Louisiana-Based Apparatus Maker Gives IFW Attendees a Plant Tour
Vol 21 No 3
Thirty years ago Chris Ferrara worked as a pipefitter-fabricator at a petrochemical refinery in Baton Rouge. He also served as a volunteer firefighter in a nearby rural suburb known as Central City.
"We didn't have a whole lot of money to operate the fire department," he said. "It took door-to-door donations and chicken dinners to make ends meet."
Of the many things the department needed, most important was a new tanker truck. Ferrara and some other volunteers decided to build one themselves.
"That was my first real experience with building trucks," Ferrara said. "I wanted to go into business for myself and so a couple of years later I jump in with both feet."Today, he owns a company specializing in fire apparatus that estimates sales well over $100 million for 2006.
"Only in America can somebody start from that level and get to where I am today," he said.
Ferrara addressed his comments to Industrial Fire World conference attendees touring the 280,000 square foot Ferrara Fire Apparatus manufacturing plant in Holden, LA. in March.
Ferrara employs 375 people at its Holden facility. In addition, Ferrara has offices in Louisiana, California and Florida. The company maintains a fleet of 10 service vans nationwide staffed by road mechanics.
"We have a network of 30 dealers that sells and promotes our vehicles throughout the country," Ferrara said. "We have 29 direct sales staff that operate in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas and several other states."
Ferrara's biggest customer is Palm Beach County, FL with 82 Ferrara units in service. The company made its first sale there in 1984. Other large customer bases for the company have been New York, San Francisco, Detroit and Houston.Internationally, Ferrara is doing business in China, Indonesia, the Bahamas and Trinidad. Ferrara's Strong Arm, a fire truck with a telescopic boom that can penetrate a 6-inch concrete wall, has proved to be a big seller overseas.
"In China, we sold two Strong Arms," Ferrara said. "Also, we just made our first Strong Arm sales to Istanbul, Turkey. They bought three."
Ferrara has been quick to adapt to key changes in the fire apparatus business. Using the Internet, customers can access real-time video of their truck being built, charting its progress day to day.
"Customers can follow the truck from start to finish and tell us about any changes they want made," Ferrara said.
Ferrara Fire Apparatus gained national recognition in 2001 after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. After a state wide donation drive, Ferrara accepted a 60-day deadline to build a fire truck for New York to replace one of many destroyed.
"Building a complete fire engine in 60 days from the ground up to tough New York City specs was a daunting challenge," Ferrara said. "My craftsmen donated much of their time, working around the clock to build the truck."
On the way to New York, the truck, dubbed "Spirit of Louisiana," made a stop at the White House for a special ceremony on the South Lawn.
"Behind me sits one beautiful, well-manufactured truck made by an entrepreneur in Louisiana who asked his people to work overtime, and they did, to deliver it here today," President Bush said.
Following Hurricane Katrina, FDNY responded with a contingent of apparatus sent to Louisiana.
Leading the way was former Engine 283, also known as the Spirit of Louisiana.
"We were really proud to have that truck come back to us when we needed it," Ferrara said.
For more information about Ferrara, visit their web site at www.ferrarafire.com.