Dealer Profile: Firehouse Apparatus Inc.

Bill Adams breaks down Firehouse Apparatus, Inc.—a privately held corporation owned by Mark Aswad.
Located in New York’s Cayuga County south of Syracuse and midway between Buffalo and Albany is Firehouse Apparatus, Incorporated—a privately held corporation owned by Mark Aswad. Befitting its name, it only sells fire trucks. And, unlike many dealerships, its owner did not start out selling fire extinguishers and loose equipment.
Beginning

Since high school, Aswad worked as a mechanic specializing as a diesel fuel injection technician and in 1989 was the sales manager for a large diesel and automotive electric shop. The late Paul Wilde, owner of a fire apparatus dealership in the eastern part of the state, called Aswad’s company inquiring if someone could look at an electrical issue on a recently delivered apparatus. The rig had been to multiple service agencies and the problem still existed.

Aswad: “I lived nearby so I stopped, looked at it, and resolved the issue. That impressed Paul. Considering my background as a mechanic and me being a volunteer firefighter, he offered me a sales job covering central and western New York. I sold apparatus for Wilde as a 1099-independent salesman.” (A 1099 salesman is a nondirect employee who is compensated for providing services.)

“Wilde represented both Central States and 4Guys Fire Trucks. Each wanted him to sell their line exclusively. Because of his personal relationship with Harold Boer, the owner and founder of Central States, Wilde chose Central in 1989. 4Guys needed a New York state and northern Pennsylvania dealer, so I became their dealer and remain so. Paul and I remained friendly and stayed in touch.”

Five years later, Aswad moved the business from his home to its present location on 20 acres at 13219 State Route 90 in Locke. It sells around three dozen rigs a year.

Aswad: “We do not solicit small equipment sales. We have always focused on new truck sales but will supply small equipment with the apparatus we sell. We’ve serviced ambulances for years and due to multiple requests from our apparatus customers we’re moving toward a dealership in that product line. There are six full-time employees at the shop. Janette Wheeler is the office manager and handles all calls, invoicing, payroll, phone calls, warranty paperwork, and keeps the owner in line. We have nine outside salesmen and five service techs. Our lead technician is Dane Hernandez, who usually is the main contact with all service and warranty questions.”

HME-Ahrens Fox

Although it’s common today for dealers to represent multiple lines, Aswad resisted it for years. He said, “A need arose for me and my sales team that compelled us to look for a quality line that would fit our way of doing business. HME was also looking for representation, and we joined teams in 2018. HME-Ahrens Fox’s bolted stainless-steel construction aligns with 4Guys’ all-welded stainless-steel construction. Stainless-steel apparatus have been important to me as a past chief and to my business plan. Because of selling in the northeast in snowbelt areas, stainless has been a key factor in our product choices. Their line of apparatus also utilizes many proprietary design features, and their own custom chassis allows for excellent integration into a complete apparatus from front to back. Their aerial line has been a great package to sell, and the backing of their apparatus has been exceptional. It has been a great marriage, and the product of both manufacturers has been superb.”

Sales

Aswad: “Our nine apparatus sales representatives work out of their home offices as 1099 independent contractors in the counties they represent. This puts them very close to their customer base. It eliminates unnecessary travel time and gives them the flexibility of working hours convenient to their customers and offers them the best personal tax advantages. All but three have been with this company for over 20 years, and two of those have been involved in selling trucks and servicing trucks for well over 30 years. Seven of the nine have served as fire chief in their respective departments. The newest member of the sales team has been so involved in the design and production of fire apparatus I think his first truck was most certainly pulled by horses.”

 In 2021, two 4Guys side-mount pumpers with 2,000-gpm pumps and 500-gallon tanks, built on Spartan Metro Star MFD chassis, were delivered to the Jamestown (NY) Fire Department. They feature high side compartments on both sides with hinged doors. (Photos courtesy of 4Guys Fire Trucks and Firehouse Apparatus, Inc.)

 The Kenoza Lake (NY) Fire Department received a mini-pumper with a 1,000-gpm pump and a 300-gallon tank, built on a Ford F-550 crew cab. It has winch receivers on the front, rear, and sides.

 The Pavilion (NY) Fire Department replaced a 30-year-old 4Guys front-mount pumper, equipped with a 1,250-gpm pump and a 500-gallon tank, with a 2021 4Guys front-mount pumper with a 1,500-gpm pump and a 750-gallon tank built on a 4-door International cab and chassis. It has roll-up doors and four bumper-mounted, ground-sweep nozzles.

 Firehouse Apparatus delivered the Melrose (NY) Fire District’s 4Guys 26-foot-long, walk-in rescue body mounted on a Spartan Gladiator SMFD cab and chassis. It features a 25-kW PTO generator and a light tower mounted on the cab.

