Five Questions for KME’s John Kovatch III

Chris Mc Loone

On a trip to KME’s headquarters in Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania, John Kovatch III agreed to sit down and answer a few questions about KME and the fire industry in general. I also sat down with Phil Gerace, director of sales and marketing, who guided me through the history of the company from the time John Kovatch Jr. came back from army service and started a small auto repair shop, which has grown into the KME we know today. In 1946, Kovatch Jr. started the service center and over time bought car dealerships, which grew into a company that remanufactured and eventually built a wide range of specialty vehicles. Over time, Kovatch Jr. bought two car dealerships, a company that built refuelers, and a tank company.

Known for its fire apparatus, which makes up most of its business today, KME also builds refueling trucks for the military and tankers for oil home delivery trucks and is very involved in green energy initiatives.

Among recent highlights, according to Gerace, is KME’s certification to ISO:9001. It was a process the company is very proud of, and which led me to ask the “bonus question” below, “What’s next for KME?”

CM: Talk about KME’s newest offering.

JK: KME has a very broad product line, and we’re constantly innovating configurations, cabs, and body options. However, one of the biggest projects we’ve been successful with is the updating of our AerialCat™ models. We recently completed our 79- to 123-foot rear-mount ladders. In the redesign, we added strength to what were already the strongest devices in the fire service, removed weight, and engineered in a fire service best rating in six performance categories. Now we’re doing similar work on the rear-mount platforms.

CM: KME has several large orders right now, with two of the most recent being Boston and the FDNY. What about KME’s portfolio has helped it secure these orders?

JK: Many of KME’s successes, whether with a small or large department, have been the result of our continued reinvestments during even tough economic times. We’ve continued to invest in our facility, employees, distribution network, product testing, and quality systems.

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

JK: One of the most important has been the heavy emphasis on fire cab strength and safety options to protect the occupants. Crash testing, roof strength testing, rollover protection, and frontal impact protection are many of the areas where we’ve seen a tremendous jump in safety for the firefighter. KME is also now offering numerous new safety options regarding pump panels, ladder storage, and hosebeds as well.

CM: What current issues in the fire service trouble you the most?

JK: One of the most troubling is the underfunding of the fire service. Funding for the United States Fire Administration and the Fire Act grants is critical in helping our first responders be ready for the wide range of scenarios for which they’re called on a daily basis.

CM: What keeps you up at night?

JK: My two-year-old grandson, John V, when he spends the weekend! Seriously, the kinds of things that keep every business owner up at night: how to balance rising taxes and costs, continue to offer competitive wages and benefits for our employees, and still provide high-quality products and service every day.

CM: What’s next for KME?

JK: KME will continue to grow because we’ve embraced a continual improvement process. We’ll expand on the products we offer within our core markets, grow our customer base both domestically and internationally, and continue to grow our already expanded customer service division to provide a full range of services and support. I’m quite optimistic about what’s ahead for us despite a challenging economy that’s only partially rebounded both at home and abroad.

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