It is a time of regulatory and economic upheaval in America. Ferrara Fire Apparatus, Inc. of Holden, LA, is among the few fire truck manufacturers who have made a conscious decision to woo the industrial emergency response market. Interviewed by Industrial Fire World publisher David White on the changes faced by fire truck manufacturers is Paul Christiansen, Ferrara's director of marketing and aerial sales manager.
DAVID WHITE: We all know that Ferrara builds 500 gpm to 3,000 gpm pumpers and big aerials and towers. What do you build that is out of the ordinary that somebody in industry needs to know about?
CHRISTIANSEN: What sets us apart is that we have basic models but we don't let that bind the customer to a cookie-cutter design. We are very open to customizing our bodies and cab. The truck we built for Refinery Terminal Fire Company in Corpus Christi is a good example of that. It's a rear mount pump with top mount controls. All the metering valves were remotely mounted, so actually there are dual controls you could work at the back of the truck and at the top mount panel as well. In other words, you have the one set of metering valve controls at the pump with all the plumbing at the rear of the truck. They could also operate everything up front on the top mount panel. That's not in anybody's standard model book, but RTFC needed it so we designed that truck specifically for them.
DAVID: It really didn't carry more manpower but it made manpower more efficient.
DAVID: Whose metering valves did you use?
CHRISTIANSEN: RTFC's truck has a Williams Fire & Hazard Control Hot-Shot II-300 system. RTFC has an Ambassador monitor up there that is plumbed with eight-inch valve and piping.
DAVID: I don't know how long you've been in this business, Paul, but was there ever a day you thought you would have an eight-inch discharge on fire trucks.
DAVID: It's a sign of the times related to industry's demand that if we have big fires we have to have big fire fighting equipment. In this case it happens to be an eight-inch monitor. What is the capacity flow?
CHRISTIANSEN: It depends upon how the truck is plumbed, but the Huntsman Chemical truck we just delivered flowed 5,100-to-5,200 gpm from their hydrant system using two 6-inch inlets.
DAVID: Have you done any big flows through tower ladders yet? Some people have taken the basket off.
CHRISTIANSEN: We have a design like that with our 100-foot platform. We remove the platform and end up with a super heavy duty 100-foot straight stick aerial ladder.? You can flow 1500 gpm and still maintain a 1,500 pound tip load.
DAVID: What sets Ferrara's industrial fire truck line apart from anybody else's?
CHRISTIANSEN: Like our municipal line, everything is heavy duty construction. The RTFC truck is all 12 gauge stainless steel. It is extremely thick material. Some manufacturers might give you a 14 or 16 gauge body. But ours is all 12 gauge stainless with a seven gauge stainless steel subframe, so it is really, really beefy. It is meant to last virtually a lifetime. The rollup doors were painted, but the body itself was just brush finished stainless. It looks really nice and it is always going to look that way. Other trucks, like Huntsman Chemical, are built with extruded aluminum.? The extruded body is extremely heavy duty and really lends itself well to customizing.
DAVID: Let's get into the environmental issues, such as the engines of tomorrow.
CHRISTIANSEN: Tomorrow is actually this fall.
DAVID: What are we going to see? Are we still going to be able to get our big engines for our big pumps?
CHRISTIANSEN: Well, your engine selection is reduced. We are offering Cummins.? We are also working with a couple of other engine suppliers too so that we will be able to offer a variety. Detroit Diesel has entered into an exclusive agreement with another manufacturer, basically taking themselves out of the majority of the fire market. Caterpillar is finished with over-the-road trucks.
DAVID: Are we going to be able to get the 500 and 600 horsepower engines?
DAVID: Tell us about the challenge of meeting these new environmental standards with the fire trucks.
CHRISTIANSEN: The big challenge is getting the final design from engine manufacturers so that you can design the trucks. I guess right now there is also the possibility that we may end up having dual after treatment filters in the truck, one of them being a urea filter. That can certainly pose some challenges when it comes to plumbing a fire truck.
DAVID: Well, it's already cramped now. There is no exemption for fire trucks, right?
CHRISTIANSEN: Correct. Even though as an industry we only produce about 5,000 trucks a year, which is really insignificant as far as the total market picture. But they don't cut the fire? apparatus segment of the market any slack at all.
DAVID: Is all this pollution stuff going to create a bigger housing for the engine?
CHRISTIANSEN: Our cab is not going to be any larger than it is right now. With the 2007 engines we went to a 100-inch wide cab with a larger engine tunnel. However, by increasing the overall cab width we were able to keep the driver's and officer's hip and shoulder room the same.
DAVID: What is this going to do for maintenance and operators of a fire truck? I understand that one of the problems will be that as you are driving the truck down the highway at some point you have to pull over and let the filter recycle.
