We’re Turning the Corner

Chris Mc Loone

When the conference and trade show season really starts rolling, there are usually pretty good indicators of how the fire industry is doing. So far this year, it looks like the fire industry is starting to turn a corner. It’s not around the corner just yet, but things are starting to look better. A few things have occurred recently that lead me to believe things are starting to turn around.

The first is the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC). Record-setting attendance combined with impressive exhibits are two indicators that things are turning around. What struck me at the show was how many exhibitors told me orders are starting to come in. There are a variety of reasons for the uptick in orders. One is that departments have put off major purchases for as long as possible and now are in a position-either by choice or because of current circumstances-to start replacing/upgrading apparatus. Obviously, another reason is that the economy is showing signs of improvement. Although good news to manufacturers, none felt the industry is out of the woods just yet. But, all were optimistic that departments are finally ready to place orders again.

Speaking of FDIC and optimism, Spartan Motors, Inc. made several announcements at the show. It introduced many new products, a new brand, and a global strategy. Several of the new products were driven by the company’s global strategy, which includes partnering with Renault Trucks and Gimaex. Not only does an investment of this type represent a commitment to the fire service industry, but it also is an example of the optimism felt among the industry. During a press conference at FDIC, John Sztykiel, president and CEO, stated that he expects that the apparatus industry will exceed 5,500 units produced per year. More information about Spartan’s announcements can be found on Page 3.

I had the pleasure of sitting in at the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association (FAMA) Technical Committee meeting at FDIC. Before the subcommittees broke out, representatives from various committees passed along several updates to the group. One update was from Jeff Hupke, who provided some recent survey results regarding the market.

One survey went out to fire departments. Comparing results from a similar 2010 survey, Hupke reported that the percentage of fire departments planning to make major purchases nearly doubled from 2010 to 2011. He also reported on a survey of FAMA/Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association (FEMSA) members, and the results also revealed an optimistic industry. Members reported that they predict better lead times, increased capacity, increases in revenue, and increased hiring.

My hope is that this optimism is trickling down into your own departments and that you will soon be joining the ranks of those looking to make major purchases, if you’re not a member of that group already. It was a pleasure to walk the show floor at FDIC and have to fight for the attention of company representatives at various booths. There’s a lot of interest out there in what innovations the market is developing, and it looks like interest is finally leading to orders. It’s been a rough ride, but a healthy market is going to benefit all of us in the long run with innovative products and safer apparatus.

FDIC Observations

Besides having to navigate the show floor with 29,000-plus other attendees, I noticed a few things about the new products on display.

The demand for smaller pump houses has led to more designs that incorporate electric valves for many years. The difference now is how these valves are controlled. Some pump panels still use switches at the pressure gauge to operate these valves, but this year saw a proliferation of touchscreen controllers on the pump panel that control not only electronic valves but many other parts of the truck as well. These controllers can be placed on both sides of the pump panel, for example, or even in the cab of the truck. We’ve been watching more and more electronics incorporated into our apparatus for years, but this is the first year I saw so many examples on units at the show.

Taking individual pressure gauges off the pump panel saves a tremendous amount of space. Combine electronic controllers with new pumps that take up less space, and you see pump houses that sometimes measure just 28 inches. It seems just about any truck on the market is getting water added to it. Again, this trend has existed for a few years, but for the first time I think there were more apparatus that traditionally don’t carry water that had tanks and pumps on them than those that didn’t.

Look for more reports on innovations from the show throughout this issue.

As always, let me know how we’re doing at chrism@pennwell.com.

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