American LaFrance executives announced in March that they would not exhibit at this month’s annual Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) trade show in Indianapolis.
Citing a downturn in municipal funding for fire apparatus, ALF President Bill Hinz said he believes the company must focus all of its efforts on meeting current customer needs and being positioned for the future.
“All the projections and conversations we have had with customers and friends within the industry point to a rough year in 2010,” he said. “FDIC is an important event for the industry, and we will have a presence there in future years, but our primary focus is continuing to support our customers related to new orders, delivering backlog and meeting our financial objectives.”
American LaFrance’s fire apparatus manufacturing operations have been uncertain since the company sought Chapter 11 protection from its creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in January 2008.
In July 2008, after emerging from bankruptcy, the company announced it was consolidating all fire truck production at its plants in Ephrata, Pa., and Hamburg, N.Y., because it intended to launch other unspecified types of ventures at its 435,000-square-foot Summerville, S.C., headquarters and manufacturing facility.
Then in April 2009, American LaFrance executives changed direction and announced plant closures aimed at consolidating all manufacturing in Summerville. They said they would shut down the Ephrata and Hamburg plants, eliminating some 300 jobs.
Last month, in another reversal, they said they decided to keep the Ephrata plant open. While other Summerville consolidation plans are complete, company officials said the Ephrata facility, long known as “LTI,” will remain active as a ladder production plant.
“In talking with our customers, we felt a presence in the Northeast was critical,” said Karen Haun, newly-appointed vice president of customer service. “Similar to our Los Angeles facility, Ephrata will function as a corporate service facility with parts, service, warranty and refurbishment capabilities. We will also keep the ladder engineering and manufacturing in Ephrata, which satisfies our customers’ concerns.”
Hinz said missing this year’s FDIC show is one of many tough decisions the company has made over the past few years, but believes the sacrifices will pay off.
“Having been through the setbacks of our past, our employees know how to navigate through today’s rough economic times,” he said. “We are now a more financially responsible company. Our product diversity in and outside of the fire industry is an asset many of our competitors do not have. Our most encouraging indicator of progress is that our monthly deliveries are steadily increasing.”
Hinz said he has challenged his team to approach the upcoming years with an eye toward innovation. “In this new decade, we can’t accept trying to be like everybody else,” he said. “I believe if we listen to the customers, turn their ideas into reality, and exceed their expectations, we will be able to achieve all the goals we have set for this great company.”