Chris Mc Loone
My fire company operates like many other volunteer companies where we have a monthly business meeting, always on the first Monday of the month at 8:00 p.m. except for Labor Day or when Independence Day falls on that Monday, etc.
If necessary, procedurally, we vote to move the meeting to the following Monday, and although that may seem funny to some, I’m a procedural kind of guy and appreciate that there are these procedures in place for us to follow. I, like many, have gone from the, “Did we really just make a motion to pay the bills?” stage as a smart aleck teenager to gaining an appreciation of bringing decisions to the floor at the monthly meeting.
One decision that always generates a lot of meaningful—sometimes “spirited”—discussion is when it is time to replace an apparatus. The discussions usually revolve around why a rig needs to be replaced, fire company apparatus traditions (colors, gold leaf, etc.), and of course a lot of time is spent on the cost.
A huge part of any fire apparatus purchase process is determining how to pay for the rig. This process starts long before writing specs, and it involves coming up with a plan—whatever that plan may be. We took delivery of a pumper in 2010. Leading up to placing the order, the fire company had to make some financial decisions that were not entirely popular. At that time, it was going to be the largest expense the fire company had ever incurred in its more than 100 years. Some of the decisions weren’t popular. For example, the annual fire company banquet became a more semiannual event in order to save the cost. This was not a popular decision but a sound fiscal one to put the money toward the new rig. More went into the financial plan to purchase the truck than just that, obviously. We had to figure in how much we thought we would make from the engine we were selling. We apply for an annual grant for funds to be applied toward the loan for the fire apparatus. We work well with our Relief Association when it comes to equipment purchases. All of these things contribute to the overarching financial plan. At our most recent monthly meeting, the membership learned that the 2010 pumper is paid off.
Why am I bringing this up? To brag? No. Especially since I know full well there are fire departments out there that put together sound financial plans because every purchase they wish to make will likely be scrutinized more closely than anything I’ve ever experienced. But, we have a 1997 pumper that we will likely discuss replacing before long. It served the fire company well as the first-out rig before the 2010 pumper arrived. Outside of normal wear and tear, it has been a very reliable fire apparatus. Sentimentally, it was the first new fire truck purchased by the fire company after I joined. I remember well the day it arrived and the excitement a new truck generated. It is the second truck I was ever cleared to operate, and I will be sad to see it go. At 21 years old, we’ve been discussing its market value. It does have a stainless steel body, and given what is occurring right now, a used stainless steel rig could be in high demand.
It remains to be seen what, if any, effects the tariffs being discussed in Washington, D.C., will have on the fire apparatus industry. It is difficult to fathom a situation where the market will not have to adjust. My gut tells me that no fire apparatus manufacturer wants to pass on more cost to fire departments, and all will likely work very hard to come up with creative solutions so any cost increases would be minimal. Be that as it may, any fire company considering a new rig should be watching the steel tariff situation very carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask manufacturer sales representatives the tough questions about how the situation will affect vehicle pricing, but also be creative. Look for ways to maintain the functionality of your next pumper, aerial, or rescue truck while decreasing costs in different areas. It’s a perfect time to truly make your next set of specifications a team effort between prospective vendors and your department.