The government’s Cash for Clunkers economic stimulus program was a highly visible success as we moved into August. Providing billions in financial incentives to replace gas-guzzling older cars with fuel-efficient smaller ones, it took off like racecars in Indianapolis.

Apparatus dealers and manufacturers who are awaiting announcement of Payments For Pumpers and Loot For Ladders programs are unlikely to see much in the 2010 federal budget. As we noted in July, only 635 grants for apparatus were approved in 2008 out of 7,910 applications – just 8 percent. 

Nobody really knows what the 2010 federal budget will look like by fall because it is changing every day. But the direction is clear. Money that previously went for apparatus and hardware is being shifted by the administration to boost money available for Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants.

And this is pure inside politics with little appreciation for actual needs. SAFER grants primarily go to fund unionized positions in career departments. And that’s easily justified with unemployment hovering around 10 percent and cities seeing tax revenues plummet.

But new fire apparatus brings hidden benefits to a wider economic segment. 

A new pumper means a lot of accessory equipment in the budget. Some 1,200 feet of 5-inch hose adds $60,000. Other large components such as generators, master streams, pre-connected nozzles, foam systems and small tools and supplies easily boost that to over $100,000. 

We’ve sworn off trying to predict anything for 2009 fire industry sales. It has been a year like no other for our industry as well as the national economy.

But there are a few bright spots. E-ONE, which was sold by Federal Signal Corp. last year after 10 years of declining sales and loss of dealerships, has seen a true reversal of fortune. 

Just a year ago American Industrial Partners, a privately held venture capital firm acquired the company, bringing along a number of key executives including President Peter Guile. 

“Zero debt — the strongest balance sheet in the industry,” Guile said, commenting on the June 30 quarterly report. As a privately-held company, E-ONE is not required to release financial numbers, but when there is something to shout about they’re not required to remain silent either.

Although large fire manufacturing segments are seeing sluggish sales right now, E-ONE has been boosted by a winning design introduced at the FDIC trade show in April. The aluminum HP-78 quint, a redesigned version of the HP-75, perhaps the company’s most successful model ever, has generated market interest and new sales.

The company redesigned its aerial to conform to its patented HP-100 stick. The result is not just a 3-foot longer ladder, but an improved tip-load rating to 750 pounds while flowing water and a 500-gallon booster tank. This gives the HP-78 an edge over its chief rival, the lighter capacity Pierce aluminum 75-foot quint.

Meanwhile, E-One has been building its dealership base, adding Blue Ridge Rescue Suppliers of Montvale, Va., as its dealer for the central, northern and southern parts of the state. In Erlanger, Ky., Vogelpohl Fire Equipment was named as distributor for southern Ohio, northern Kentucky and five counties in southeastern Indiana. That company also sells a full line of fire equipment, including Holmatro rescue tools and MSA breathing apparatus.

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