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Fire engine repair takes specialized skills

Even relatively minor damage to a fire engine requires specialized repair. Photo courtesy of E-One Factory Service.

By Barett Poley

Ocala, Florida — December 14, 2016 — The business of repairing or refurbishing a fire engine can be a tricky thing, and the custom-fabricated vehicles need to be up to scratch to do the difficult job they’ve been assigned. With a new pumper engine costing upwards of $500,000 USD, the best option isn’t always to buy new if an engine has been involved in a collision. That’s where the unique fabricators and collision repairers of the firefighting industry come into play.

The vehicles used by fire departments are in a different class from other emergency vehicles. A police interceptor is, at its core, just a modified commercial vehicle. The same goes for an ambulance. Despite their specialized modifications, they’re built on commercial van frames.

While there are fire engines, such as pumpers and rescues, that are mounted on commercial chassis, the majority of these vehicles are custom designed. Kevin McVean is the Service Sales Manager for E-One Factory Service. He provided some insight into the specialized world of fire engine repair in an interview with Collision Repair magazine.

“With an ambulance, there will be a commercial chassis that can be used for all sorts of applications and vocations, but with a special box on the back” says McVean. “But a fire truck is custom built from the ground up for the explicit purpose of fighting fires.”

This means not only are the engines themselves more expensive, but repairing them can be a more specialized job than ambulances or police interceptors, which can often just be brought to standard collision repair facilities.

In addition to the specialized skills and knowledge needed for the job, parts can be difficult to find for older engines. Simply put, a lot of “OEM” parts for an older fire engine are simply too rare to be feasible.

“For our refurbishments, it’s a lot of custom fabrication,” says McVean. “There are some proprietary parts to the design from the vendors though, for our application.”

E-One has been serving the fire apparatus industry since 1974, and since then the company has made many connections in the business. “There are some third party parts, such as lights and brass parts, that we’ll get from vendors like Akron, Elkhart and Whelen lighting, but that’s universal for all repairers,” says McVean. Those parts cover the basics of what separate a fire engine from being just a big boxy truck – the lights, the nozzles and the hoses that it needs to do its job.

Firefighting is an important service and keeping those vehicles roadworthy and in good condition is likewise important. It’s another example of how people in the collision repair industry can be literal life-savers.

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