|As shown in these before and after images, some departments like the design of their existing units and simply want to upgrade to meet the current standard. (Photos courtesy of Alexis Fire Equipment.)|
|This unit was a Baker AerialScope that Pierce Manufacturing completely rebuilt and remounted on a new Pierce Arrow chassis with new body and LED lights. Pierce has seen the largest increase in refurbishing in the aerial segment because the cost savings are as much as 50 percent of building new. (Photos courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing.)|
|The Englewood (NJ) Fire Department received a full overhaul of its 1995 110-foot ladder on a Hurricane chassis (top) to make the aerial NFPA 1912-compliant (bottom). [Photos courtesy of E-ONE and Englewood (NJ) Fire Department.]|
Designing, specifying, accepting bids on, and finally building a new piece of apparatus can be a daunting task for any department, large or small. Figuring out how to do so while remaining within budgets that tighten almost daily adds an additional level of complexity. Choosing to refurbish an existing unit or units results from factors beyond the economy, although the cost gap between buying new and refurbishing does play a significant role in departments’ decisions. Be that as it may, apparatus manufacturers have seen an increase in customers choosing to go the refurbishment (refurb) route.
Refurb Orders Increasing
The most common reason departments are choosing to refurbish existing apparatus presently is the economy. However, refurbishing has been a part of Pierce Manufacturing’s business for more than 35 years, with continuous growth year after year, according to Don Daemmrich, sales manager of regional service centers, Pierce Manufacturing. “As a single-source provider, Pierce covers all the needs of its customers from new to refurbishments,” he says.
Crimson Fire now has refurbishment capabilities at its three facilities located in South Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Bill Doebler, vice president of sales and marketing at Crimson Fire, says, “More and more, fire departments are requesting vehicle refurbishment services because of difficult economic conditions. As departments face tough financial decisions, it can make good fiscal sense to refurbish apparatus to bring it back to front-line condition, particularly if the financial tradeoff involves equipment or personnel.”
At E-ONE, refurbishment requests have steadily increased during the past three years, according to Alex Gomber, factory service center sales manager. “We are frequently asked to develop multiple quotes: one for an entirely new truck and one for refurbishment.” The number of quotes grows to three for aerials, Gomber adds. “In the case of aerials, we’re often asked to produce three quotes: one for a brand new chassis and body with a refurbished aerial from an existing unit; one for a completely refurbished chassis, body, and aerial; and one for an entirely new truck.”
Blaine Richard, refurb plant manager for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, says it must be the department’s decision to refurbish or recycle an existing piece of apparatus. “It must have a goal of what the fire department wants when the refurb project is complete, look at the expected useful life of the vehicle post refurb, and then compare that expense vs. the cost of a new truck,” he says.
Gomber also says, “As a rule of thumb, refurbishing apparatus is half the price of a new unit. So, the advantage for the customer is bringing an existing vehicle up to standards at a fraction of the cost of purchasing new.”
Budget constraints are not the only reason to refurbish existing apparatus. Daemmrich says, “A large number of refurbishment projects being done today are to extend the life of the apparatus for front-line service with the added enhancements to the newer National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) safety requirements.” He adds that besides the standard engine overhauls, pump rebuilds, and valve replacements, NFPA upgrades include new seating with hands-free SCBA bottle holders, enclosed crew cabs, rear body Chevron striping, nonslip aluminum treadplate and handrails, and complete LED upgrade for both emergency warning lights and DOT lighting.
Quincy Jones, owner of Company Two Fire Apparatus, asserts that most fire departments will refurbish to bring their current apparatus up to OEM standards, “but also many fire departments will refurbish because they don’t have the funds to purchase new apparatus and need to extend the life of the units.”
“Refurbishment of an apparatus is a viable alternative if the existing unit has a good basic design or very good components,” says Jeff Morris, president, Alexis Fire Equipment. “In many cases, the department likes the design of its existing unit and simply would like it upgraded to meet the current standard. It is not always an economic decision.”
Choosing Refurb or New
There are several factors to consider when determining whether to refurbish or buy new apparatus. Gomber suggests that the mechanical condition, age, and routine maintenance of the existing unit and the costs associated with purchasing new apparatus all play a big part in the decision. “Typically we refer customers to NFPA 1912, Standard for Apparatus Refurbishing, to determine what’s in their best interests,” he says.
“It’s primarily a factor of age that determines refurb vs. new,” says Morris. “Annex D of NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, provides a timeline on apparatus service life and refurbishment recommendations. The decision to refurb is determined by engine, transmission, axle ratings, mileage, and engine hours. All of these factors are taken into consideration when determining the extent of a refurb project.”
Morris cites location, response area size, terrain, demographics, and frequency of use as other key factors departments can use to help decide whether to refurbish or purchase new.
