Building Fire Trucks In South Haven

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SOUTH HAVEN, Mi. – Ever remember as a child (especially the boys) we all (at one time or another) wanted to be a firefighter. It was the job to do! The hero!

Certainly during (and after) 9-11 there has been a heightened awareness to first responders and the job they do when they put their life on the line each and everyday to save people. That said, there is a small company in South Haven called Spencer Manufacturing that builds fire trucks for departments across the Great Lakes and Midwest. The company was started back in 1985 and has since been taken over by the next generation of Spencers.

West Michigan Stories went on a tour of the facility to learn exactly how these important life-saving and property-saving vehicles are made. Spencer makes both large and small fire trucks for several different applications. They start with a simple chassis from places like Ford, or perhaps Charlotte based Freightliner that makes rigs for 18 wheeler semi-tractor trailers. They then build an all aluminum frame or substructure and adhere it to the chassis in order to house the actual box portion of the fire truck we see.

Many of the upper boxes are aluminum and are all fabricated by metal workers and welders, but some of the boxes can also be poly or fiberglass. Custom wiring is completed on each rig based upon the department’s needs, and the box is eventually dropped on to the chassis and substructure and bolted in. Custom paint work is done and the vehicles are scrutinized to perfection with a fine tooth comb.

While they don’t make the pumps, Spencer is responsible for taking huge water pumps and enclosing them in aluminum and fitting them on the rig as well. In many cases, the fire truck will have several hundred gallons of water on board in a holding tank that is also custom fitted. Some of these trucks house water cannons for fighting fires that can shoot hundreds of feet and pump over a thousand gallons a minute.

Spencer Manufacturing employs about 16 people, including service techs, plumbers, electricians, painters, and fabrication experts.  The city of South Haven has already taken delivery on a few of the trucks and are quite pleased with the quality workmanship and local connection to the community Spencer has.

Each fire truck can cost anywhere from $300,000 to $450,000 and the life span is about 20 years or so. You can get more information on Spencer Manufacturing here.

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