American LaFrance Consolidation Eliminates 280 Jobs

American LaFrance is shutting down fire truck manufacturing plants in New York and Pennsylvania and consolidating all manufacturing at its Summerville, S.C., headquarters facility in a cost-cutting move that eliminates nearly 300 jobs.

ALF workers at the Ephrata, Pa., and Hamburg, N.Y., plants were informed of the closings days before the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis last month. Reaction at the company’s trade show exhibit was mixed, according to Richard Ball, the director of marketing.

“When you started talking to the dealers and customers, the bottom line was I don’t think people really cared about where vehicles are going to be built, they just want their deliveries,” he said. “That’s something we have admittedly struggled with for the past year.”

He said American LaFrance, which had a reorganization plan approved by its creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court last spring, remains committed to building fire trucks. Some apparatus ordered before the Chapter 11 bankruptcy still have not been delivered, he said.

Last July, as it was coming out of bankruptcy, the company announced it was consolidating all fire truck production at the Ephrata and Hamburg plants because space was needed at the 435,000-square-foot Summerville facility to launch a number of new “vocational ventures.”

Ball said manufacturing is being moved back to Summerville because many anticipated vocational ventures failed to materialize. “This move is going to reduce our costs dramatically,” he said.

In addition to shutting down its Ephrata and Hamburg plants, where about 270 people were employed, ALF last month closed a South Carolina chassis plant and moved that operation to Summerville, eliminating another dozen jobs, according to Ball.

The company plans to make a range of fire apparatus with commercial as well as custom cabs and chassis.

“We’re going to come out with a very good NFPA-compliant fire truck that is safe and can be at a base level where the customer can do everything that needs to be done,” Ball said. “That doesn’t mean that we can’t customize it, but if you have a budget issue, we’re going to have a truck that fits your need.”

In a statement issued in late April American LaFrance President and CEO Bill Hinz stressed the advantages of the “state of the art” headquarters plant, which opened in July 2007.

“Consolidating all manufacturing operations to Summerville,” he said, “will allow us to work off the same systems, eliminate redundancy, reduce costs in having to manage multiple facilities and allow us to share services across all business units of American LaFrance, including our military assembly projects with PVIA, a military armored protected vehicles company recently purchased by our parent Patriarch Partners.”

He touted a new customer service program that is about to begin. “We have to be a better company to those that support us and we have to improve our deliveries,” he said. “We will become more aggressive in our parts business as we expect more fire departments to delay purchases requiring them to service their older vehicles.”

Hinz also said the company is focused on producing the best 2010 fire chassis in the industry to meet the new federal emission standard.

In addition, he said, “We believe we have some creative ways to revitalize our ambulance business, which we hope to announce later this year.”

About 280 people are expected to be employed at the Summerville plant when the consolidation is complete.

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