Every February, we dedicate a chunk of the month’s articles to specialized rescue vehicles. These can range from water rescue to technical rescue or other types of special operations vehicles.
In January’s “FAMA Forum,” we learned that in 2020, rescue vehicle bookings were the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bookings of rescues in Q2 and Q3 2020 declined almost 41% compared with the previous nine quarters. Although that’s a substantial hit, from my perspective, this isn’t entirely surprising. Rescue vehicles can be very customized because of the equipment they carry. In many instances, a heavy rescue truck—be it a truck designed across rescue disciplines or one designed for a specific discipline—is a very large vehicle. The equipment it carries is not generally inexpensive, and the engineering to build custom tool mounting for it all adds cost as well. So, it’s not necessarily surprising that at a time when municipalities were tightening their belts, rescue truck replacement fell lower on the list. Additionally, these specialty vehicles are not purchased as frequently as pumpers or aerial trucks.
Although the bookings did drop, as you can see from the articles in this month’s issue revolving around specialized rescue vehicles, departments that are specing them are taking great care in their design, and fire apparatus manufacturers continue to come up with new ways to accommodate our needs.
All that said, as of this writing, money remains “cheap.” Fire departments now must decide whether or not to take advantage of interest rates that make it possible to finance a new rig. And, don’t be surprised if one rig turns into two rigs. The key is to be ready to jump. It could be a long time before we see interest rates this low again, and you never know when you will be in a position to buy. Be ready if the opportunity presents itself this year.
Before you do, though, make sure you have a plan. Build in whatever costs are involved with disposing of existing rigs or the income you will receive from their sale that can be applied to a new fire truck or two. Analyze your budget, cut where you can to make the purchase work, and then stick to the budget. I’m talking about the total operating budget for your organization, not only the budget allocated for capital purchases—in this case, a truck. Whenever I start thinking about interest rates—and believe me, I am right now with a senior in high school in our house getting ready for college—I always like to remember advice my dad gave me and my then fiancée as we started looking to purchase our home: A bank will get you into as much trouble as you want it to. In our December 2019 issue, we provided our outlook for 2020, and who could have imagined how 2020 would go? But the headline for that article still rings true: “Specifying Rigs in 2020: Design for Your Reality.” That could easily go for 2021. Design for your reality. Don’t go overboard. The bank will get you in as much trouble as you let it/want it to.
I’ve written about my fire company’s 1981 American LaFrance Century pumpers before. They were the first fire trucks I ever drove and pumped. I never got qualified on them because they were put up for sale as I started driver training. I could just get my chance yet!
We sold the trucks together to the Weavertown (PA) Fire Company. If I have the story right, Weavertown sold them together to the Upper Craig Creek (VA) Volunteer Fire Department—so, only two owners since we had them. Recently, both pumpers were donated together to a fire museum. We have been able to track them down in videos, and when I hear the rumble of their engines, I get goose bumps to this day.
As it happens, my fire company is starting the process of replacing its pumpers. Basically, if we were to get an offer on one of them tomorrow, away it would go. Getting back to having a plan, the truck committee has been trying to figure out what to do if we go down an engine. Our captain got in touch with the museum where our old engines ended up, and both are still in operating condition. Museum representatives said we could look into borrowing one. 302 back in its bay at Weldon Fire Company. Now THAT would make my 2021!