BY BILL ADAMS
Less than 30 percent of the 2,400 inhabitants of the town of Elba in Genesee County, New York, live in the village of the same name. The village’s 640 acres are dwarfed in size by the many farms in the town, one of which encompasses more than 8,000 acres. Elba describes itself as the “Onion Capital of the World.” Entrepreneurism outside of onion farming is limited.
Dan Allen, who grew up working on his family-owned onion farm, looked west to expand his dream of having his own business. He moved to the Midwest, settling in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he found work in a distribution warehouse. The small plastic totes to handle product and the plastic pallets used for shipping in the warehouse frequently broke. The company discarded the damaged containers and purchased new >ones.
Allen saw the potential for repairing the totes and pallets vs. the cost of replacing them. He began fixing the pallets with a crowbar and a hammer in the basement of his home. He remembers, “It was a lot of work and time, for very little money.” After gaining experience in repairing the containers and pallets, Allen began researching the materials and plastic welding equipment used to fabricate them and found using the same equipment offered a much more efficient way of repairing >them.
He started lining up customers in early 1985, and his business expanded rapidly. “I give all the credit to my savior, Jesus Christ,” Allen says. “I was saved, and my business succeeded!” After determining that he would need some help, Allen turned to his younger brother, Mark, and asked if he’d like to go into business together repairing plastic totes and pallets. Mark Allen agreed and moved his growing family from New York to Indiana, and the rest is history. Chad Falls, APR’s director of sales, has provided much of the data and coordinated with APR employees for this >article.
1 This tank for galvanizing is designed to hold sulfuric or hydrochloric acid at 160 degrees. It is large enough to hold a tractor-drawn aerial ladder. (Photos 1-8 courtesy of APR.)
2 These two tanks are designed for use in a wastewater treatment facility.
3 A booster tank showing plumbing connections and slide-in storage for ladders. Two fill towers indicate a separate foam cell, and the tank top is designed for hosebed storage.
4 The Lima Road plant is the second APR facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana. A third facility is located in nearby New Haven, Indiana.
5 Introduced in 2020, Armor Body is the trademarked name for APR’s fire apparatus bodies.
6 A large tanker body for a tandem-axle rig is in the APR fab shop ready for shipment to the OEM where it will be painted, upfitted, and mounted on a chassis.
7 An APR pumper body on a rig built by Spencer Fire Trucks in Michigan.
8 1st Attack Engineering, from Indiana, delivered this unique rig with an APR body to the Village of Greenup, Illinois.
REPAIRING AND FABRICATING
The Allens’ startup venture in the world of plastics, APR Allen Plastics Repair, Inc., was founded in 1985. According to its Web site, it is the “Industry Expert in Returnable Container Solutions” and is located at APR’s Lima Road >facility.
Dan Allen is the sole owner and president of APR Plastic Fabricating, Inc., which was incorporated in 1995. Its Web site states: “APR Plastic Fabricating is a leading manufacturer and distributor of custom designed and fabricated plastic tanks, liners, secondary containment systems, and all accessory equipment and process tanks for the metal finishing and refrigeration >industries.”
APR Plastic Fabricating is the entity that manufactures fire apparatus bodies and booster tanks. Providing product for the fire service is a result of APR’s experience and expertise in manufacturing specialized tanks for other industries. Paraphrasing various research sites and put into simplistic terms, polypropylene is a thermoplastic developed in the 1950s. Copolymer is terminology used to describe the composition of some polypropylenes to specifically address features such as flexibility and durability, resistance to chemicals, and impact >resistance.
Photo 1 shows a galvanizing tank. According to Falls, “These tanks can be 60 feet long by 10 feet wide and 12 feet deep and hold sulfuric or hydrochloric acid at 160 degrees.” Photo 2 shows a wastewater treatment tank. Some of these can be more than 20 feet tall. In comparison, the booster tank in photo 3 is miniscule in size. The various tank sizes demonstrate the depth of APR’s capabilities in the design and expertise in containment vessels for multiple >functions.
In addition to tanks for the galvanizing process and wastewater treatment, containment vessels are also manufactured for the electroplating and metal finishing industries. Tank liners are manufactured to line existing steel tanks to increase their longevity. Because of the immense sizes and complexities of the larger tanks, on-site installations are provided. APR Plastic Fabricating maintains an ISO 9001 certified quality management >system.
9 This single-axle APR tanker body has been finish painted in Midwest Fire’s Minnesota factory. After upfitting, it will be mounted on a cab and chassis. (Photos 9-12 courtesy of Midwest Fire.)
After starting in the basement of Allen’s house, APR moved into a building on Cass Street in Fort Wayne. Despite adding onto the original building, another plant was required to meet product demand. It is located about a mile and a half away on Lima Road. Falls says APR also outgrew the Lima Road plant, and it secured another facility about six miles away in New Haven, Indiana, which is used primarily for storage and recycling. The two Fort Wayne plants are where the custom-fabricated products are manufactured. APR currently has about 150,000 square feet with room to expand. It employs about 100 people.
THE PATH TO FIRE BODIES
Repairing plastic totes was originally the main source of APR’s sales. The Allen brothers educated themselves about various welding tools and techniques as well as new applications and industries so they could grow their business. They made inroads in containment vessels for the plating and metal finishing industry by offering custom-built plastic tanks as an alternative to the typical steel tanks of the time. The unique durability and corrosion-resistant properties of plastics led APR to develop specialized products for a multitude of >markets.
APR’s first fire apparatus booster tanks were fabricated in the early 1990s for the Luverne Truck Equipment Company of Brandon, South Dakota. Luverne Truck Equipment purchased the original Luverne Fire Apparatus Company in 1985. According to Falls, APR also started fabricating fire truck bodies around the same time; however, that business really didn’t take off until around >2002.
