Positive News For a Change

We have a new Web site under construction that will provide current fire service-related news. This is not really a big deal as it will just help our site catch up with what many other fire-related magazines have been doing for years.

What will be different are features designed to serve as checkpoints for viewers interested in buying new apparatus and equipment. This magazine is all about equipment, not how to use it fighting fires, but how to evaluate the buyer benefits offered by competing products.

We aren’t a “Consumer Reports” of the fire industry, as many have urged us to become over the years, but we do strive to provide chiefs and departments with full information about their ranges of equipment choices and the companies that make that equipment.

Everything has a price-to-benefit range whether you are looking at a set of dinnerware dishes or a place setting of sterling silver.

When you are hungry you can eat with a stamped metal fork, as far as utility is concerned, but if you are sitting down to a holiday dinner you appreciate the value of fine silverware.

In a way, the same holds true for fire apparatus and equipment. The low-priced models of anything will always have a market and do a passable job for a time. But the choices get harder when you get into evaluating top-shelf apparatus and equipment. Our new Web site will be designed to help you take multiple factors into account when deciding.

No other fire magazine Web site attempts this because no other magazine focuses solely on apparatus and equipment. Others tell you how to fight fires or who did what wrong at the last “big one.” We figure most chiefs already know firefighting, and there are already enough magazines devoted to the subject.

But when it comes to apparatus and equipment, in no other fire magazine will you find a story like the one on Page 30 of this issue. It describes how mismatched chassis components led to axle failures on two pumpers in the same department. That town learned the hard way that going with the low-priced supplier can have its risks.

Speaking of chassis, Spartan Motors — the country’s largest independent supplier of fire apparatus chassis — made news Oct. 23 when its stock made the largest daily jump of all U.S. publicly-traded companies, up 35 percent on news of its Sept. 30 third-quarter results.

Of course, these days the percentage increase is more impressive than the dollar amount. We don’t need to mention (or even think about) how depressed the stock market is as a result of the September meltdown.

The Spartan Chassis division reported third quarter sales up 61 percent over the year before, a total increase of $224 million for the quarter. In addition to fire apparatus and RV chassis — a currently depressed market — Spartan also produces chassis for the three major manufacturers of the Army’s Mine Resistant Armor Protected vehicles (MRAPs).

Sales at Spartan’s emergency vehicle division, which includes Crimson Fire, Crimson Aerials and Road Rescue Ambulances, were up 13.7 percent over a year ago and included a 17 percent increase in the company’s ambulance business.

Spartan is not the least expensive fire apparatus chassis, but then again it hasn’t produced any with mismatched engines and axles.

International trucks recently announced price increases of up to $1,600 due to rising prices of steel, aluminum, copper and precious metals used in emissions controls on new diesel engines.

It is hard to fathom, but Jim Hebe, senior vice president of North American Dealer Operations for Navistar, reports that steel prices in 2008 have increased 100 percent, aluminum and copper are up more than 22 percent and platinum is up 32 percent.

He said Navistar is working to mitigate the higher commodity prices by attacking operational costs and by negotiating greater efficiencies with suppliers.

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