By Alan M. Petrillo
Some fire departments and EMS providers are turning to refurbishing apparatus as an alternative to purchasing new rigs.
Their motivation is to best use a strong and often still functional body and equipment and replace the chassis, if necessary, with the latest in designs. Such replacement typically saves a great deal of money for municipalities.
Matt Minerd, segment marketing manager for fire and emergency at REV Group, says late in 2016 REV Group acquired a manufacturing facility in the Jefferson, North Carolina, area that fit its needs perfectly to become REV’s Remount Center for all its ambulance brands. “Previously Horton, AEV, and some other brands did their own remounts, but when you put a remount into the new ambulance production process, it can create some ineffiencies,” Minerd points out. REV Group owns the AEV, Horton, Frontline, Leader, Marque, McCoy Miller, Road Rescue, and Wheeled Coach ambulance brands. “We wanted to consolidate remounts for all eight of our brands into the Remount Center,” Minerd says. “The benefits for customers are dedicated engineering, electrical, and production staffs that are committed to remounts.”
Minerd notes that the REV Remount Center staff performs a full evaluation of the vehicle to be remounted. “They look at its current condition, identify potential problem areas, and report on what the vehicle needs to get up to current standards,” he says. “We’ll discount the vehicle and dispose of the old chassis, bring in a new chassis, and perform the remount and refurbishment, which includes a new cab console; front switch panel; siren speakers; heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning unit (HVAC); door switches; handles; and upholstery. If a customer wants changes inside the box, we can accommodate them to change the configuration and the cabinetry.”
Chad Brown, vice president of sales and marketing for Braun Industries Inc., says that typically what drives the need for an ambulance remount is either a vehicle that’s been in an accident and its chassis is not repairable or one that has worn through its life cycle. “Most remounts on a five- to 10-year-old truck mean replacing the chassis with a new one and completely refurbishing the module,” Brown says. “We meet with the customer and talk about safety upgrades necessary and also look at high-wear items and decide whether they need to be replaced, repaired, or have nothing done to them.”
Brown points out that besides a new chassis, vehicles usually need a new paint job and graphics. “We also look at the rig’s lighting and often update halogen or strobe lights to LED technology,” he says. “We also look at the mechanical systems, like the HVAC; and, if it is the original system, often replace it. In addition, we usually replace high-wear items like rub rails, the rear bumper, flooring, upholstery, and cabinetry faces.”
The time it takes to do a remount is considerably less than building a new ambulance, Brown says. “The project has to show value to the customer, which typically is defined by savings,” he notes. “We can do an ambulance remount in 90 to 120 days, instead of up to 210 days to build a new ambulance. Depending on the level of refurbishment and the structural value of the box purchased at the time, the customer can realize a 30 to 40 percent savings vs. the purchase of a new rig.”
Dave Seitsinger, regional sales manager for Life Line Emergency Vehicles, says that Life Line always puts a new chassis on a remount job and occasionally does some cabinet modifications on the interior. “More and more we are updating electronics in the module,” he points out, adding that Life Line has one production line dedicated solely to ambulance remounts and refurbishing.
Seitsinger says that many remount customers are updating their electronics with Life Line’s Elite G3 system. “We put multiple screens in the rear patient compartment and also install a driver’s screen,” he says. “Everything can be controlled from either the front or the back, with built-in alarms for oxygen, medical air, and voltage drops. Plus, the system can be integrated with multiple cameras. This multiplex system is standard on all our ambulances, and it has the ability to allow a Smartphone to control certain ambulance functions, like HVAC and lighting.”
Steve Rowland, regional sales manager for USA South at Demers Ambulances USA Inc., says when Demers performs a remount, it removes the existing box from the chassis, installs a new chassis, and uses the skeleton of the box as a starting point for refurbishment. “We will update the electronics if necessary,” he says, “replace broken cabinets or scratched countertops, and replace flooring.”
Tommy Pugh, national sales manager for Excellance Inc., says his company’s ambulances are built to be remounted. “We build an all-aluminum, all-welded body that has strength and integrity and add aluminum cabinets welded to the body for added strength,” Pugh points out. “So when we remount a module, we’ll renew the structural warranty on it.” Pugh notes that Excellance has seen an increase in customers taking a Type 3 ambulance and converting it to a Type 1. “We have done that many times, and often the customer is looking to go to a hydraulic suspension system like Liquid Spring, from a medium-duty chassis air suspension system,” he says.
Chad Newsome, national sales manager for P.L. Custom Body and Equipment Co., Inc., says his company first meets with a customer to review the wear and tear on the ambulance as well as to identify any malfunctioning equipment. “When changing out the chassis, it’s pretty straightforward if the customer wants to stay with the same series—for instance, a Ford E series,” Newsome notes. “If they want to go from an E series to a G series, the wheelbases are similar, but there might be some remount issues. But to go from a Ford E series to an F series, or to a Dodge, the cab to axle ratio won’t line up for the box.”
Inside the module, PL Custom usually changes out the HVAC on a refurbishment, might change out flooring if new stretchers are being added, and will install two-point to six-point harnesses, depending on the state where the rig will be located, Newsome says.
Ryan Crawford, chief of operations at the South Walton (FL) Fire District, says his department performs advanced life support services and transport for 84 square miles out of five stations. “We have seven Horton ambulances in our fleet and staff four of them daily, putting 1,000 miles a week on each of them,” Crawford says. “The quality and safety features of the Hortons were great, and our boxes were in excellent shape, so we ended up remounting four of them. Our previous chassis were International 4300 models, but we rechassied with Freightliner M2 models and are very happy with the results. Plus, we ended up saving 30 percent on the cost of a new vehicle for each rechassis.”
