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Enhanced stainless steel offers ease-of-use for fire apparatus manufacturers, durability for departments

September 25, 2013

Fire Chief

Improved grades of stainless steel are making their way into fire departments.

Stainless steel has been around for over a hundred years, but new innovations in metallurgy have increased its strength and longevity, while reducing its weight. And these improved grades of stainless steel are making their way into fire departments thanks to their use by several apparatus manufacturers, according to Ken Grantham, executive vice president of Crompion International. Indeed, FDNY has become a proponent and has specified its new fire apparatus to include the enhanced stainless steel.

“The word is slowly getting out about these a high-strength, corrosion-resistant stainless steels — some have been around for 35 years,” Grantham said.

Louisiana-based Crompion began in 2000 as American Utility Metals, a distributor of a single grade specialty stainless steel. In 2012, the company began offering a wider variety of premium products and services tailored to meet the metal needs of a broad array of industries. Today, the company provides specialty, low-nickel steels and is the world’s leading manufacturer and distributor of Cromgard, a high-performance stainless steel.

“These grades [of stainless steel] are a perfect fit for the apparatus industry and fire departments," he said. "They bring value with lower cost and much higher strength, especially when they are painted. They are much stronger than traditional 300 series — considerably important especially with today’s emphasis on crew safety."

Since joining Crompion six years ago, Grantham has been educating fire-apparatus manufacturers on the existence and benefits of high-shrink stainless steel as an alternative for the traditional stainless steel used in fire apparatus construction. He has worked with Seagrave, Ferrara and KME, as well as Alexis and Toyne, to introduce Crompian’s stainless steel.

“We are starting to see people who have seen the value and benefits of working with these new metals, which have lower chromium — two-thirds the chrome of regular metal,” he said.

Grantham is surprised to see some fire departments move away from corrosion-resistant stainless steel and instead invest in coated metal. Coatings can get chipped and scraped and become susceptible to rust. “Stainless steel is self-healing," he said. "Chromium oxide heals, but carbon steel does not heal.”

Weight also is an issue with today’s fire apparatus. Heavier vehicles burn more fuel and require a stronger suspension system, according to Grantham. Departments in the northeast and Canada also face weight limits in the winter, as well as a problem with road salt eating through carbon steel.

Another benefit during apparatus construction is how well the high-strength stainless steel welds. “The people building the trucks out of this material love it — its low-nickel, easier to work with, cost friendly and cost-stable,” Grantham said. “The cost doesn’t fluctuate every month so we can offer material for a year and the price won’t change.”

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