It’s not widely known that the glittering red fire-fighting trucks seen around the country are built from scratch, right here in South Africa.
One company building these workhorses is Fire Raiders, in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni. The company manufactures fire-fighting, rescue and disaster management vehicles. “And we do that from the ground up,” explains company director, Trevor Fiford.
Local production just makes sense
“We buy the chassis cab from a common supplier like Scania, MAN, Mercedes Benz, Hino or Iveco and then we bring those chassis cabs in here in a raw form … and then we start the development.”
This includes converting the cab, installing water tanks and pumps and all the technology needed in a modern fire-fighting or disaster management vehicle.
“The superstructure of the vehicles is manufactured here [at the factory] and all the plumbing is done here. We do as much as we possibly can in-house,” he adds.
Fire Raiders is just one of many local manufacturers who have cut costs by reducing their reliance on imports. Fiford says the company realised a long time ago that manufacturing locally was best.
This all changed in the early 2000s when the business elected to invest in local manufacturing capacity “on a grand scale”.
“Most of the fire-fighting vehicles and rescue products that you see on the roads today, the design somewhere along the line originated out of this company,” he says.
Fire Raiders supplies its products to local authorities throughout the country, including the metros, district municipalities, and quasi-government institutions.
“Then, of course, we are honoured to have clients like Sasol and mining companies BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Lonmin.”
Besides its Boksburg factory, Fire Raiders has offices in Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay, Durban, Tshwane and Roodepoort, on Gauteng’s West Rand. It also has offices in Botswana and Ghana.
Growth can be costly
This growth in markets and capabilities didn’t come easily, or cheaply, leading Fire Raiders to source bridging finance, which it found in MCEP.
Fiford says the company needed financial assistance to help it complete a large order on time. This funding was needed to procure crucial components like the pumps needed to outfit the nine fire-fighting trucks.
“The entire product has been manufactured using IDC funding. So we were able to buy the pumps from America, pay upfront for [them] at very good prices, buy all the local material and really up-kick the speed with which we can complete the project,” Fiford explains.
Because the funds were disbursed quickly, Fire Raiders was also able to reduce the manufacturing time, saving tremendously on costs.
“For example, the Terminator Tanker Pumper fire-fighting vehicle was built in half the time that we would normally manufacture a vehicle like this.”
Fire Raiders is deeply committed to local manufacturing programmes and this, Fiford says, is what may have impressed the IDC the most. The company employs 158 people and “impacts on approximately 500 different lives every single day, or every month, or every year”.
He believes the future for Fire Raiders is bright.
“Our aim is to take this home-bred, small little enterprise which we see as a gem within our local manufacturing industry, and really move the product into Africa.”