ASHLAND, Alabama – When the 911 call comes in, fire trucks need to be well equipped and always ready to drive. For many Alabama and Georgia communities, Matt Williams is the man making sure the fire fighting equipment is set up for the job.
His family business in Ashland, Williams Fire Apparatus, has long specialized in the sale, equipment, repair and maintenance of fire trucks for large departments such as Birmingham and DeKalb Counties, Georgia, as well as volunteer fire departments in communities across the region.
“We do all repairs, fix all wrecks, replace all parts, and do all scheduled maintenance in the middle,” said Williams. “Today we’re probably working on 12 different fire engines. Some of them are here at our facility and some are on the way. We do the complete service.
“If it has wheels, we’ll wait for it,” he said.
Williams Fire has paid off as a one-stop-shop and has been in an almost constant growth mode since the company was founded by Williams’ father Jeff in 1987. Over the years, Williams Fire has made five expansions to its Ashland site.
Williams, who bought the company from his father in 2019, is in the midst of a $ 1 million project that will add a new 18,000 square foot service facility and repurpose the company’s original 13,000 square foot building in Clay County.
Williams Fire began construction on the new 18,000-square-foot facility late last year, with completion scheduled for August 2021. Williams said the project will allow him to hire between six and ten new payroll employees.
“Williams Fire Apparatus is the definition of a Made in Rural Alabama company,” said Lamar Dewberry, executive director of Clay County’s Economic Development Council. “This business is helping many community first responders have the ability to protect their citizens, and this is being done right here in rural Clay County, Alabama.
“Matt’s company is a great addition to our local community as it continues to grow,” he added.
Williams said the ongoing project will streamline the company’s operations and position it for future growth.
“The new building will be a full-time repair and service facility. Then our current building will only go into production. We build many parts for fire trucks – everything from shelves, brackets, stuff to hold chainsaws, and other equipment. We do a lot of tinkering, ”he says.
Williams knows the family business inside and out and has been involved in the operation since his youth. The family journey began when his father left Quality Manufacturing in Talladega, where he had built fire trucks, to start his own business in Ashland.
Starting in 1987, Williams Fire built its own brand of fire trucks until around 2003, when the Gulf War made it difficult to source parts such as chassis and transmissions. The focus of the company shifted to the maintenance and sale of fire fighting vehicles of other brands.
Jeff Williams retired from the fire truck business in 2019 when son Matt took over the helm.
Today Williams Fire sells and services five brands of fire and emergency vehicles: Sutphen, SVI Trucks, Southeast Apparatus, Ferrara Fire Apparatus and PL Custom Ambulance. Its territory includes Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
In addition to the Birmingham Fire & Rescue Service and the DeKalb County Fire Rescue Department, other major customers include Gwinnett County Fire Rescue Services and Savannah Fire Rescue in Georgia and the Hoover Fire Department in Alabama. The company’s customers also include many smaller fire brigades and full-time volunteer services who buy a new fire engine every 25 or 30 years.
A growing part of Williams Fire’s business is assembling equipment on fire trucks, and the new service facility will allow the company to expand that activity. Since 2016, the company has performed an average of 35 to 40 new device installations per year and maintains hundreds of additional devices annually.
“Customers sometimes develop their own version of what they want on a device and their ideas need to be cultivated in an actual vehicle,” said Williams. “There are some really smart people in this industry, so working with these people makes the experience very interesting and tough at the same time.”
One interesting job Williams Fire is now working on is a tractor-pulled antenna or tiller for DeKalb County, greater Atlanta.
“This system is due to be completed in autumn and we are very pleased that this project has been completed. A tractor-drawn antenna is one in which there is a driver for the truck (tractor) and a driver for the trailer. Very fun project, ”said Williams.
Brenda Tuck, Rural Development Manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce, said Williams Fire’s growth plans are good news for Ashland, a town of approximately 2,000 people in east central Alabama.
“We’re so proud of Williams Fire Apparatus and Clay County,” said Tuck. “The opportunity to identify Williams Fire as one of our many influential rural Alabama expansion projects really highlights the benefits that exist in our rural communities.”
(Courtesy Made in Alabama)