EVI Builds Custom Specialty Vehicles Inch By Inch

Gwinnet County Department of Fire operates this EVI truck
The Gwinnet County Department of Fire & Emergency Services in Lawrencebille, Ga., operates this EVI truck. The custom aluminum body is mounted on a Spartan Gladiator chassis. Features include a slide out room,
Ernst R. Temme
Ernst R. Temme, EVI’s president and founder, started the company in 1971 and oversees its day-to-day operations.
Dave Taliercio
Dave Taliercio, the vice president/sales, joined EVI in 1978 working on vehicle designs and moved into sales in 1982.
An EVI employee checks amperage on an electrical system
An EVI employee checks amperage on an electrical system.
Steven Reichard welds framing on a roll cage structure for an EVI modular body
Steven Reichard, who has been with EVI nearly 12 years, welds framing on a roll cage structure for an EVI modular body. (EVI Photo)

Each year only a few dozen departments take delivery of specialty apparatus built by the staff at Emergency Vehicles Inc., headquartered in Lake Park, Fla., and the owner and founder of the company says that’s fine with him.

Ernst Temme, the man behind EVI, doesn’t want his company to become a huge manufacturer producing hundreds of units annually. He believes fewer is better, a philosophy he’s followed since he opened the business in 1971.

“We are very satisfied where we are in the business,” he said. “We don’t mind being limited because we don’t want to grow and grow and sacrifice high quality and customer service.”

EVI has the capacity to build up to 80 units a year, but has consistently been producing about 50 annually. “That’s a good volume for us,” Temme said. “It pays the rent.”

The company makes a variety of vehicles for fire departments and law enforcement agencies, ranging from small rescues and quick-attack trucks to huge heavy rescues on tandem axle chassis. EVI also makes complex command vehicles with pull-out modules, arson investigation vehicles, crime scene vehicles, SWAT team units and decontamination tractor-drawn trailers.

Dave Taliercio, EVI’s vice president of sales and a 30-year employee, said he’s involved in every sale to make sure customers get exactly what they want. “We build specialty vehicles to meet unique needs,” he said. “We don’t want to build cookie-cutter vehicles. We want to fill the niche market.”

In 2007, Robin Yoder, chief of the Han-Le-Co Volunteer Fire Company, Lehigh County, Hanover Township, Pa., purchased an EVI 18-foot combination unit built on a 4400 International cab and chassis.

The vehicle, as Yoder describes it, has an eight-foot square walk-in command area in the front of the body and the remainder is used for equipment storage.

The vehicle responds to all hazmat calls, motor vehicle accidents, emergency medical service calls, traffic control and also serves as a command post with a desk, chair, a refrigerator, three SCBA seats and an area for firefighter rehabilitation.

“It’s a beautiful little truck,” Yoder said, noting that it replaced a 20-year-old modified bread truck.”This is our squad truck,” he said. “We do about 300 runs a year, and this truck goes on about 200 of them.”

He said his district, which includes Lehigh Valley International Airport, shopping malls and major access highways, is about 80 percent commercial packed in a five-square-mile area. The all-volunteer department has 22 members.

Yoder said he became acquainted with the EVI at the Lancaster County Fireman’s Association Fire Expo in Harrisburg, Pa.

‘One Heck Of A Truck’

He talked to Mike Cox, EVI’s northeast regional sales manager, and told him the demo truck at the show was exactly what he wanted. He said he called Cox as soon as he got an appropriation approved to buy one.

“I went to visit the EVI plant, and I was very impressed with the workmanship and the quality of the apparatus,” Yoder said. “They are a small company, but they build one heck of a truck. It’s built like a tank.”

Cox, a former fire chief of the Runnemede (N.J.) Fire Company who is still an active member, has been with EVI for 14 years covering a region from North Carolina north to Maine and out to West Virginia, an area that is particularly strong for EVI.

A Pure Custom Builder

“I would never sell something I wouldn’t use in my own department,” he said. “The best things about EVI are its quality and customization. We build apparatus in one-inch increments. We’re going to build around what you need to carry and need to achieve, not try to fit you into a standard product. If you need a 16-and-a-half-foot body, we’ll build you a 16-and-a-half-foot body.”

Temme calls his company a pure custom builder. “That makes us totally different than anyone else,” he said. “We go into a department with a yellow pad of paper and write everything down, every piece of equipment, everything they need the vehicle to do.”

Because EVI bodies are modular, they’ll fit on virtually any cab and chassis, Taliercio said. Ford, Chevy, Freight-liner and International are the most popular commercial cab and chassis with EVI customers, and Spartan is the custom cab of choice, although EVI has built some on HME cabs and chassis because customers asked for them.

“The most important thing is to make sure the chassis is properly sized and powered properly to do the job,” Temme said. “A lot of people want to start off with picking the cab and chassis, but you really have to know what you’re going to put on the back before you pick the chassis.”