CHRISTIANSEN: You don't have to pull over.? The system will regenerate while you're driving, or in pump mode if the engine RPM is high enough. You can switch to a regen-inhibit mode and delay the process if the driver-engineer deems it necessary. Alternately, you can set it to a manual regeneration mode. You really don't notice the regeneration is going on other than an indicator light on the dash. The issue that the fire trucks have is that typically you are making a short run to your call. So you're not really operating long enough for complete regeneration or you're someplace where you don't want to go through regeneration, particularly on the fire ground. With the truck in pump, a lot of times it is going to start the regeneration and then ...
DAVID: You may get in and drive off.
CHRISTIANSEN: Then you're going to come to a stop and regeneration is going to come to a stop. So for fire trucks you may often have to take it somewhere and go through the manual regeneration mode.
DAVID: How long is it going to take?
CHRISTIANSEN: It may take 45 to 60 minutes but it is not terribly convenient.? The regeneration process is more efficient when the truck is at operating temperature, so the operator would want to perform that when the crew returns from a call and not as a part of a morning check-out. It's an extra step in maintenance that the driver is going to have to be aware of.
DAVID: Is there any special maintenance that is going to have to be done on these systems?
CHRISTIANSEN: Not particularly, other than you have to monitor your regeneration. With the fire truck you can choose to delay the regeneration, but if you keep doing that, eventually you get to a point where your particulate filter is going to have to go to the engine service center.
DAVID: I understand that service has to be done by a 'certified person' who probably won't be in with the fire department or plant, right?
CHRISTIANSEN: Right. But that should not be really frequent. Typically, if you can go through the regeneration process when you are supposed to, it is pretty much low maintenance. That is what over-the-road truck drivers experience. With fire trucks you likely end up doing it more often though.
DAVID: That maintenance is going to be expensive, isn't it?
CHRISTIANSEN: Yes, because of the price of your replacement diesel particulate filters. It has gotten to the point that your muffler is going to have to be an item that you put into your maintenance budget every year. In case you need to have one, you want that money dedicated for it.
DAVID: How much money?
CHRISTIANSEN: Probably about $4,000. But it is not something you have to do all the time. You want to have that money set aside for it when you do, probably every five years or so. It is not going to wear out any faster than it does on your passenger car.
DAVID: I guess we can say that the fire truck of yesteryear is not going to be the fire truck of the future.
CHRISTIANSEN: Pretty much. The new NFPA 1901 standard has some pretty good safety features.
DAVID: I'm well aware. I'm on the committee.
CHRISTIANSEN: Electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring, added reflective striping, additional work lighting and event data recorders can all enhance the safety of fire apparatus. We'll see how the event data recorder ends up playing out. It is still incumbent upon the fire department to retrieve that data. It records things like acceleration, breaking speed, seat belt status and seat occupancy.
DAVID: What other new things do we have?
CHRISTIANSEN:? One of the most important features is the prevention of roll over accidents. Now most new apparatus will either have to be tested on a tilt table or equipped with electronic stability control. Tilt table testing requires the vehicle to be tilted on a test table and remain stable at a minimum of 27 degrees. Electronic stability control, on the other hand, is a part of the ABS brake system that senses potential roll over, disables the accelerator and adjusts braking until the roll over potential is passed. The initial comments we've had from customers is that it's almost like learning to drive all over again. Drivers are taught to accelerate coming out of a turn. Now, depending upon their speed and apparatus, they may not be able to accelerate like they're used to.
DAVID: Are ladder trucks and tankers going to be too top heavy when we put them on the tilt table?
CHRISTIANSEN: The real tall vehicles are going to have a hard time no matter who makes them. Rather than do a tilt table test, those will be a candidate for the electronic stability control.
DAVID: Does anybody buy a plain Jane simple fire truck anymore?
CHRISTIANSEN: Oh sure. We sell a good number of standard program trucks because the market still demands them. They put out as much fire as the custom trucks. However, fire calls are fewer today and most trucks are rescue oriented. Everybody wants to be prepared for whatever scene they are going to roll up on.
DAVID: How are you going to take all these NFPA standards and plug them into that International or Ford where you can't mess with the seat belts or the environmental equipment?
CHRISTIANSEN: International is going to provide their chassis 1901 compliant. Others are not going to be compliant until 2010, if at all.
DAVID: So we are going to eliminate some chassis that we might have used in the past.
CHRISTIANSEN: Yeah.? Overall, there will be fewer choices for fire apparatus when it comes to the commercial chassis market.
DAVID: This is all going to raise the price on truck considerably, isn't it?
CHRISTIANSEN: The initial estimate that we got from the commercial chassis manufacturers for 2010 is about $7,000.
DAVID: I understand Ferrara has a unique system that allows customers to check the construction progress on their vehicles via the Internet.
CHRISTIANSEN: We have a staff photographer who takes pictures of our vehicles as they are being built. We update each truck's photos on our web site three times a week.? The majority of our customers do not live nearby, but are still able to check the progress of what is happening to their truck. It gives them a sense of security because they can see progress on their truck and make sure it's being built to their spec.