BY BILL ADAMS
What has more than 170 years of experience in the fire and emergency medical services, includes six current or former chief fire officers, and is affiliated with both career and volunteer fire departments?
It is the sales staff at Firefighter One and FF1 Apparatus, New Jersey’s, and most recently, Delaware’s authorized dealer for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, a division of the REV group. Director of Customer Development Camille Sinkhorn and owner Jonathon Van Norman were interviewed and provided the material for this article.
It was started as a small equipment and turnout gear distributorship by Jonathon Van Norman (aka JVN and Jon) in the basement of his home in 2005. Firefighter One has grown from a one-person part-time operation into two limited liability corporations (LLCs) with more than 30 full- and part-time employees located in two facilities. Van Norman’s impetus in starting the business was his belief that local fire equipment vendors were not as customer-service-oriented as they could have been.
The entity Firefighter One primarily handles loose equipment sales and service while FF1 Apparatus handles apparatus and ambulance sales. Van Norman is the owner and president of both. Incorporated in 2005, Firefighter One, LLC, is sometimes referred to as FF1. The actual entity FF1 Apparatus was incorporated in 2014. In this article, I refer to both as FF1.
Shortly after starting, Van Norman hired his brother Jason and his best friend Todd Rudloff, who today lead the service and sales departments respectively. Jason’s background is in finance and service. Both JVN and Rudloff have been, or currently hold the position of, chief in their respective volunteer departments. In fact, the entire sales team are firefighters or first responders. FF1’s Web site has the bios of their key players. The Van Norman brothers’ mother and father work for the company. Their mother is the company administrator and their father is the operations administrator for the Sparta, New Jersey, location. The entire group displays the work ethics of a family owned and operated business.
In 2014, FF1 purchased its current building in Sparta, New Jersey, which features a showroom, administrative offices, and a service center. It replaced a nearby showroom. An adjacent lot was also purchased in anticipation of future expansion. The building is approximately 10,000 square feet, and the service center is approximately 7,500 square feet. The 2,500-square-foot Belmar facility opened in April 2014, also replacing a nearby showroom. It includes a showroom and administrative offices.
The Sparta location and headquarters is situated in a fairly rural area in northern New Jersey. The Belmar facility is in a residential beach side town located on the Atlantic coast in the area known as the Jersey Shore.
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New Jersey encompasses 8,729 square miles. The New Jersey Division of Fire Safety’s Web site says there are 1,248 fire stations in the state and almost 36,000 firefighters, with 20 percent career and 80 percent volunteer. FF1 says the approximately 800 fire departments in the state keep them busy with sales and service all year long.
Not well known is that 22 percent of the state is heavily forested, which results in the state’s fire hazards ranging from congested inner cities in the east to forest fires in the areas known as the Pine Barrens in the south and west. One of the largest departments in the state is the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, which covers 77 percent of the state’s land mass with approximately 85 career and 2,000 part-time firefighters.
Although most of its business is concentrated in the state of New Jersey, it does equipment sales in portions of New York and Pennsylvania. And, starting in 2019, Ferrara Fire Apparatus expanded FF1’s sales territory to include the state of Delaware.
Many of its apparatus customers are career fire departments; however, it has strong roots with volunteer departments. As mentioned, the entire sales team for both equipment and apparatus sales are either volunteer or career firefighters.
Firefighter One is a full-service first-responder distributor representing more than 100 product brands ranging from uniforms and protective clothing and equipment to apparatus and ambulances. Functions and responsibilities are well defined among the full-time and part-time staffs.
The service department is broken down into two categories: apparatus and equipment. There are 12 people including an administrative staff and eight technicians who service apparatus, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and small equipment. Apparatus service technicians are certified to repair any make or model of apparatus or ambulance. FF1 performs preventive maintenance, pump testing, engine repairs, electrical repairs, lubrication service, as well as heating and air conditioner servicing. It also offers upgrade and customization options for apparatus and ambulances including equipment mounting and lighting upgrades.
The equipment division technicians are certified to repair 3M Scott Fire & Safety SCBA and compressors and TNT Rescue tools. Mobile service units can perform field repairs, while the service center allows for services such as flow testing, hydro testing, etc. There is a six-vehicle mobile fleet specializing in apparatus and equipment preventive maintenance and service repairs. The technicians are equipped to complete repairs anywhere at any time.
