Thursday | 05 March, 2009 | 3:23 am

Ferrara's friendly fire

By Andy Barks

March 2009 - Chris Ferrara, owner of Ferrara Fire Apparatus Inc., Holden, La., began as a part-time firefighter with a knack for fabrication. But during the past three decades, he's used that secondary craft to turn Ferrara into a 195,000-square-foot manufacturing facility with partnerships in nearly three dozen major metropolitan areas.

Now, more than 30 years into the game, Ferrara has seen his niche products take off, even breaking sales records for a variety of models during 2008. And although the company may be something of a late bloomer, it expects even greater results in the near future.

Never-ending momentum
With approximately 500 employees on its roster and the New York City Fire Department headlining its clientele, Ferrara Fire Apparatus' days as a mom-and-pop operation are long gone. But a final quarter that produced more than $65 million in sales hasn't erased all memory of its roots.

"We feel fortunate in a time when many say the economy is soft to have our sales show a significant increase," he said. "The market is extremely competitive, and we have to work hard for each and every sale. Our company has a reputation of building heavy-duty fire apparatuses that are custom-designed for each fire department. This reputation has enabled us to be successful in today's marketplace, as everyone is looking for the most value for their budget."

Critics will point to Ferrara's products and label them "niche needs," which is true to an extent. But by his own admission, the reputation Ferrara has built is predicated on reliability and predictability. There may not be many others who provide what FFA provides, but that's because Ferrara has done it so well so long.

Always a step ahead
Ferrara's innovative style keeps the company moving forward. Among the recent advances he's made are the installment of an independent front suspension, a ladder that angles its way through the truck's tank, and the incorporation of advanced crash-testing practices.

Testing seems less like an innovation and more of a necessity, but it was once a seldom-used practice. To fire departments like the one in Oklahoma City, which recently inked a deal for four new Ferrara pumpers, it's an essential safety precaution. For Houston, it was enough to warrant a massive order in December: nine custom pumpers and two heavy-duty aerial apparatuses, all of which came complete with crash-tested bodies and cabs, roll-stability control and airbags.

"We work hard every day to build our relationship with the Houston Fire Department, as we do with all of our customers, large and small," said Ferrara, in a press release. "We will continue to engineer and build each truck to their custom requirements and follow that up with outstanding service after the apparatus is delivered."

With each innovation and each incremental leap his business makes, Ferrara could lose his perspective. But every service the company provides is accompanied by an undeniable sense of understanding--that his time as a firefighter has influenced his approach as a businessman. MM

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