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No money to burn: Air Force Fire Emergency Services makes every dollar count

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) --  Air Force firefighters are accustomed to confronting danger on the job, but recent Department of Defense budget cuts have brought a different kind of heat.

Faced with an aging vehicle fleet and the need to modernize equipment, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center's Fire Emergency Services Division took steps that have earned more than $323 million in actual cost savings and cost avoidance for the Air Force.

They saved money, equipped firefighters and reduced the average age of Air Force fire vehicles by capitalizing on industry trends, employing new firefighting technology and incorporating bulk purchasing.

The FES division centrally procures firefighting vehicles and equipment for the Air Force. In fiscal 2007, the Air Force had an inventory of 1,863 fire vehicles valued at more than $840 million with an average vehicle age of 22 years. A fire trucks' minimum service life is typically 12 to 18 years, depending on type.

"CE leaders set a goal to recapitalize our fire vehicle fleet in 20 years," said Jim Podolske, the Air Force Fire Chief and FES division director. "The Air Force allots $25 million per year for fire vehicles, provided there are no cuts. That amount into $840 million yields a 33.6-year recapitalization rate, well past the service life of most fire vehicles. Either we had to have more money to meet the 20-year goal or find other ways."

Recently, fire vehicle manufacturers have been impacted by the sluggish national economy. The industry had been down by as much as 40 percent over the past five years, Podolske said, driving prices to the lowest point in years.

"In the past, we paid $515,000 for a two-wheeled drive structural pumper and $535,000 for the 4x4 version," said Podolske. "We are now getting these same vehicles for $315,000 and $335,000 respectively with similar savings on other vehicle types."

By taking advantage of reduced costs, as well as additional savings gained through bulk purchasing, FES saved more than $16 million and will bring 248 new trucks into the fleet this year. They will also retire some of Air Force's oldest trucks including 1970s-era crash rescue trucks and 1980s structural pumpers, reducing the average age of vehicles from 22 to 17.2 years.

Some of the new trucks arriving incorporate new technology which AFCEC helped spearhead.

The P-34 Rapid Intervention Vehicle is the first crash response truck in the Air Force to use ultra-high pressure firefighting technology. The 500-gallon P-34 RIV performs 3.5 times more effectively than larger conventional firefighting vehicles and increases the time a truck can remain on scene without needing resupplying. The new P-34 RIV will replace vehicle authorizations for some of the Air Force's older P-19 crash response trucks, many of these have been in service since the 1980s.

"A replacement P-19 is approximately $564,000 with costs expected to increase," said Podolske. "The RIVs are approximately $160,000 each, about 28 percent of the cost of a P-19. As we fulfill the Air Force requirement of 238 RIVs, we can reduce the fleet by 238 P-19s and see more than $96 million in cost avoidance savings."

In fiscal 2012 dollars, the Air Force's 1,863 vehicles are valued at $657 million, compared to $840 million in fiscal 2008.

"By reducing the value of the fleet, we dropped our recapitalization rate from 33.6 to 20.2 years, meeting CE leadership's goal and saved a total of more than $207 million," said Podolske. "Our team accomplished this in the midst of a four-year $25 million program cut with no negative impact on the fire vehicle modernization program or our customers."

FES also met new Environmental Protection Agency engine mandates and will introduce fuel-saving "green" idle-reduction technology on 21 of the Air Force's new structural pumpers this year.

The FES team now uses bulk purchasing power to keep costs down while improving the tools firefighters need to do their jobs. By working with the strategic sourcing experts in AFCEC's Operations Directorate and the Enterprise Sourcing Group at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, FES identified equipment that could be acquired through Air Force-wide contracts.

"These contracts give each base the buying power of a pre-negotiated best-price whether they order one set of equipment or multiple sets," said Podolske.

One example is the Pyrolance, a hand-held, ultra-high pressure piercing and firefighting system designed to help firefighters safely fight hard-to-reach fires in aircraft or aircraft weapons systems or in areas contaminated by hazardous materials. By negotiating a bulk price with the manufacturer, the Air Force saved more than $508,000 on the purchase of 212 Pyrolance systems. FES equipment experts are working similar strategic sourcing projects involving firefighter personal protective equipment and mobile air compressors used to fill self-contained breathing apparatus bottles. Total combined savings to-date from equipment strategic sourcing is more than $2.5 million.

"These success stories speak to the resourcefulness of our Fire Emergency Services team," said Joe Sciabica, AFCEC director. "They have the difficult job of ensuring our Air Force firefighters have the tools, vehicles and equipment they need in the midst of the most serious fiscal environment in recent memory. By embracing new technology and finding ways to take advantage of strategic sourcing initiatives, they're saving money and supporting firefighters, and the installations and resources they protect."
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