The first vehicle Temme built in the late 1960s was designed to meet particular needs. At the time, he was a volunteer member of the North Palm Beach (Fla.) Public Safety Department. He felt the Ford station wagon and the Oldsmobile the department had for EMS work were inadequate.

So, he said he and a couple of buddies took his late-model 1970 Dodge Maxi van, his personal grocery and kid hauler, and turned it into an ambulance with the intention of having his local department purchase it.

“We designed what we thought was the perfect ambulance for our needs, then we converted my van,” he said. “I put a rotating light bar on it, a siren, cabinets in the back, the whole thing… You have to understand that when you are young, you do crazy things some times.”

The Birth Of EVI

He presented it to the department, and they liked it, but didn’t buy it. Instead they asked him to build a brand new version of what he had created. Eventually, Plantation, Fla., bought his first ambulance. And then – following a familiar pattern – another town wanted one, then another, and EVI was born.

For the first few years, Temme, who was a master electrician, built ambulances as a sideline, leasing increasingly more space as his business grew, taking commercially available vehicles and modifying them for particular purposes.

In 1974, Lee County, Fla., near Fort Myers, sought bids for four modular-style ambulances, and he won the bid.

It was a new direction for the company, one that would require thousands of square feet of building space, a new design and lots of equipment for cutting, bending and welding aluminum, the material Temme decided was the best and most durable.

“We use an extruded aluminum roll-cage design,” he said. “The body does not rely on skins or the doors or compartments for structural integrity. It’s a complete roll-cage construction. The skins just keep the rain out.”

Taliercio, the vice president of sales, related an incident where an EVI customer was driving a rescue vehicle to an emergency scene in a Code 3 response and went off an eight-foot drop.

“It totaled the cab, but there was nothing wrong with the body,” he recalled. “We re-chassied it and sent it back.” He noted that EVI’s bodies are 100-percent aluminum, including interior cabinets and flooring.

EVI’s bodies carry 15-year warranties. “But they last much longer,” Temme said. “Thirty years on our body is not uncommon.” As a testament to their durability, he said Lee County’s ambulances, the first he built, got new chassis six times, logging more than one million miles.

“The quality was there from the very start,” Temme said. “We are certainly not the cheapest builder out there, but I always say you are going to get more for your dollar from us than anyone else out there. We don’t look for any short cuts.”

No More Ambulances

EVI made ambulances until the late 1980s, when Temme decided he wanted to continue building custom vehicles, something he could no longer do with ambulances. Federal KKK ambulance standards pretty much dictated how they should be built, he said, leaving no room for custom work. So, he turned his attention to rescues and specialty vehicles.

Today, EVI builds everything from $100,000 10-foot rescues to $1 million command vehicles in a 50,000 square foot facility on three-acres in Lake Park, Fla.

The first 30,000 square feet of the plant was built in 1999. Soon after a 5,500square-foot building was constructed and dedicated to complicated large units that can take up to six weeks to complete. A 70-by-200-foot open air canopy was constructed later, joining the two buildings to provide more work and storage space.

The main buildings have more than two dozen bays for vehicle construction. EVI doesn’t use a production line system for building apparatus. Vehicles are placed in bays, where they remain until they are finished. Workers, not vehicles, are moved to build the units.

“We made a commitment right from the start to do everything ourselves and we still do that to this day,” Temme said, noting that EVI uses no outside contractors, even when building complex satellite uplink communications vehicles.

While vehicles have become increasingly complex over the years, he said he prefers to keep the components simple, using off-the-shelf parts as often as possible.

“Multiplexing and fancy electronics are like computers,” Temme said. “They’re great when they work, but if they break, you’re screwed… We’d rather use the materials and systems that are proven and have been in the market and working for years and years.”

EVI uses parts readily available at a local parts supplier, so warranty issues are quickly remedied. Taliercio said service and warranty work is handled by shops selected by the fire departments. Service agreements are made between EVI and the local provider to perform the necessary work. That system works for all customers in any part of the country, he said, including Alaska and Hawaii.

Some larger manufacturers have factory service centers, but Temme said they’re often inconvenient for customers, located hundreds of miles from their stations.

Warranty work is rare on EVI apparatus, Temme said, because the company spends a week testing and documenting each vehicle, keeping records on its performance. “So if something does happen, it’s not a big deal,” he said.

Even paint, sometimes a tricky business for builders using aluminum, is not an issue since EVI switched exclusively to DuPont paints. EVI has a 7-year, 100 percent warranty on its painting.

Taliercio said EVI sands all painted surfaces and chemically etches the bodies before three coats of primer are added. The bodies are then sanded again, and two coats of color are applied and sanded yet again before two coats of clear coat are sprayed on the bodies to give them a mirror finish.

“Smart customers recognize we have the experience and knowledge to make sure they get what they need,” Temme said. “We like to do business the old-fashioned way when a hand shake meant a lot. We want our customers to get more than they expect.”

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