Chris Ferrara sees his Holden, Louisiana, based fire apparatus company as one of the true custom builders of fire trucks in America today.
"As you walk around our shop floor you can see we are really diversified, building a lot of different specialty products from all stainless steel body vehicles to extruded aluminum body trucks to galvanized steel body vehicles," Ferrara said. "We really pride ourselves on building the heaviest product in the industry worldwide."
Ferrara hosted a tour of his company's 300,000 square foot factory during the 25th annual Industrial Fire World Emergency Responders Conference & Expo during February in Baton Rouge.
His company, Ferrara Fire Apparatus, is the fifth largest U.S. fire truck builder, producing 250 to 300 trucks a year. Ferrara Fire Apparatus manufactures a full line of fire and emergency vehicles, including their premium Inferno XD and Igniter XD custom chassis, the Intruder 2 custom chassis, pumpers, tankers, rear and mid-mount aerial ladders and platforms, rescue vehicles, incident command vehicles, Inundator industrial pumpers and aerials and the Strong Arm fire rescue vehicle.
Ferrara is a leading innovator in firefighter safety features such as crash tested cabs and bodies, electronic stability control, complete airbag protection and SmartWheel steering systems, in addition to onsite tilt table testing. Ferrara also builds a line of specialty law enforcement vehicles including bomb squads, mobile crime scene labs, SWAT trucks, mobile drug interdiction labs and command vehicles.
Only 28 years ago, Chris Ferrara was a pipefitter and volunteer firefighter who decided to try his hand at building a fire truck. He started his business with $1,800 and the help of a couple of friends.
"I just started doing a lot of research and then came up with a lot of different designs," Ferrara said. "When I first got started we were selling other brands of fire trucks. One thing led to another. We said to ourselves, 'We can do anything those guys can do and better.' And here we are."
The company's latest coup is winning a three-year contract to manufacture all the aerial devices for the Fire Department of New York, Ferrara said.
"We did receive a PO for the first ten and expect to receive another PO for the next ten within the next two weeks," Ferrara said. "So that contract is probably going to be anywhere from 30 to 40 aerials over the next three to four years. In addition, we have a lot of specialty units in New York, from Haz Mat One to units for everything from decon to foam supply."
Ferrara also provides trucks for the New York Police Department and the Transit Authority. Other than New York, Ferrara has a major presence in Houston, with 55 fire trucks now in service. Other large municipal customers for Ferrara include Knoxville, Tennessee; San Francisco, California; San Diego County, California and Palm Beach County, Florida, which has about 80 Ferrara units in service.
"Abroad we've been really lucky over the last four or five years," Ferrara said. "We have trucks in Dubai, Istanbull -- they have about 13 or 14 units, the Bahamas and we delivered one to Chile the other day. In China we have five industrial trucks, plus a lot of other trucks too, such as our Strong Arms. We have four trucks we are delivering to China that will make about 35 units there."
On the industrial side, Ferrara has sold trucks to Exxon, Shell, Valero, Sunoco and Bayer Chemical. Most recently, Ferrara delivered two trucks to a Tesoro refinery near Los Angeles, Ferrara said.
Latest innovations in place at the Ferrara factory include the addition of two onsite testing facilities -- a tilt table and a second pump test pit.
The tilt table is built in compliance with SAE and NFPA requirements, giving Ferrara's customers another compliance option for the new NFPA 1901 standard for vehicle stability. Like the fire pump, aerial, and electrical testing Ferrara offers, the tilt table testing is available from an independent third party, Underwriters' Laboratories, Inc. Ferrara's 50-foot tilt table is believed to be the largest in the southeast USA. The table tilts to 40 degrees, well beyond the 26.5 degrees required by NFPA 1901. The tilt table's extra long design will make the facility appealing for other heavy truck body builders and Ferrara will rent the test equipment as needed.
The other test facility Ferrara has added, a second pump test area, is designed to accommodate their growing industrial fire apparatus business. A man- made lake was built on Ferrara's property and a dry hydrant system was installed to allow drafting by up to three eight-inch hard suction lines at the same time. The water is then discharged back into the lake, making it ideal for testing 4,000 gallons per minute or larger monitors associated with industrial fire apparatus, as well as the 1,250 and 1,500 gpm waterways featured on Ferrara's line of heavy duty aerial apparatus. Required UL testing equipment is at the new test area, allowing Ferrara to conduct up to four UL pump tests at the same time, when used with their existing pump test facility.
Aside from the factory floor, a second facility at the Holden site is a large repair and referbishing center.
"Just like cars, trucks get into wrecks and turn over," Ferrara said. "So we service a lot of our vehicles that come back to us from all over the country. We also service a lot of other products too."
Ferrara strives to meet diverse emergency responder needs by developing new apparatus or serving existing apparatus worldwide.