Daemmrich says a fire department must determine the cost of everything that needs to be repaired so the apparatus is in good mechanical working condition. Then departments “must determine the cost of updating to include the new safety enhancements and the cost of any change to the current configuration to carry some of the new equipment for today’s firefighters,” he says.
Richard adds, “Fire departments need to weigh the age, mileage, and hours of the apparatus and the expected cost to refurbish the equipment.”
Finally, Doebler says Crimson’s refurb requests from city departments are to bring apparatus back to front-line condition. “In the more rural departments, it is to obtain current NFPA or electronic upgrades to the apparatus,” he says.
Do It Right
“A fire department must be very thorough in developing a list of items to be repaired, refurbished, or replaced,” says Richard regarding how to refurbish apparatus properly. “Don’t make the assumption that work not specifically addressed in the refurb quote will be done.” He also warns departments about unanticipated repairs. “It’s not uncommon to begin repairs on an apparatus with years of service and then find needed repairs below the surface. These frequently only become evident when the truck is in a state of disassembly.”
Refurbing properly also depends on customer expectations and how long a department intends to keep a unit in service, says Gomber. “There are the minimum requirements we suggest in accordance with NFPA 1912 and, from that point, we customize the refurbishment based on a customer’s wants, needs, and budget.”
Daemmrich says a proper refurbishment requires fully evaluating the apparatus to make sure all mechanical items are in proper working condition and adding safety enhancements to fit the way a fire department uses its apparatus today. “The refurbishment should fit the need of today’s new equipment fire departments are carrying or want to carry,” he says. “In addition, modifying compartments, adding trays and shelving, and equipment-mounting fixtures to better secure items during travel to and from a scene are all part of a thorough refurbishment.”
Doebler says, “Depending on the level of upgrades a fire department requires, some refurbishments can be as simple as upgrading electronics and as extensive as replacing the body or using a whole new chassis. At the very least, all safety components on the apparatus should be checked for operation and compliance requirements.”
“First of all, you take care of the base components: brakes, engine, transmission, and frame,” says Morris. “The balance of the work is determined by the needs of each individual department. This is where NFPA 1912 kicks in—it provides a good checks and balances format a department would want to follow to ensure all needs are met, including some that may not have seemed as obvious as others.”
Jones adds, “Do your homework on who does the work. A lot of companies say they refurb trucks, but they don’t. Anyone can paint and change tires, so the fire department has to be careful.”
Research Is Key
Daemmrich suggests doing Internet research to find out what businesses are doing refurb work on fire trucks. “Determine how long they have been in business for refurbishment and whether they are reputable businesses,” he says. “Ask for a list of references, and check them out with a few phone calls.”
Doebler recommends that fire departments conduct research and understand the company they are doing business with to protect their investment. “Departments should make sure the companies they are working with have certified technicians who are trained and capable and that they have access to the materials and components necessary to perform the appropriate upgrade or repair.” Another critical item Doebler says departments should consider is whether or not the facility has adequate liability insurance.
Gomber says there is a questionnaire in NFPA 1912 that E-ONE uses to help its customers make the right decisions. “We also encourage our customers to call other departments that have had refurbishing done to get opinions, suggestions, and ideas,” he adds.
Using NFPA 1912
There are two definitions for refurbishment in NFPA 1912. The standard designates them as Level I and Level II. According to the standard, Level I refurbishing is “the assembly of a new fire apparatus by the use of a new chassis frame, driving and crew compartment, front axle, steering and suspension components, and the use of either new components or components from an existing apparatus for the remainder of the apparatus.” Level II refurbishing is “the upgrade of major components or systems of a fire apparatus with components or systems that comply with the applicable standards in effect at the time the original apparatus was manufactured.”
“An important distinction exists between the two defined types of refurbishment,” Richard explains. “Level I refurb vehicles must meet current NFPA 1901 or NFPA 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus, requirements when completed. Level II refurbs must meet NFPA 1901 or 1906 standards in place at the time the vehicle was originally built. Fire departments must be familiar with these differences and write their specifications accordingly.”
Although requests to refurbish have been growing steadily for many companies recently, refurb business for Alexis Fire Equipment Company has consistently remained at 25 to 30 percent of its overall business during its 64-year history, according to Morris. Doebler expects the refurbishment market will continue to grow as the economy struggles. Ultimately, suppliers agree that refurbishing is a viable option in lieu of buying new—and customers will expect the same quality. “There is value to refurbishing an apparatus depending on customer needs, type of apparatus, and so on,” says Morris.
Don’t forget your research. “Refurbishing is a viable option for cost savings, but you should do your research to entrust it to a reputable company,” says Daemmrich. “You need to be sure the people working on your equipment are skilled fire mechanics, because the newer equipment is not as simple as plug and play. The main reason for refurbishing is to increase safety and reliability and extend life to the apparatus.”
Morris concludes, “One thing that does not change is this: The customer of a refurbished apparatus is no different than that of a new apparatus. He has the same needs and expectations that must be met and realized on delivery day.”
CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.