joined the business as a quality assurance manager, adding another generation to the family business. And, PAC has also added a warranty team to fine tune the few claims the company experiences and added a purchasing team to help keep raw materials and supplies in house and ready when needed. “We don’t want to be the ones holding up the final production of a fire truck,” Greg Young says.
The company currently employs about 20 people in a 26,000-square-foot facility, handling everything from research and development to product development and light manufacturing as well as sales and service. Greg Young says PAC tools has contracted with an organization called Suburban Adult Services, Inc. (SASI) in Elma, New York, which provides jobs for disabled adults. SASI employees screw together products, pack instruction sheets in shipping bags, and do final packing for several PAC products. “They do a fantastic job,” Greg Young says, noting that it has allowed PAC to focus on other aspects of the business while product demand and volume increase. SASI is packing about 10,000 items a month, he adds. “I feel really good about it. They came to us, and it’s worked out very well.”
As a family business, Greg Young says his grandfather has always desired to provide employment to the Lancaster region and to keep it a locally owned and operated business. He adds that one day, he may transition to being the president of the company, continuing the PAC tradition and heritage.
Currently, the position of president is a role filled by Jim Everett, who has been with PAC for nearly 20 years. He’s proud of the growth the business has experienced in his tenure and excited about the prospects for the future. “Back in the day, we were probably 80 to 90 percent in the fire service,” he says, noting that the fire industry is still PAC’s primary focus. “But, now, we’ve gotten our face out there with the law enforcement community, particularly with SWAT teams. We’ve also started going after the towing market, outfitting wreckers. We’re also in with landscaping industry and utilities. We’ve even done a few specialty vehicles, like news vans for broadcasts.”
The exponential growth has not been attributed just to diversification. Everett says expansions in the fire market have been steady too with several of the biggest apparatus builders in the nation increasing orders. “We’re doing more and more every year,” Everett says, noting that pallets of the company’s extruded aluminum tool board are shipped daily to truck builders nationwide.
QUALITY, ADAPTABILITY, EDUCATION, SERVICE
Other factors contributing to the company’s growth are the quality of the products and the dedication to customer service, says Mike McGuire, senior member of sales and technical support for the fire, military, and law enforcement division of PAC. “We’re known for using quality materials and quality designs,” he says. “That’s kind of where we are. We’re fortunate that the need for better tool mounting solutions doesn’t go away.”
4 Three-dimensional printers at Performance Advantage Company give the business the ability to quickly develop new product prototypes. They represent a significant investment in technology and the company’s future.
Greg Young says PAC is known for having “bulletproof” products that carry a lifetime warranty, whether it is the proprietary extruded aluminum mounting board or the flexible mounting straps—it’s all covered. “Quality is where we want to be,” he says. “Being known for our fit and finish is where we want to be. We haven’t changed on that, ever. Our products are robust and very versatile.”
Greg Young says the mounting boards most often stay with an apparatus throughout its life, whether it is retrofitted to serve another purpose or sold to another fire department. To meet that kind of demand, the tool mounting system has to be adaptable and flexible to meet the apparatus’s new mission, he says.
Often, customers have to be educated on what the PAC tool mounting system can do. That’s where Tom Trzepacz comes in. He’s in charge of technical support and training for several divisions of PAC, including the fire service. Trzepacz, who is also chief of the Bowmansville (NY) Volunteer Fire Association, says he speaks “the same language” as the customers in the fire service. He says he can aid customers with decisions and purchases over the telephone and through social media applications; video conferencing; or hands on in the PAC show room in the Lancaster headquarters, which he says is extensive, showcasing all the company’s product.
“I have worked with it and I know how to use it and I know how versatile it is,” Trzepacz says. Part of his job is to educate customers on how to measure compartments for the tool board and select the proper brackets and mounting hardware. “We’ve done a lot on our end to make complete, plug-and-play, tool mounting systems,” Trzepacz says.
