Survey Indicates 2009 Is Solid Year

Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment magazine did a survey of planned apparatus purchases as of last Sept. 1, looking ahead to the 2009-10 sales year. Then the bottom fell out of the credit markets and the stock and bond markets plummeted.

The survey indicated apparatus orders would continue at a strong pace into 2009. When we mentioned that to industry executives, they were quick to respond, “Yes, but that was before the financial disaster on Wall Street, in Detroit with the automakers and banks across the country.”

So in February we repolled nearly all 30,000 fire departments to determine if their plans had changed. A large proportion of capital spending on equipment is tied to apparatus purchases. Obviously, component systems and apparatus-mounted items like rescue tools, scene lighting and generators, ground ladders, PPV fans, master stream monitors, hooks, pikes and axes fall into that category.

Generally, between 5,500 and 6,000 new fire trucks are sold each year. Nothing compels a chief to answer our survey, but we follow up with those who do so we can make a verifiable prediction.

By the time our report was compiled — with names, phone numbers and titles of those who answered — we felt we had our strongest sample ever and accurate reports. The February numbers came back even stronger than those from last year.

Some 2,088 full-sized fire trucks are scheduled to be ordered this year by the responding, verified departments. Of these, 1,090 will be pumpers, 276 quint purchases are planned and, surprisingly to us, 722 rescue trucks.

Departments will be selling or trading 873 units manufactured from 1990-2000, including 224 pumpers and 26 quints. Another 610 pre-1990 used trucks will also be put out of service.

The bottom line is that 2009 should still be a strong year for the fire industry. The numbers underscore the results of recession years going back to the 1930s depression when apparatus sales held strong.

These numbers were gathered in February, long after the poor economic outlook was well known. With six months to go in 2009, we wouldn’t put anecdotal comments by individual apparatus dealers ahead of hard numbers from the survey. We’d say the fire business overall will end up with a solid year.

We don’t normally comment on public policy regarding federal, state or local legislation, but in June a lot of fire service-related Web sites had people tying their knickers in knots over a report issued by the Heritage Foundation, a so-called “think tank.”

That group’s Center for Data Analysis announced: “Fire grants are an ineffective way of reducing fire casualties. Consequently, Congress should eliminate funding for the fire grant program.”

The Heritage Foundation is well-financed, conservative and dedicated to saving waste in government. Its large staff of academics publish as many as 10 reports a week, on everything from agriculture, crime, foreign aid and health care to the Iraq war.

This June report with its wide-sweeping conclusions ought to be ignored by everybody in the fire service – our magazine included. It certainly will be ignored by the Congress the way the Foundation’s other reports are ignored.

But when a think tank says it has evaluated “the effectiveness of the Assistance for Firefighter Grant (AFG) Program, Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grants, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants,” and “finds that fire grants, including grants that subsidize the salaries of firefighters, had no impact on fire casualties,” everybody starts blabbering nonsense in defense of the AFG and SAFER grants.

One conclusion that hits both manufacturers and fire departments hard is: “AFGs used to purchase firefighting equipment, vehicles, and fitness equipment failed to reduce firefighter deaths, firefighter injuries, civilian deaths, and civilian injuries.”

But the reality is that of the 114 firefighter deaths on the job in 2008, more than 40 percent were caused by heart attacks and 38 percent by firefighters being struck by vehicles or objects.

It is not relevant whether the heart attack victim rode to the scene in a 1988 fire truck or a 2008 fire truck, or if he or she was wearing NFPA-compliant turnout gear or a rubber coat 20 years out of date. A heart attack is an unrelated event.

One figure from 2008 does have meaning: only ONE career firefighter was killed in the crash of a late-model fire truck last year. The safety advances in apparatus construction over the last 10 years are legendary. Of the 14 volunteers killed while responding, many were in their personally operated vehicles.

Broad, sweeping conclusions resulting from statistical analysis of the AFG program tell the public nothing about the fact that about 80 percent of the money spent since 2000 went to bring apparatus, turnout gear and SCBA up to NFPA standards all across the country.

The Heritage Foundation is in the business of producing “feel good” reports about what it sees as government waste, all of which make its staff, board and contributors “feel good.”

Let’s just ignore them; it’s pretty obvious they know very little about the fire service and a lot about arranging statistics to prove irrelevant points that aren’t even a subject of the issue at hand.

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