1 Firefighter One’s Belmar, New Jersey, showroom and offices were opened in 2014 and are located on the northern part of the Jersey Shore. (Photos courtesy of Firefighter One.)
2 Situated in the northern part of the state are FF1’s administrative offices and repair facility. Shown are several of the company’s service vehicles. Adjacent land next door was purchased in anticipation of future expansion.
3 Ferrara MVP rescue-pumpers delivered by FF1 include this Emerson (NJ) Volunteer Fire Department rig with a 2,000-gpm pump and a 500-gallon tank designated as a squad. The shroud above the cab protects a light tower, a common feature on Ferrara’s apparatus.
4 The Garfield (NJ) Fire Department Company 3’s rescue-engine has a 2,000-gpm pump, a 750-gallon tank, and more than 600 cubic feet of compartmentation.
5 This Greene-Dreher, Pennsylvania, rig features a front suction with a preconnected sleeve and low-profile strainer for drafting out of portable tanks. This volunteer department also runs a pumper, a tanker (tender), and a brush truck.
6 This Wildwood Crest, New Jersey, rig has a 1,750-gpm pump and 500-gallon tank with three speedlays, a booster reel in its rear compartment, and an electrically operated Extend-a-Gun. Six coffin compartments are on top, a common feature in FF1’s marketing territory.
7 The seven-station career department in Paterson, New Jersey, runs this 33-foot 5½-inch-long walk-in heavy rescue. It features a two-door custom Ferrara cab. Six of its exterior compartments are identical in interior width and height—65 inches × 70 inches—allowing future relocation of equipment from compartment to compartment.
8 The combination department in the Village of Ridgewood, New Jersey, runs this Ferrara walk-around heavy rescue with four large coffin compartments on top. Six of its exterior compartments are also identical in size—46 inches wide × 70 inches high.
In 2012, FF1 became the authorized dealer in New Jersey for Ferrara Fire Apparatus. FF1 Apparatus is led solely by Jon Van Norman. The relationship with Ferrara continued after Ferrara was acquired by the REV Group. It has delivered numerous apparatus in the state of New Jersey and is well into double digits sold in 2019.
Apparatus deliveries have included walk-in and walk-around rescues, pumpers, straight ladders and platforms, quints, and quite a few of Ferrara’s MVP multi-vocational pumpers.
Ferrara Fire Apparatus is the first and only apparatus brand marketed. Having a single source for apparatus mirrors the company’s philosophy of representing only one manufacturer or brand per category of equipment such as personal protective clothing, SCBA, and extrication tools.
After attending the January 2018 Annual REV Summit meeting, interest was expressed in marketing ambulances for McCoy Miller Emergency Vehicles, also part of the REV Group. FF1 became the New Jersey dealer in April 2018. Under the leadership of Greg DeForge, director of ambulance sales, this division has delivered nearly two dozen units to departments throughout the state in the first year. Future growth is anticipated in 2020, and another ambulance sales representative has been hired.
9 FF1 delivered these two Type 2 McCoy Miller ambulances to University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey.
10 Wildwood Crest (NJ) Rescue operates this Type 3 McCoy Miller ambulance. McCoy Miller Emergency Vehicles is part of the REV Group, as is Ferrara Fire Apparatus.
11 In Mount Olive Township, New Jersey, the Budd Lake Volunteer Fire Department operates a large tandem walk-around rescue truck. It has a 257-inch wheelbase, a 500-gallon booster tank, a 1,500-gpm pump, two speedlays, and an onboard foam system with a 40-gallon foam tank. There are seven coffin compartments on top accessible from a rear access ladder.
12 The various types of Ferrara aerial devices that FF1 has delivered. The Bay Head Fire Company in Ocean County, New Jersey, runs a Ferrara quint with a 77-foot rear-mount aerial, a 1,500-gpm pump, and a 500-gallon tank. It has a 210-inch wheelbase and is a popular size aerial device in New Jersey.
13 Ladder Company 1 of the Orange (NJ) Fire Department has a 102-foot straight rear-mount aerial. It has an 11-foot 3-inch overall height.
14 The Summit (NJ) Fire Department, a combination department, has a 100-foot straight midmount platform with a 10-foot 6-inch overall height. It carries a 40-foot extension ladder—seldom seen these days. Wildwood Crest has a similar rig; however it is a quint.
