By Bill Adkins
Today we’re going to talk about the age-old debate of which manufacturer is better than the rest. With so many manufacturers out there, how do we choose which one to go with? Most of us have grown up rooting for a certain vehicle manufacturer, and that pride carries over to the fire and EMS world.
One thing I guarantee is that every manufacturer is ready and willing to tell you why they are the best. But are they really the best?
When getting quotes for a fire apparatus it is not uncommon for quotes, for the same type of fire equipment, to have a difference of price in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars. One must look at the fine print. What type of engine and pump do they have? Different manufacturers have higher standards for their base models.
For example, Manufacturer A comes standard with a Cummins L9 with 400 horsepower and Manufacturer B comes standard with a Cummins X12 with 500 horsepower. Manufacturer A has a Waterous pump and Manufacturer B a Hale pump. Each of those minor details can account for tens of thousands of dollars. You and your department should discuss what is best for your needs.
In almost all cases, Manufacturer A will still sell the same standards as Manufacturer B; as you can imagine, the price will increase as you go. Once you have the standards equal, then look at the price difference. Most likely those prices are now comparable.
The next thing you want to look at is what accessories the manufacturer offers. What meets your department’s needs? If you live in a desert environment, then the type of air conditioning is important; the same for heat if you live in northern areas.
Compartment space is also important when looking at different manufacturers. This is, what I believe to be, the biggest factor in choosing what manufacturer to go with. I’m sure most manufacturers can accommodate you, however, the engineering of compartments that are not the norm for certain manufacturers can become expensive quickly.
The biggest complaint I usually hear is the down time when an apparatus needs repairs.One question you should be asking when deciding what manufacturer to go with is how they will meet your maintenance demands.
Let’s face it, no matter what manufacturer you decide to go with, you will have maintenance issues. Where is the closest repair shop for that company? Whether big or small sometimes the apparatus may need to go back to the manufacturer for repairs. Can they get your apparatus back to you in a timely manner?
As stated earlier, most manufacturers will spec your apparatus with whatever drivetrain and pump you desire. The question is not whether you are getting a quality machine. You can get the best drivetrain and the best pump money can buy, you are still going to have minor or major maintenance problems at some point.
We need to be reassured that when those problems arise, we will be confident that the manufacturer we went with will stand by their word and repair those issues and in a timely manner.
Building A Relationship With Your Builder
Something I feel is important when deciding on a builder for your apparatus is to have a trustworthy relationship with the manufacturer. When someone asks me if I like a certain apparatus manufacturer I in return will ask specifics about the apparatus along with how well their department works with that particular manufacturer. If you call upon the company, are they quick to respond or do you need to contact them repeatedly?
I want to share a true story with you. An example of what I’m talking about when it comes to a good working relationship with your builder:
At FDIC International 2021, I was walking around with some friends, looking at all the apparatus. I found myself at a booth where my department had purchased from in the past. Mind you the last apparatus I had a hand in building was in 2018. From a distance I hear a voice from behind me. The voice was calling me by name and trying to get my attention. It was not a salesman, but one of the owners of the manufacturer. I was not wearing a department shirt; he recognized me from a few years ago. He remembered my first name and asked about my marriage. That impressed me, and I will remember that when we decide to spec out another apparatus in the future.
I have multiple names, phone numbers, and emails from that same manufacturer, and I am confident when calling them or sending them a message I will get a quick response. I can assure you that most manufacturers are like this, as long as you build that relationship. If not, then I would recommend trying someone else.
In conclusion, I must state the process of building a new apparatus will take time on both sides to get everything right. You should not demand the manufacturer drop everything when you call upon them; however, this goes for the builder as well. Within a few days you should get a response.
With all of this in mind, in my opinion, I don’t think it matters what manufacturer you decide to go with as long as your department puts in the work to spec out the proper piece of equipment. There is a great reward when you finally build an apparatus that works for your department’s needs.
I wish you the best of luck with your next build.