Fire Apparatus Refurbishing
Luis Roldan, factory service manager at E-ONE, says E-ONE refurbishes all types of its apparatus. “We refurbish pumpers from quick-attack units to custom pumpers,” Roldan says, “With a quick-attack we might pull the chassis and replace it with a new one and do some body upgrades. But with a custom chassis, we’ll overhaul it as needed and also overhaul the pump if the customer requests it or the pump needs the work.”
With aerials, E-ONE performs all refurbishment in house unless the vehicle’s engine needs repair or upgrading by the engine manufacturer, he points out. “We take the ladder completely apart, including the swivel, turntable, and jack legs, and overhaul them, changing all the manifolds, cylinders, and hoses, adding LED lighting then acid washing the ladder and refinishing it like brand new,” Roldan says. “A lot of customers ask for Whelen Pioneer LED lights at the tip, which generally means more wiring.”
Bill Alm, vice president and general manager of the Hall-Mark REV Technical Center, says the fire apparatus his facility refurbishes are 95 percent E-ONE custom vehicles. “We usually perform an upgrade on controls and on the interior, like the upholstery,” Alm points out. “We’ll assess the engine and transmission and might do a pump rebuild if necessary, checking for corrosion, damage, and wear. Most customers find they can save 35 to 40 percent of the value of a new vehicle with a refurbishment.”
Mike Marquis, vice president of national sales for Rescue 1, says refurbing a rescue truck generally involves a new chassis fitted with the old box, which might get new paint, graphics and seat cushions, or a more in-depth refurbishment. “You have to consider that the rescue will have old wiring in it that was relay-controlled and circuit-breaker-protected,” Marquis says. “We now use node-based wiring systems, which allows us to talk to the truck by computers either on site or remotely.”
Older lighting needs to be replaced in a refurb, Marquis maintains, eliminating strobes and halogen lighting and replacing them with LED lighting. Other potential problem areas, he says, include old diamond plate that might be worn and flooring that could need replacing. “A new rescue truck might cost $500,000, and a refurb might be $100,000 less,” he notes, “but, the refurb will have a limited warranty and be a truck with old equipment and old frames on the box, so a customer has to consider those things.”
Ed Smith, director of the emergency vehicles group for VT Hackney Inc., says that on rescue refurbs, Hackney sometimes puts a new chassis under the body but often will convert rescues to other uses, such as hazmat or mobile command units. “We have taken rescue trucks with good drive trains and converted them to hazardous materials trucks that can last another 15 years for the department,” Smith says. “Usually this requires changing or adding trays and shelves in various compartments to reflect the different equipment being carried, as well as repainting and relettering the vehicle.”
Smith notes that the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department had an older pumper in its fleet on a Spartan chassis with a corroded body and pump. “The chassis had been used hard but was still solid, so we were able to repurpose it and convert the pumper to a hazmat unit,” he says. “We removed the pump; put in new glass, upholstery, and headliners; and made changes to the compartments for the different equipment.”
Donald Daemmrich, sales manager for Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says most of the refurbs Pierce does are extensive refurbishments on aerials, pumpers, and rescues. “For an aerial overhaul, we’ll strip it down to raw metal and repaint it, add all new components for current controllers, and put in some electronic updates, as well as LED lighting and new nonslip tread plate,” Daemmrich says. “We also check the engine, transmission, axles, and suspension to determine if they are in good shape.”
Daemmrich points out that sometimes Pierce is asked to perform body modifications during a refurb. “On a pumper, we have been asked to put in high side compartments on the officer’s side, topped by a ladder rack, in place of the low side compartments,” he says. “We also have changed out shelves, trays, and doors on vehicles. Most fire department use 50 percent as the cost point when they consider buying new instead of refurbishing a vehicle.”
Andy Yenser, customer service manager for KME, says the company has been doing a steady business in refurbishing pumpers, rescues, and aerials. “There are two different levels of refurbishment according to NFPA 1912, Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishing,” Yenser says. “Level 1 is more in-depth where the vehicle gets a new drive train and we bring the entire truck up to the current NFPA standard. Level 2 brings the vehicle up to the standard in place when the truck was built. We’re seeing more Level 2 refurbs, but often with technical upgrades.”
Those technical upgrades, Yenser says, usually mean replacing halogen or strobe lighting with LED lights, adding chevrons on the back of the rig for safety, and rearranging shelving in compartments. Aerial refurbs are complex, he notes, and KME performs a full servicing on aerials, replacing all cabling and wear pads. If the rig has a pumping system, it gets a full review, preventive maintenance, and perhaps updated valves, he says.
Jerry Bartsch, service center manager for SVI Trucks, says SVI recently refurbed a 1995 Becker pumper on an HME chassis that had 30,000 miles on it for the Sweetwater County (WY) Fire Department. “We upgraded all the scene lighting, reconfigured the cab, repaired the pump, added a David Clark intercom system, and repainted the vehicle from white to red,” Bartsch says.
For the Greeley (CO) Fire Department, SVI refurbed a 2000 E-ONE aerial by putting in new seats and upholstery, overhauling the jack system, replacing hoses, and putting hydraulic tools in the front bumper. Bartsch notes when SVI was finished, it had the aerial retested by a third party to certify the work. SVI also has performed two remounts for the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department, Bartsch points out, putting walk-around rescue bodies on new Spartan chassis.
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.