Kentucky fire truck maker avoids standard issue
Vol. 27 Spring 2012
No two fire departments are ever the same. Threats faced are different. Available money is different. The mindsets of those making the decisions are different. Summit Fire Apparatus in Northern Kentucky specializes in trucks tailored to accommodate those crucial differences.
“In 50 years we have learned one thing for certain,” said Joe Messmer, president and co-owner of Summit. “Customers want what they want. And we give them just that, by building their ideas into safe, well equipped units.”
Summit does not have a standard truck. Rather, each truck is designed and manufactured to meet the unique needs of each customer, while adhering to the highest standards of the fire truck industry.
The company has found its niche in challenging and unique trucks. Its current line of apparatus includes heavy rescue trucks, mini-rescues, haz-mat units, brush trucks, pumpers, tankers/tenders, cascade trailers and trailer-mounted portable lights.
For example, as challenges go, many fire truck companies steer clear of industrial fire trucks, particularly foam pumpers. Not Summit. To date, the company has manufactured three industrial foam pumpers – one for an oil refinery in Toledo, OH, and two similar rigs for Bulwer Island, Australia.
The Toledo pumper truck boasts a foam and pump configuration that has never been accomplished before. The truck is 100 inches wide, has a 3,000 gpm Hale RME pump, FoamPro AccuMax 3300 foam system capable of delivering individually metered foam solution to each of nine discharges, a 1,000 gallon fiberglass foam tank, mid-ship mounted Hydro Sword, and an articulating telescoping aerial nozzle.
Built on a Spartan Gladiator chassis, the truck has a Caterpillar C13 diesel engine and Allison Gen IV transmission. It has stainless-steel plumbing and a side-mount pump panel with retractable deck and railing, 15 kw Power Tech generator, six Extend-A-Lites, a 4,500-watt Will-Burt light tower, rear-mounted 5,000 gpm Akron monitor, a rearview camera system with an LCD monitor and two heavy-duty cameras.
The front bumper extension stores two 1¾ –inch attack lines. For this and other reasons, the fire chief at the Toledo refinery dubbed the new fire truck as “The Dragonslayer.”
Another challenge that Summit faced head on had to do with homeland security. Summit produced a CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives) response vehicle to serve the Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana tri-state area. The 37 feet 7 inch custom trailer is pulled by a Freightliner. It has 14 rescue-style compartments, side awnings, a ramp for wheeled equipment, rooftop storage, a Will-Burt light tower, 25 kw generator and lighted walkway from the front of the vehicle to the rear observation platform.
Inside is an enclosed science and research room with pass-through, fume extraction hood, work counter and wall cabinets.
Back in 1957, when Charles Messmer started Summit, the company’s assets consisted of a pick-up truck and a portable welder. He built his first unit, a tanker, in 1958. Refurbishing and repair of wrecked and older units became a big part of the business.
Messmer’s interest in fire equipment came naturally. He was a founder of his local fire department, serving as chief from 1963 until his death in 1969. His son Joe then took up the mantle, serving as chief for the next 26 years.
Today, Joe and his own son, Mark, are still members of that local fire department.
Summit has changed and grown over the last half century. Aside from building new trucks, the service department performs preventative maintenance, repair and collision work as well as refurbishment of older units.
“If a department tears up a tailboard, we can manufacture a new one,” Joe Messmer said. The part can be shipped to the department and “bolted or installed right in place.”
In talking to Joe one gets the sense that he loves his work. He takes great pride in building fire apparatus.
“I think I have the greatest job in the world,” he said. “The customers seem to react when we start talking about the fire industry. They know I have lived it.”