15 The various “straight” engines (aka pumpers) delivered by FF1 to career or combination New Jersey fire departments. The career engines appear to be short wheelbased, no frills, basic rigs set up for hose humping. The wheelbases on the following rigs are 185 inches, 185 inches, 181 inches, 193 inches, and 188 inches. All have black vinyl (or coated) pump operator panels and medium four-door cabs with a maximum six-seat capacity. Shown here, East Orange’s (NJ) engine lettered “Ashland Hose” is a 1,500-gpm and 500-gallon rig with double high side compartments. A silver-over-red paint job is an East Orange feature.
16 This Irvington, New Jersey, rig has a flat cab, all-red paint job, painted red wheels, and a painted bumper. It also has double high side compartments with slide-in ladder storage, a 1,500-gpm pump, and a 500-gallon tank.
17 New Jersey’s North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (NHRF&R) runs this 1,500-gpm Ferrara with a 500-gallon tank as Squad 1. It features high left-side and low right-side compartments and three crosslays. NHRF&R’s apparatus roster includes six engines, four aerials (ladders or towers), a rescue, and four squads (pumper-rescues). There seems to be a trend to the black-over-red paint scheme.
18 The New Brunswick (NJ) Fire Department’s rig has a 1,750-gpm pump and a 500-gallon booster tank with high left- and low right-side compartmentation. It has three rear 2½-inch discharges. Like many “hose-conscious” engine companies, Engine 1 carries high-rise packs above the right-side compartments beneath the side-hung ground ladders.
19 Paterson (NJ) Fire Department Engine 2 has a 1,500-gpm pump, 500-gallon tank, and no crosslays. It has two rear 2½-inch discharges plus a 2½ inch discharge in the main hosebed for a preconnect. There’s also a rear 5-inch large-diameter hose inlet, a front suction inlet, and a low hosebed—58.50 inches from ground level. Many career engines are opting for the low hosebed style.
I had a brief discussion with Sinkhorn and Van Norman about recent trends in the New Jersey apparatus marketplace. Their answers are below. They emphasized that their analysis is only in relation to the fire departments with which they have closely interacted.
Is cooperative purchasing popular?
“Absolutely. Co-ops like HGAC Buy and New Jersey State Contract simplify and shorten the purchasing process. In fact, we rarely hear about a department purchasing apparatus on bid. In our experience, customers and townships alike prefer purchasing through co-ops as it ensures the departments get the exact apparatus they want and expect.”
Do you see many multipurpose apparatus?
“Ferrara’s multi-vocational pumpers (MVPs) fit the needs for departments looking for a catch-all solution. However, we’ve been noticing there is still a trend for more traditional style pumpers. Career departments are more apt to purchase single-function apparatus (pumpers vs. pumper-rescues and ladder trucks vs. quints).”
What is the most popular apparatus color in your area?
“The majority of the apparatus we sell are a version of traditional red; however, we have sold a few trucks that are different colors. Overall, New Jersey has many different colored trucks.”
Is there a trend toward the environ-mentally clean crew cab concept?
“This is definitely a trend that’s being talked about by departments, and semblances of it are being incorporated in apparatus purchases. The trend is definitely in its infancy in New Jersey, but it’s a concept that FF1 has been passionate about on our equipment side (protective clothing) for a long time.”
What is the most popular body material in your area?
Is there a favored pump capacity for pumpers in your area?
“Between 1,500 and 2,000 gpm, mostly midship pumps with side pump operator panels or MVPs. We don’t sell many top- or rear-mounts.”
Is there a preferred booster tank size for pumpers in your area?
“Because New Jersey has a variety of geographical environments from city to rural,
this varies. Generally, we see 500 gallons for city and 1,000 for more rural areas.”
What is the most popular aerial device and size in your area?
“For us, our most popular aerial device is Ferrara’s HD-77, a short, compact quint with a 77-foot rear-mount aerial ladder.”
What is the most popular cab seating capacity?
“Three to four for paid departments and six to eight for volunteers.”
Any comments on local competition for apparatus sales?
“New Jersey is a heavily populated state. It is a fire-department-heavy state with more than 800 career and volunteer departments, not including rescue squads. With this, there is a lot of competition between equipment and apparatus distributors. However, our competitive edge is that we sell both, and we provide service and support after the sale. Not all of our competition provides all three.”
Any words of wisdom for apparatus purchasers?
“Do your research—an informed customer is always fun to work with. We always encourage buyers who might be brand loyal to look at the competition as the industry is ever changing and quality standards continue to vacillate.”
BILL ADAMSis a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.