Five Questions for Harold Boer, President of Rosenbauer America

Chris Mc Loone

CM: What do you think has led to the success of the Commander chassis?

HB: I think some of it is the background work we did in the design and engineering of it. We spent a full year going around to fire departments, getting their input on it, and showing them some preliminary designs. Also, we worked with our own in-house engineers and we contracted to some outside engineering specialists, who had engineers who had come from other chassis manufacturers. So, they had the do’s and the donts and the “best of” types of things from different chassis and they incorporated a lot of those into our design. And also the commitment of our dealers when they had their own chassis to sell and promote-our dealers were a very big part of the success of this. We also had large order from Saudi Arabia, which saw the design and bought into it right away.

CM: What’s next for Rosenbauer America?

HB: We don’t have any major projects on the horizon. Right now we want to just focus on efficiencies and enhance and improve some of the current features we have. In Europe, they introduce new products about every five years at Interschutz. In the United States, the Americans try to introduce new products at FDIC and a lot of times, Americans end up designing something just so they can introduce something. Right now we’re going to hold off on any new major introductions for a few years and really fine tune what we have, become more efficient at it, take some cost out of things, and hopefully reduce costs for the fire departments.

CM: What do you think is the most important innovation in the fire service during the past five years?

HB: I think in the past five years it’s the introduction of electronics throughout the fire industry, primarily in fire apparatus. Everything is electronic. The emissions on the chassis are controlled by electronics, electronic governors, the foam systems have electronics, the aerials have electronics. LED lighting even has electronics-you can program different flash patterns. The advent of all the electronics and LED lighting that are introduced on fire apparatus today, to me, is the biggest thing that’s come.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards are updated about every five years. Those standards were written around all the analog systems and dial gauges. With technology in electronics moving so fast, it’s hard to adapt the electronics to meet the old NFPA standards-when you talk about size of numbers, size of gauges, things like that. We can make the control panels a lot smaller now with electronics. But, the old NFPA standards still say that the access panel has to be so big, for example. It is difficult for the NFPA standards to keep up with the electronics because they move so fast. By the time a standard is written, the technology may already be obsolete.

CM: What do you think is the biggest issue facing the fire service today, and how should we address it?

HB: There are a few issues that are facing the fire service. One, obviously, is funding. The federal and local budgets are being cut and are really being held back. So, that’s an issue all the way around. I’m not sure how to address that. The volunteers always have their fundraisers, but volunteers get tired of holding fundraisers so they can buy themselves protective clothing.

In some areas, the luster of being a firefighter has worn off a little bit. They’re not seen as the heroes like they once were-like after 9/11. That has changed a little bit. I’m not real sure how to get that back. Maybe more visibility by the fire service, doing good public service type of things in the community. To me, that’s the biggest thing.

CM: What keeps you up at night?

HB: Probably the biggest thing that keeps me up at night is the electronics and how to service them out in the field. The electronics we are introducing today, like computers, in five years may be obsolete. Will the software people continue to support them? It’s like having a computer on your desk and you learn the program real well, and all of a sudden they come out with a new program and they’re not supporting the old one. We put electronics on trucks that are designed to last 20-plus years. So in 10 or 15 years, will we be able to get support for the electronics or will we just have to replace them with the next-generation electronics? And also out in the field, especially in the more isolated areas. Can you get service on electronics? They can do a lot, but when they’re not functioning correctly, how do you service them out in the field?

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