 The Hillcrest (NY) Fire Company took delivery of a top-mount custom pumper from Firehouse Apparatus, Inc. It has roll-up doors, a 10-kW generator with a light tower and slide-in storage at the rear for ladders on the curb side, and a folding tank on the roadside.

 Firehouse Apparatus recently became the HME-Ahrens Fox dealer in New York State. This single-axle, 80-foot quint, with a 2,000-gpm pump and 400-gallon tank, was delivered to the Greenwood Lake (NY) Fire Department. It was built on an HME 1871-W MFDxl chassis. The HME-Ahrens Fox apparatus are bolted stainless construction and 4Guys is all welded stainless construction.

 Three Firehouse Apparatus service trucks are based at its Locke, NY, location.

Service

Except for a corporate sales office, Firehouse Apparatus’s 6,000-square-foot building is devoted to apparatus service. Technicians are factory trained by the manufacturers represented.

Aswad: “They have attended each of the factory pump schools and are factory trained by the light tower companies we promote. A number are EVT certified, and some have ASE certification and training. Several times a year, instructors are brought in from Meritor, Wabco, Allison, Cummins, and similar manufacturers for in-house training.” There are three fully equipped trucks.

Aswad: “Most service work is done at the customers’ station. This seems to be the most desired way to handle service, and it reduces the stress and liability to the customer to try and transport the apparatus to a service facility. The main concern of both 4Guys and HME-Ahrens Fox is to immediately resolve any problem to avoid downtime or hassle to the customer. Although we strongly suggest our customers make that first call to our service center, we will work with them and perhaps their preferred service agency to get a problem fixed immediately. We’ll work with any service agency to handle any warranty costs involved so the customer is back in service as quickly as possible.”

Roundtable with Aswad
Do you have any fire service experience?

“At 16, I joined the volunteer fire department in Port Dickinson, NY, where my dad and older brother were members. In my fire service career with several departments, I’ve served as assistant chief, chief, county fire inspector, and county fire investigator. I ended my volunteer career in a very small organization in Locke, NY.”

What do you mostly sell?

“Pumpers, tankers, pumper-tankers, rescues, then aerials.”

Do you sell mostly standardized apparatus or customized rigs?

“Usually very customized apparatus.”

What’s the most common pump size sold to suburban departments?

“1,500 gpm.”

What’s the most common booster tank size sold to suburban departments?

“750 to 1,000 gallons”

Do suburban departments prefer custom or commercial chassis?

“Custom chassis are favored.”

Have many departments adopted the clean cab concept?

“Not yet. Many are still overwhelmed at the incredible cost of the overall truck to consider any clean cab concepts.”

Are there many “multifunction apparatus” purchases?

“With the reduction in manpower at almost every level of the fire service, it is very common now to see departments purchasing multifunctional apparatus to replace multiple rigs from their fleets.”

What’s the most common paint colors/schemes?

“Black or white over red.”

Is competitive bidding or purchasing from co-op programs more prevalent?

“It’s about 50/50 between open bidding and co-op purchasing. Many of our customers don’t even bid, preferring to buy from us as repeat customers. I do not see any advantage for the customer using cooperative purchasing. The huge benefit is for the salesman who can talk the customer into it to avoid competitive bidding.”

Is COVID-19 affecting apparatus sales?

“Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way departments are buying apparatus and, in many situations, delayed the purchasing of outdated equipment.”

In competitive bidding scenarios, do purchasers use generic, performance, or proprietary specifications?

“I have seen it all ways. I have even helped build very generic specs for a few customers, but overall the committees put in a lot of time trying to build the best truck that will meet their needs and will choose to bid with specifications that they understand and have been working so hard on to put together.”

Are purchasers concerned with low bid rather than bidders’ compliance with the technical purchasing specifications?

“I find that the customers we deal with are more concerned with the bidder’s compliance to the way the truck is laid out. Small differences such as the types of lights used or compartment depths and heights are considered, but the overall layout needs to be adhered to.”

Any comments about apparatus manufacturers merging?

“All the buyouts and mergers happening in the industry should not make any difference to the customer. Bottom line, it’s that face-to-face relationship with the apparatus representative that customers want. The trust they can put into a sales representative is crucial, and the new apparatus must be able to work for a long time. Quick response to any issues is crucial, and a good apparatus dealership will see to it that any problem is addressed immediately.”

Any comments on future apparatus sales in your territory?

“Our market area for both 4Guys and HME-Ahrens Fox includes all of New York State and the northern Pennsylvania counties that border New York. The continued sales of apparatus still rely on providing the customer with knowledge, expertise, and trustworthiness for them to feel comfortable. A fair competitive price is also needed, but the customer is the most important part of the equation. I don’t see any major changes to the market in our territory other that more consolidation of both apparatus and departments with manpower shortages growing worse every year.”


BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

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