Exclusive Interview: Chris Ferrara, President and CEO of US Fire Pump

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Chris Ferrara, President and CEO of US Fire Pump, speaks exclusively with IFSJ about his long career in the industry, his achievements to date and what he plans to do next

In the fire industry, Chris Ferrara is a name that many will be familiar with. With a career spanning over 40 years dating back to his days as a volunteer firefighter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Ferrara made a name for himself in the industry as a fire truck manufacturer and is responsible for building over 6,000 fire trucks that have been deployed at major locations across the globe.

Five years ago, after finding himself in the position to sell his fire truck manufacturing business, Ferrara Fire Apparatus, to REV Group in 2017, Ferrara decided to turn his focus to US Fire Pump, a business he started in 2014. IFSJ had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Chris to hear more about his impressive career in the industry, learn about some of the lesser known aspects of US Fire Pump’s offering, and his plans to re-enter the fire truck game.

Chris – you’re career in the fire industry is very impressive, where did it all start?

I started my career straight out of high school when I joined the local union apprenticeship programme to learn how to weld and pipe fit, following my dad’s footsteps. My wife and I got married and moved out to a small community north of Baton Rouge where I joined the local volunteer fire department.

Back then the volunteer fire department was strictly donation funded. At that time, we needed a new fire truck but we didn’t have the funds. With my background of fabrication and welding, me and a couple of guys got together and started building a fire truck in a barn.

Since there, my career leapt after working at different industrial facilities around Louisiana as a pipe fitter and welder, but I always wanted to go into business for myself. I started selling miscellaneous fire equipment – hoses and nozzles and rescue tools – in the early days around 1981. During this time, I had the opportunity to tour fire truck manufacturing facilities across the country and said to myself ‘I can do anything those guys are doing’ so I and hired some personnel and we began building first class fire trucks.

We started that on a full-scale basis in 1985 and that business substantially took off. As the story goes on, that business substantially grew with customers all around the world. I had customers in Dubai, China, Turkey, Mexico, Canada – all around the world, and in just about every major city domestically in the US.

What made you decide to leave the fire truck market?

I had an opportunity to exit that business around five years ago. A publicly traded company wanted to expand their business and so I decided to sell up and focus on US Fire Pump. But I couldn’t stay home and do nothing. I consider myself to be one of the biggest innovators in the fire industry and hopefully that’s what people will remember me for.

My main goal with US Fire Pump was to manufacture the largest fire pump ever produced on a fire truck. We accomplished that in around 2014 when we won the Guinness Book of World Record for the highest capacity fire pump ever installed on a fire truck anywhere in the world. This pump produces more than 6,000 gallons per minute from draft, and from a pressurised source it could get in excess of 10,000 gallons.

US Fire Pump is more than just a pump manufacturer – what else is the company involved in?

As the evolution went on, we also started a firefighting team that are now considered the largest industrial firefighting team in the world. We have, in the last six years, put out every major industrial fire domestically in the United States from an aircraft carrier for the Navy to one of the largest fires in Texas history at a terminal in Deer Park.

Not only are we building great pumps and rental pumps, we also have really brought a lot of new technology in the firefighting effort in industrial firefighting, developing new foam products, new foam supply equipment products.

We’re constantly looking for new ways and new ideas to stretch the boundaries of technology of how to attack fire. We always say in large scale fires that distance is always your friend. If we can throw a water foam solution in from 600 feet away from a fire that puts a firefighter in a safer position and still accomplishes the goal.

One of the biggest changes in firefighting in recent times has been the move towards fluorine free foam – how have you worked to incorporate this?

Fluorine free one of our biggest focus areas. It is a worldwide issue. We’re having to find ways to attack fires with a completely different tactic that no one else has seen before. Not only do you need to have more foam solution when using fluorine free, it’s a tactic that a lot of people are not used to. It has been about retraining the industrial firefighting groups over what action to take when using fluorine free products.

To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a major tank extinguishment with flouring free products so we’re always going to be challenged when that day comes in making sure that this product works, which is why we’re constantly running tests and research. In addition to that, we’ve had to develop other appliances and equipment that coincide with the new fluorine free products.

What else is US Fire Pump working on at the moment?

Our other focus has been what we call ‘big water flow’. Extinguishing fires takes a tremendous amount of water and foam solution to put out. People commonly think ‘I’ll hook up to a fire hydrant’ or something that’s close to where the fire is. With all the fires we attend we are always looking for alternative water sources. We have designed big submersible hydraulic pumps to get water from alternative water sources such as rivers, ponds and lakes.

We also use our hydraulic submersible pumps to de-water facilities. Following a hurricane last year, a large industrial facility was completely flooded – 20 acres of facility that was completely underwater. We were pumping over 10 million gallons of water a day and by the time the job was through we had pumped almost a billion gallons of water out of this facility.

I know that you’re now making a move back into the fire truck industry – what spurned that? And what are your thoughts on the move towards electric fire trucks?

It wasn’t something that we were necessarily looking for in the business – we were very focused on US Fire Pump and the emergency response team – but the customer drove us back into the business because of the reputation I built over the last 40 years.

We’ve had customers coming to us saying ‘we want you to build a great product like you’ve done before that we know is reliable and know that you can build’. We’re into that hot and heavy now. We’ve got quite a few trucks sold already and we’re going to go after business with customers that want a reliable, heavy-duty built product.

The technology has surely changed with electronic controls and different features – but I’m old school. I like to be a failsafe person. When I pull up on the scene people’s lives are at stake. When you engage the pump and the foam system, we want to make sure that system is going to work every time.

Finally, supply chain issues have been impacting industry across the world – has this had an impact on US Fire Pump?

With our fire truck division, we see that with the reputation and the relationships that I have with a lot of different manufacturers we can get geared up quite fast. Going forward, there may be some issues with some supply chains, but we’ve overcome that by having the inventory and manufacturing the products ourselves to overcome a lot of those issues.

I understood what was going on globally with the supply chain. It goes against the manufacturing principal of ‘just in time’, but we instead invested in over 15-20$ million of inventory of items built and ready to be built immediately so that we could have items for our customers. The industry standards for today in fire trucks and pumps may be two years for delivery of these critical items that these municipalities and industrial facilities need.

This article was originally published in the October edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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