Rising fuel costs are causing many operators of field service fleets to rethink their vehicle specification and fuel economy strategies. SimplexGrinnell, one of North America's largest suppliers of fire and life-safety systems and services, is no exception.
“We have 150 district offices located in nearly every major metropolitan area in the U.S. and Canada,” says Bill Card, director-field support services for SimplexGrinnell, a Tyco International company with headquarters in Boca Raton, FL. “We provide mid- to high-end systems for a variety of commercial customers, including hospitals, universities, high-rise office complexes, and government and private institutions.”
The SimplexGrinnell truck fleet consists of 8,500 vehicles, 6,000 of which are decaled and upfitted for field service work. The majority of the vehicles are leased through Wheels Inc., a privately owned company based in the Chicago, IL, area. Wheels provides a full complement of fleet management services to customers like SimplexGrinnell, including vehicle ordering and inventory, fleet policy and driver compliance, collision and safety, and fuel and maintenance management strategies.
The SimplexGrinnell fleet is comprised of full-sized pickup trucks such as Chevy Silverado models that service the company's construction activities, as well as Chevy Colorado pickups and Chevy Uplander minivans that are used extensively in field service work.
More than 10,000 SimplexGrinnell technicians, installers and other professionals provide responsive coverage for customers in the field. “For example, when we sell a system for a new facility, our installers will come in and perform the turnkey construction and installation of the system and all integrated components like fire sprinklers, emergency communications, etc.,” Card explains.
The company's construction vehicles bring the equipment to the job site. They also carry things like ladder racks to support construction-related activities. On the field maintenance trucks, a stock of inventory is kept for servicing existing systems, as well as providing expansions/upgrades as needed.
“Within the fire alarm industry there are certain codes that must be met and equipment needs to be inspected by an authorized provider on a regular basis,” Card points out. “Our service techs are out regularly servicing our customers' systems.”
Card notes that SimplexGrinnell is currently doing a detailed analysis of its fleet program to try to manage rising costs, such as fuel, more effectively. “Our intent,” he advises, “is also to try to match vehicle specification to employee requirements, looking at what the drivers need to do their jobs and what kind of vehicles we can get that best help them get that job done.”
This is another area where Wheels Inc. is helping SimplexGrinnell meet its goals. “We've had a long-standing relationship with them,” Card says. “They provide a very critical service not just in administering our fleet and maintenance operations, but in serving as a consultant to us in evaluating ways we can optimize the fleet within our organization, including vehicle selection, fuel economy strategies and other efforts.
“This year versus last,” Card continues, “we're seeing a $10-million increment in fuel costs, so it's critical to have an effective fleet and fuel management strategy. As an organization, we are focused on being environmentally conscious, using more fuel-efficient vehicles and looking at alternative technologies.”
According to Card, having high-quality vehicles in its fleet is a major priority for SimplexGrinnell. So is having a company like Wheels, which they can rely on to handle the full range of fleet needs. “We coordinate all maintenance services through the Wheels network,” he reports. “We benefit from the company's pre-negotiated contracts with major vendors throughout North America, utilizing their purchasing power to get the best pricing for our fleet.”