Local Equipment Dealers Respond - Current Events
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Local Equipment Dealers Respond

Written By Mary Sedor

Article Date: 12-03-2007
Copyright(C) 2007 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Construction Equipment Distribution telephoned distributors in the region and learned how they continued to support their local communities - even while they, too, were in the fire's path.

As the rest of the country - and the world - looked on, a swath of Southern California was ravaged by more than 20 raging wildfires over the course of two weeks beginning Oct. 21. More than a half million people were evacuated from their homes, and to make matters worse, when the Santa Ana winds calmed and firefighters were able to make headway, Californians were still affected due to the heavy smoke and poor air quality.

As of Nov. 3, more than 2,000 homes had been destroyed, 515,178 acres has been burned and 14 people died. More than 100 firefighters and 27 civilians were injured.

Immediately, construction equipment dealers in the area sprang into action - assisting customers and neighbors alike through the height of the fires - even while they, too, were in harm's way.

"The best way to describe what happened here is Hurricane Katrina by Fire," said Steve Sager, Hawthorne Machinery Co.'s vice president of corporate sales and marketing. The fires came within a quarter mile of Hawthorne's main facility in San Diego, which was closed Oct. 22 through 24. At least half of the employees at Hawthorne's San Diego branch were evacuated from their homes.

Sager says Hawthorne employees were helping any way they could through the fire. For instance, a few of his employees pulled generators out to local dairies that had lost power, even though the fire had just ripped through the area.

"The fire started Sunday and early Monday morning we had people from the Cat Rental Store in on the phones making sure equipment was going out as customers called in," he said.

Frank Califano, service manager for Valley Power Systems' San Diego branch, was evacuated from his home for three days. Valley Power Systems' San Diego branch closed down for half of Oct. 22 and all of Oct. 23 due to the smoke and air quality.

The company was able to help battle the fire in a unique way - they have a Fire Service department in their dealership, which repairs all brands and makes of fire apparatus.

"Our Fire Service department stayed open the whole time," said Califano. "During the first day of the fires, we had two fire trucks in our shop for minor repairs. On Sunday night I sent two guys in to load up the fire trucks and get them all put back together.

"Right now repairing the fire trucks is our priority," he said. "If we have fire trucks or emergency vehicles come into the shop, we drop everything to get them out as fast as possible. We have trucks coming in from all over, and we've been able to get them out the same day, where it normally takes a day or two. We're pulling mechanics from other areas to get the trucks out as fast as possible."

Luckily, none of the dealerships CED spoke with was affected by the fire, nor were the homes of any employees.


The Aftermath

On Oct. 25, President Bush toured the fire ravaged areas. He later declared the wildfires a federal disaster, which cleared the way for federal funding. More than $5.6 million in federal funds has made its way into the hands of residents and business owners affected by the wildfires.

In the wake of the fire, equipment dealers are continuing to show their support and assist cleanup efforts. For instance, Hawthorne Machinery has vowed to take its barbecue truck to the local neighborhoods and cook for people cleaning up the remains of their homes. Also, Clairemont Equipment is offering 20 percent off of rental equipment for fire victims.

While the fires are nothing short of a tragedy, equipment dealers say they believe the wildfires will actually help
their businesses.

"In a macabre way it's actually going to help us," said Sager. "Almost immediately all of our water trucks, water trailers and generators went out."

Ron Zagami, president of Clairemont Equipment Co., whose Escondido branch closed down for just a half day during the height of the fires, says that prior to the wildfires the market in California was extremely soft, and it was continuing to soften.

"With 2,000 homes burned down I don't think we're going to see the market fall anymore," he said. "I'm not sure it's going to make a lot of difference, but I think the market was headed lower, and perhaps now the wildfires have made it hit bottom."

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