Spartan Motors Meets ‘Homeland’ Needs

February 25, 2007
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CHARLOTTE — Spartan Motors has been engineering, designing and manufacturing heavy-duty chassis and cabs for motor homes, fire trucks, ambulances and emergency-rescue vehicles for more than 30 years. It's now applying its chassis expertise toward the development of new HAZMAT vehicles, mobile command centers and rescue vehicles that meet homeland security needs.

Fire departments have expanded beyond fighting fires; firefighters have to deal with HAZMAT and biotech issues today, as well, explained Rich Schalter, president of Spartan Chassis, a Spartan Motors subsidiary.

"There are changes being made in the fire truck cab to allow for more flexibility; they require compartments within the cab to hold materials, which means we have to build additional space within the cab," he said.

A HAZMAT situation requires protective gear, air tanks and other types of apparatus that are dramatically different from what is needed to fight a fire, Schalter explained.

The HAZMAT vehicles are different both because of the compartmentalization for materials and because, instead of having a pump and a water tank, they're frequently built more like rescue vehicles with additional cab space for the compartments, he said. Some may have more windows or fewer windows; some cabs may be designed with three doors instead of four so they have space to become mobile command centers with computers and desks, as opposed to trucks that haul firefighters.

"Spartan is engaged because we've had to change the 'space claim' within the cab so that the OEM that's going to build some of the cabinetry has the space to build these command centers, for instance," Schalter said. "We create the environment so the OEM can do that."

Recently, the Michigan State Police contracted with Spartan to build the chassis for 17 new HAZMAT vehicles that will be placed in fire departments throughout the state. The vehicles are funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency. The contract is a combined bid between Spartan Chassis and Spencer Manufacturing Inc. of South Haven, which builds new fire and rescue trucks on either custom or commercial chassis.

In addition, Spartan is getting more calls for five-wheel, Class 8, over-the-road trucks to tow special trailers. A city in North Carolina, for example, has separate trailers for HAZMAT materials, for biotech and for nuclear materials, Schalter pointed out.

"They have all these different equipment needs, so what they do is have one or two fire trucks that pull in, hook the trailer up, and take them to wherever they're needed."

Spartan produces almost one unique vehicle per day, according to Schalter. Some major cities buy five to 10 cabs and chassis a year that are virtually the same. That's a portion of Spartan's business, he said, but most of its business is in unique cabs and chassis with custom designed interiors, seating arrangements, mirrors and bumpers.

"It's our strategic intent to build what that particular department thinks is the best cab and chassis for pulling their pumpers and other vehicles," he remarked.

Spartan Motors' vehicles and brands are known as Spartan, Crimson Fire and Road Rescue. It sells cabs and chassis through about 60 vehicle-body builders across the United States that sell to more than 200 dealers, Schalter said. 

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