While Trzepacz says his focus is on the fire market, which is by far the largest segment of PAC’s business, there are opportunities expanding in the towing, landscaping, and utilities markets. He attributed that to some crossover pollination with firefighters who have other vocations and side jobs. “There’s a lot of firefighters who own landscaping businesses or are snow plowing,” he says. “It’s the guys with the everyday jobs.” He adds that up to 75 percent of the other business and markets PAC is in are directly connected to crossover from the fire service. “They’re used to the products and they like them.”
5 Looking like a boat cleat, Performance Advantage Company’s mini hook is part of a new product lineup designed to hold smaller tools and equipment.
6 Greg Young, Performance Advantage Company’s vice president and grandson of founder Dick Young, exhibits an extruded aluminum panel that is the heart of the company’s apparatus tool mounting system.
7 Jim Everett, shown to the right of Dick and Greg Young, is the president of Performance Advantage Company. He has worked for the company for nearly 20 years.
The firefighters are also used to the customer service offered by PAC. “We have a very high level of recognition for being one of the best companies for customer service in the industry,” Everett says. “Whether it’s a warranty claim or customer questions and concerns, we address it immediately. We can never lose that focus of having good, solid products, followed up with great customer service. That’s what’s going to lead to continued growth here.”
Superior customer service is a hallmark of PAC, Greg Young says, noting that everything from a live person answering the phone to quick quotes and shipping is just a couple easy illustrations of the company’s commitment to putting customers first. “We’re happy with what we’re doing,” he says. The devil is in the details, and we know that. It’s not about making a buck. We want slow, steady growth.”
8 Tom Trzepacz is in charge of the technical support and training for several divisions of Performance Advantage Company, including the fire service. He is also chief of the Bowmansville (NY) Volunteer Fire Association.
9 Mike McGuire is a senior member of the sales and technical support team for the fire, military, and law enforcement division of Performance Advantage Company.
That continued growth won’t come just from resting on laurels; PAC continues product development and improvements. “We are always looking to update our products,” Trzepacz says. “A lot of tools have changed over the years. We try to keep our brackets as generic as possible to fit everything.”
Recently, PAC has been looking at the clean cab concept and the movement to get gear and equipment out of the cabs. PAC has been working on ways to store PPE gear and other equipment normally found in cabs in compartments. “I don’t see how all of the stuff is going to be in the compartments,” says Trzepacz. “We’re going to have to help store that stuff in compartments, but I am afraid they’ll be in a situation of trying to store 10 pounds of stuff in a five-pound package.”
Greg Young says PAC has recently added a unistrut mount to its offerings. He says it’s anodized and as strong as “a baseball bat” and finished off with a cap. “It’s the best unistrut you’ll find out there,” he says. “They’re a really nice addition to our catalog.”
McGuire says the company has also developed lines of mini hooks and mini locks for small tools, able to hold things down to 3⁄8 inch for things like flashlights and screwdrivers. He says there have always been friction locks in PAC’s lineup, but often they’re too large for smaller tools. “From the very origins of this company, new products and new ideas come from a need,” he says.
Everett says customers often tell PAC what they need, and the company will always research the feasibility of ideas to see if there’s a market. “Everything is a great idea until you start looking at how to design it and what it is going to cost,” Everett says. “We listen to them and research it to see how much of a real need there is and if we can, we’ll do it.”
The PAC team has developed a full line of mounting systems for the various tools and broad applications of the industries they serve. The team works together to continually find new applications to better serve their customers. Greg Young says, “We’re not done.”
As a relative newcomer to the fire service industry, Greg Young states he’s appreciated the warmth and acceptance of colleagues he’s been offered. “It’s been eye opening,” he comments. “Having face-to-face conversations with people in the business, I’ve found them to be very honest and hard working. Everyone has been very helpful. This is a very special industry to me, and people have treated me very well. It’s just been phenomenal.”
ED BALLAM is the assistant chief of the Haverhill Corner (NH) Fire Department and a National Registered EMT. He is also a deputy forest fire warden for the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands. He has been a journalist for more than 35 years, working for a variety of publications, including employment as managing editor of a national fire service trade journal for more than a decade.