10 Midwest’s crew mounting an APR body on the chassis.
According to Falls, the Armor Body (photo 5) was launched this year as the official trademarked brand for APR’s truck bodies. Commenting on whether APR makes bodies for all apparatus manufacturers, Falls says, “No, we don’t want to work with everyone. We align ourselves with like-minded companies that value and demand the highest quality products and >service.”
He continues, “We build all of our products to DVS, a German welding standard that has been adopted by the American Welding society and recognized internationally. We exclusively use only the finest domestic and imported coploymer polypropylene material in all our products. Ten times stronger than conventional polypropylene, our copolymers are virtually unbreakable and offer tremendous benefits in flexibility and overall durability. Superior extrusion and fusion welds on all seams help ensure these tanks will last or even outlast the lifetime of a >vehicle.”
“We offer a lifetime warranty on all of our fire apparatus products. The warranty coverage is at least comparable, if not superior, to any other warranty offered in the industry. With integrity being one of our core values, we always strive to do the right thing, even when it’s not popular. Within 48 hours of being notified, APR will be on site, making any repairs necessary to ensure service vehicles are back in action with minimal downtime. We also build custom hose trays, bins, and consoles for our OEM >partners.”
11 12 A finished Midwest tandem-axle tanker with an APR body.
On whether APR only provides unfinished bodies, Falls says, “At APR, we know our strengths. The Armor Body is completely fabricated in house, prepped, and ready for outside painting. We do sell painted and wired bodies for our customers’ convenience, but those processes are outsourced to industry specialists.” He also notes, “Our bodies and tanks might look like they are one piece, but they are not. The tank is always built as a stand-alone unit, and then we install the body around >it.”
WHO’S WHO AT APR
Falls provides the following description of APR’s leadership >team.
“Lenny Schlotter, customer service manager, has been with us for 20 years and has held multiple jobs within our organization. He thrives on taking care of the customers and always doing the right thing,” says >Falls.
He continues, “Sara Cutigni, ISO and quality manager, has been here for nine years, where she has added much value to our team. She can do about anything on the business side of things, but she is passionate about quality and continual improvement, and she has helped us greatly in these areas,” Cutigni says. “I have seen tremendous growth in APR since I joined the team in 2011. It was apparent to me from day one that quality and customer satisfaction were the top priority. Today, we are still committed to exceeding our customers’ expectations and strive for continual improvement in every area of our business. We maintain an ISO 9001 certified quality management system, which serves as our foundation for quality, growth, and customer-focused decision making.” About the Armor Body, she says, “The Armor Body is not a new product offering for APR, as we have been fabricating truck bodies for many years now. It does, however, represent the culmination of years of innovation that has gone into making APR truck bodies. I believe the quality is second to >none.”
Falls continues with the company’s personnel. “Nick Terrell, production manager, has been with APR for 18 years and is the hardest working person you will meet. He knows this business and is dedicated to not only building the best products, but he also knows how to get the most out of his team and helps them grow as people and >employees.”
Asked to explain the differences in welding techniques, Terrel says, “Hot air hand welding and hot air extrusion welding are both manual processes and therefore the quality of the weld is highly dependent on the skill and attention level of the operator. The main difference between a thermoplastic hand weld and a thermoplastic extrusion weld is the amount of passes needed to achieve the same size weld. Hot air hand welds require multiple passes to obtain adequate weld size, whereas a hot air extrusion weld can obtain the same size or larger weld in a single pass. Hot air extrusion welds have a time savings benefit, welding in a single pass rather than several passes. Multiple passes also create unnecessary stress in the parent material due to the continuous heating and cooling sequences. By using a larger weld done in a single pass from an extrusion welder, there is more surface area for the thermoplastic molecules to intermingle, cool, and create a molecular bond, creating a stronger seam when compared to hot air hand >welding.”
Falls adds, “Jason Maus, design and drafting manager, is an 11-year veteran and does amazing work in 3-D modeling and design. I get compliments from customers on how easy he is to work with all the >time.
“Chris Davidson, director of operations, has been with APR for 25 years and has done almost every job in our company. He now focuses on operations and gives our company the tools, equipment, and training to succeed at our highest >level.”
Falls continues, “I’ve been with APR for 14 years. We have some of the best fabricators and teammates on our roster, and they all deserve to be acknowledged. But for the sake of this article, I tried to list the people fire departments might deal with directly when doing business with >us.”
On APR’s Web site, it says, “Tank baffles meet or exceed NFPA 1901 1901-99 standards, extrusion welded with ‘finger lock’ design.” Falls explains that finger lock “means there are cut-outs in the longitude and latitude baffles and the baffles lock into place before we weld >them.”
Allen concludes, “I feel this company is successful because of God’s grace and the blessing of great >people.”
Sarah Atchinson, president of Midwest Fire, a user of APR products, says, “Midwest Fire has a long, deep partnership with APR Plastic Fabricating Inc., working with them to develop the best All-Poly fire apparatus on the market. Their quality management system, lifetime warranty, resistance to corrosion, flexibility, and durability are all things that make them a great partner for Midwest >Fire.
“Many of our customers work in extreme conditions and harsh weather. The All-Poly construction is not susceptible to rusting and corrosion like other materials in harsh winter conditions. This helps keep the firefighters out there saving lives. Instead of focusing on costly repairs, damaged apparatus, or other issues related to the tank or body, they can focus on saving >lives.
“Our customers demand reliability. APR materials on our apparatus give them the reliability and sustainability they >deserve.”
BILL ADAMS is 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.