Oldest Fire Truck Maker Revived As New Generation Truck Unveiled
PORTLAND, Ore., Aug. 29 -- Freightliner Corp. unveiled the newest generation of the legendary American LaFrance custom fire truck to fire chiefs from throughout the world who were in Kansas City, Mo., to attend their Aug. 25-28 annual convention. The 164-year-old American LaFrance had ceased fire truck production when Freightliner purchased the company in 1995. Upon the purchase, Freightliner immediately initiated the design of an all-new line of custom fire trucks and announced its intention to become the fire service industry's dominant chassis supplier. American LaFrance has roots dating back to 1832 in Waterford, NY. It produced its first steam-powered fire engine in 1873 and has been a strong and colorful name in fire fighting ever since. American LaFrance innovations include the technology that led to modern diesel-powered pumps, the first screw-driven ladder trucks, and today's giant aerial ladder trucks. Called the American LaFrance "Eagle," the new fire truck chassis offers many technological advances that improve safety performance, driver and crew ergonomics as well as the fire truck's durability. Freightliner, the leading maker of heavy-duty trucks in North America, incorporated into the new fire truck revolutionary technology originally developed for its all-new premium heavy-duty highway trucks. "Technology, such as the latest generation of anti-lock brakes, air bags, electronic braking and components with reduced maintenance requirements, is sorely needed in today's emergency vehicles," said Freightliner President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Hebe. "Fire departments all over North America are asking for cost-effective maintenance and repairs as their fleets are downsized, their mileage is increasing, and their budgets are squeezed tighter than ever," added Hebe, whose first job in the trucking industry was at American LaFrance 25 years ago. "Technology being developed for commercial trucks is needed now in emergency vehicles," he said. "We have cost-effectively transferred our expertise to this market and see great opportunities to use our resources and products to meet the challenges facing the fire service of the 21st Century." Attention to Detail, Fire Service Needs True to the American LaFrance tradition of inventing equipment and apparatus to make fire fighting safer and more effective, Freightliner has developed a fire truck chassis that gives optimum performance and convenience in demanding conditions and created one of the most driver and crew-friendly cabs ever built. Freightliner engineers relied on a comprehensive study of the emergency services industry to give its new fire fighting customers what they wanted in a cab interior. Greater windshield area for more visibility; raised roofs and longer and wider cabs with quieter rides; an electronic navigation mapping system that can help guide to destinations or locate a specific fire hydrant; adjustable air seats; traffic warning lights on all doors and a range of storage cabinets are just a few of the features included to increase fire fighters' comfort, safety and productivity. "The American LaFrance Eagle fire truck chassis has all the features of next-century design and technology, but it's an unmistakable descendent of the oldest and most honored fire truck nameplate in North America," added Hebe. Freightliner expects to double its business in this segment within two years. With the new line of American LaFrance fire trucks, Freightliner has entered what has traditionally been known as the "custom" segment of the fire truck chassis marketplace. With its heavy and medium-duty trucks, Freightliner leads the "commercial" side of the industry. Hebe said these market distinctions will blur as Freightliner puts its unique engineering and manufacturing system to work to give emergency and fire service customers a longer list of options, new technologies and the flexibility to specify the vehicles that best meet their needs. The American LaFrance Eagle is available through nearly 60 of the company's dealerships in the U.S. and Canada. The dealerships will sell, service and support the fire trucks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The company will also sell the new American LaFrance trucks to apparatus suppliers which in turn equip them with pumps, ladders and more. Freightliner plans to continue servicing the American LaFrance trucks already on the road. The headquarters for American LaFrance manufacturing, engineering, sales and customer support operations is in Cleveland, N.C., just north of Charlotte and neighboring Freightliner's largest heavy truck manufacturing plant. A new 87,500 square foot facility will be complete later this year and will also include a museum to house a collection of 16 fully-restored antique American LaFrance fire trucks, archives and other historic data. Freightliner Corporation, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, produces and markets commercial vehicles in Class 4-8 and is a member of the Mercedes-Benz AG group, the world's largest commercial vehicle manufacturer. American LaFrance is a wholly owned subsidiary of Freightliner Corporation.