2009 Is A Good Time To Buy Fire Apparatus

A few months ago we said not to worry about the economy and all the recession talk. When the time comes to wring your hands and really worry, we said we’d tell you.

Well, for one thing, we’ve postponed the recession for certain. And perhaps it has been cancelled altogether. We won’t know until early next year.

In any event, the time to worry is not coming; things are OK with the national economy despite the scare tactics introduced during a presidential election year by doomsayers of every stripe and political persuasion.

Anecdotal evidence can always be cited to support someone’s preconceived opinions or the agenda they believe will make themselves look good or advance their own political goals.

Relax. Things really are OK even though the stock markets are falling and turning bearish. That the capital markets are cyclical is nothing new.

Most people – fire chiefs, company presidents and magazine publishers included – know too little about macroeconomics. So here’s Introductory Course 101.

Just a handful of economic statistics tracked by government on a monthly or quarterly basis are all that’s necessary to understand the gobbledygook read by talking heads on the 24-7 cable or satellite TV news channels.

One is the current status of GDP, which stands for gross domestic product. That is the value of all goods and services produced in the country during a given period of time – in this case the previous three months. The question to be answered is whether or not GDP is going up or down or is it stagnant.

When GDP drops in two consecutive quarters (over six months) the nation is considered to be officially in a recession. Despite the dire predictions of politicos and the fact that GDP increased only 1.9 percent in the first quarter of 2008, in the second quarter ending June 30, GDP increased to a 3.3 percent growth rate.

Good. We can’t possibly have a government-certified recession until Feb. 1, 2009. And for that to happen GDP would have to fall for the final two quarters of 2008.

Other key factors entering the macroeonomic picture are unemployment level, inflation, trade performance with other countries and the strength of the dollar against other currencies in the world economy.

The July 30 unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, a loss of 51,000 jobs since the prior month. However, the 5.7 percent should be looked at in perspective. It is only 1.1 percent higher than the 4.6 percent for the same month a year ago, July 2007. While any loss of jobs is not good, generally anything under 6 percent is considered “reasonable” as the workforce is continually growing.

The government says the country had 145.8 million full-time people working in June, and the same number in July with job losses in manufacturing and housing construction being offset by new hires from the college graduating classes. Still, a level trend is just that and carries some uncertainty for the future.

The current inflation rate has been running between 4.28 percent and 5.6 percent this year. That’s about a full percentage point higher than 2007, and that is not good. It means that something that cost $1 last year is probably going to cost you $1.06 this year.

But offsetting that inflation rate increase is the growing strength of the dollar worldwide. In June, it cost Europeans 1.58 Euros to buy $1, but by August that was down to 1.48 Euros. And over the same two months, a Pound Sterling was equal to $1.99 but by August that dropped 6.3 percent to $1.84.

In other words, the dollar has been getting stronger against European countries, and that’s a good thing.

In summary, robust quarterly growth of GDP combined with a rapid rise of the dollar on world markets bodes well for the U.S. economy despite what the pundits on TV have to say. A modest rise in unemployment while the total number of full-time jobs available is steady is not a reason for panic, even though the inflation rate is running a full percentage point higher than a year ago.

Lesson 101 in macroeconomcs is over. If you want to know more than the above, then your future isn’t in the fire service, but on Wall Street.

And we can’t possibly have a recession until February 2009, long after John Obama or Barack McCain takes the oath of office. And if it does happen, then they’ll get the blame anyway.

In the meantime buy fire trucks and everything that goes with them in 2009. That really is a good thing. Next year will be the last year when there is a wide selection of diesel engines available.

As we’ve stated previously, Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel will stop making engines for on-road use due to the onerous emissions standards coming in 2010. Caterpillar is going out of the truck engine business entirely, and Detroit will only offer European models developed by its parent company Daimler-Benz.

Navistar and Cummins will be the primary engine suppliers to custom fire apparatus builders unless Mack decides to sell its diesels to OEMs. And if the recent past is any guide, remember that 2007-certified engines jumped as much as 40 percent in cost to meet the new emissions standards.

If you are a municipality or volunteer fire department on an apparatus replacement timetable, take a hard look at moving it up to 2009. Lease-purchase financing can be so flexible these days that you will be better off placing an order in 2009 than waiting for 2010 or 2011 if those years include scheduled replacements.

Crimson’s Concept Vehicle

Crimson Fire introduced a new concept vehicle built on a Ford F-650 chassis at Denver.

About the size and shape of a large Type III ambulance, the First Responder All Calls (FRAC) truck can be ordered to serve both as an ambulance transport van and as a CAFS-equipped initial attack apparatus.

It can also be outfitted as a light-duty rescue truck, a transport vehicle for a rapid intervention team with all their equipment or a command center. (See detailed story starting on this page along with photos.)

Crimson President Kevin Crump asked us why other attempts to market a combination ambulance/initial attack apparatus haven’t been very successful. We had to think about that one for a while.

Many earlier attempts were built on smaller chassis, and the water carrying capacity was limited. More important is this is the first combination unit to come equipped with a compressed air foam system, which provides a really hard-hitting fire attack. Plus, just about the time the tank is running out of water, the next due engine arrives and can feed its on-board water supply into the CAF system. There is enough concentrate carried to treat 4,000 gallons of water.

Crimson is attempting to bring the FRAC vehicle in at $185,000 to $220,000 depending on how it is set up. However, the company might also consider the Spartan Furion chassis for a somewhat increased patient compartment area as well as more water.

Even with CAFS, we’d like to see any initial attack truck carry at least 500 gallons. As currently configured, the FRAC has a tank that can hold up to 300 gallons. (It’s been since the 1950s that engine companies routinely were equipped with 300-gallon tanks.) And even the mid-1990s NFPA change to allow small quints to carry only 300 gallons didn’t receive much acceptance in the field. Others seem to agree that 500 gallons should be the bottom line.

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