By Bill Adams
Commentators, observers, and pundits expressing opinions in trade journals and their websites are seldom if ever held accountable for their views and evaluations—although occasionally a reader will object, challenge, or comment via a “Letter to the Editor.” Any statement reflecting derogatorily upon a person or entity should be challenged. Having forums to bloviate does not give commentators blanket immunity from oversight.
A statement recently made caught my attention as “apparently” disparaging some manufacturers of apparatus bodies. It read: “Plastic composites are the most corrosion-resistant of the four materials for constructing pumper bodies, but they are the most difficult to repair in case of damage.” Disclaimer: I do not own stock in a “poly” body company; I have never sold nor bought one, and I have no experience repairing them.
Composite or Plastic?
In my opinion, a composite body is one made from fiberglass, whether it be molded, layered, or any combination thereof. Non-metallic bodies are manufactured of a polypropylene material, often called a copolymer polypropylene, a thermoplastic and sometimes derogatorily referred to as plastic. For the sake of simplicity and to avoid infringing on trademarked products, this narration refers to bodies manufactured by the following companies as “poly” bodies.
The three major domestic builders of poly bodies are United Plastic Fabricating, Inc. (UPF); APR Plastic Fabricating, Inc. (APR); and PolyBilt, a corporation equally owned by ProPoly of America, Inc. and W.S. Darley & Company, Inc. Each can elaborate on its own trademarked bodies, poly materials, and methods of construction. I believe the aforementioned statement inferring poly bodies are difficult to repair was either disingenuous or based upon misinformation. I asked the three “poly” bodies companies to respond to it.
Andrew Lingel, UPF President: “UPF has a dedicated Field Service Department to address warranty issues that can also assist customers with non-warranty repairs, which seldom occurs. They are fully capable of resolving most problems in the field. If necessary, we would send fabricators out of our factory to enable a fire department to get its apparatus back in service.
“Manufacturers of most fire apparatus are apprehensive about sending one of their bodies to a local shop for repairs. Not only do they want to ensure the work meets their level of quality, they are equally concerned with ‘Why did this happen?’ in the event of a warranty issue.
“By nature of poly’s composition and the various methods of construction used by the manufacturer, it may be more likely a welded seam let go rather than damage done to the poly surface itself. Similar to “metal apparatus bodies” that can be repaired on a local basis, poly bodies are capable of being repaired by qualified plastic fab shops. UPF can assist in facilitating local repairs. Almost all manufacturers, regardless of the type of body material used, would require returning a truck back to their factory in the event of major structural crash damage.”
Chad Falls, Director of Sales, APR: “I do not agree with the statement that our bodies made from a copolymer polypropylene are more difficult to repair if damaged. Our units are tough. It requires an incredibly forceful impact to significantly damage one of them. Our bodies are much stronger and have far greater impact resistance when compared to steel or aluminum. For example, one of our bodies was t-boned at 40 mph, and, subsequently, the only necessary repairs were replacing the roll-up door and providing some touch-up paint. If that had been a steel or aluminum body, it would have cost thousands to cut the old body away and weld in new pieces.
“Expert plastic welders are everywhere now. If an impact were great enough to damage our body and it needed repairing 10 years ago, getting a technician on site might have taken a little longer and would have been a little more expensive. Today, there are well-trained and certified plastic welding techs everywhere. In addition, we are constantly training and certifying new people all over the country. This means that most repairs can be made at local facilities. Plausibly, plastic repair service is generally available within 24 hours in nearly every state.
“I believe it is less expensive to own a body by APR. It will never corrode, and it will outlast the chassis. When all factors and variables are equal, the damages done by an external force on it would be insignificant compared to steel or aluminum.”
ProPoly builds the bodies that PolyBilt sells. Tim Dean is the President of ProPoly and the CEO of PolyBilt: “Minor repairs can be done in the fire station with simple hand tools without environmental concerns. The beauty of thermoplastic fabrication is that it only requires clean, filtered shop air for laying a quality weld. There are no adhesives or other chemicals as might be involved in other alternative material applications such as fiberglass. The product is fabricated using very environmentally friendly processes.
“Poly material retains the energy from a crash to the point of contact, so it doesn’t distribute the energy and twist and contort the body. You do not have to remove the body and place it on a straightener. The material is highly impact-resistant and retains the energy from an impact at the source of the energy and does not distribute it. So damage, if any, is localized. You can literally take a jigsaw and cut out the damaged part, and then weld in with virgin material the repair and then blend it, and it would be difficult to see the repair.
“Welding is done by hot filtered air through a nozzle tip and the rod and parent material are bonded through heat, pressure, and time. This weldment is a bond similar in principle to a metal-welded joint. You also use common carpentry skills to aid in the fabrication process such as drills, saws, chisels, etc. The material does not contain burrs and sharp edges, so there is less chance to cut and injure the worker. Once you render the repair, the affected area can be blended with a propane torch and other tools. It’s hard to tell where the damage occurred. It is easy to clean up the welding process, making it difficult to determine where the damage occurred. The material has a very high-impact strength. It’s difficult to damage it in the first place.
“We will dispatch technicians from our plants from time to time to help customers with any in-the-field issues—small or less than small! So, we always work with our customers to find the best solution for repairs. Our welders are certified and master-certified welders. We want to make sure that someone local who is planning on repairing one of our products has the requisite skill to avoid making a problem worse. We try to be good stewards to the fire service. That is one reason we have been in business for 30 years.”
The headline read “Fire Hose Launches & Kills Motorcyclist at Philadelphia House Fire.” Who knew a fire hose was a weapon similar to a trebuchet—a medieval catapult designed to hurl heavy rocks to knock down castle walls. Should fire hose be registered as a lethal weapon? Can the firefighters who positioned the hose be held liable? What a bunch of steer feces. Somebody loses control of their motorcycle and goes airborne after driving over a (charged) fire hose and kills himself—and the headline makes it sound like it’s the hose’s fault. Responsible journalism or sensationalism?
It was Sergeant Joe Friday (Jack Webb) on the old television program “Dragnet” who was credited with saying something akin to “Just give us the facts ma’am, just the facts.” That should be applicable to headlines and us commentators.