Rental Rescue

Oct. 1, 2001
Anticipating a flood and applying a plan to combat this event ensures a rental company's success. When the Mississippi River flooded last spring, one

Anticipating a flood and applying a plan to combat this event ensures a rental company's success. When the Mississippi River flooded last spring, one company quickly and efficiently provided its products to several companies and organizations that played crucial roles in controlling the overflowed banks. For example, when the river flooded in Minnesota a contractor called in an emergency rental request to a Godwin Pumps distributor. He was told a truck was already on its way. Then the distributor called the company for the equipment he needed.

“That's not unusual,” said Bob Spatz, the Godwin Pumps branch manager in Chicago who fielded the telephone call. “We've built our business on quick response to emergency situations, especially during the spring thaw when flooding can occur. Our 75-plus distributors have a similar reputation with their customers, so when a crisis hits we all react as a team to provide the assistance needed.”

Godwin's style is not to wait for an emergency to happen before putting plans into action. Ziegler Rental, a Godwin Pumps distributor headquartered in Maple Grove, Minn., met with one of its primary customers a month before the flood season in Minnesota. Dave Lillquist, operations manager for Ziegler, and Vic Cullen, one of his account managers, had already talked to Spatz to determine the availability of pumps and to advise him of a possible flooding situation.

Ziegler used the company's regional re-rental program. The program allows distributors to rent at a discount. It is designed for distributors who may not have the right size pump immediately available within their rental fleet or are low in inventory because of unusual circumstances like a flood or another emergency situation.

Ziegler's customer, in this instance, was Kieger Enterprises in Hugo, Minn., one of the country's largest emergency-response contractors who handle flood-control issues for many city, county, state and federal projects. “Because of the nature of their business, the Kieger people expect an answer within five minutes,” said Lillquist, “and we get it for them.”

Cullen explained that's why advance planning is important as well as keeping the channels of communications open. “We have an operations center that is manned 24-7, holidays included,” he said. “These are Ziegler employees who are familiar with the equipment and know how to respond to a customer's request.”

When the call came in to Ziegler from Kieger the morning of April 10, 2001, the request was for six, 6-inch CD150M dri-prime pumps. Ziegler immediately notified Spatz at the company's Chicago office and the pumps were delivered to Kieger later that evening.

Patrick Iwan, general manager of Kieger Enterprises, said they had the pumps on the road to customers within one hour of receiving. “We responded to calls in seven states,” he said, “because not only was the Mississippi cresting, but also the Red, St. Croix and Minnesota rivers, which join to form the Mississippi.”

Within the next two weeks, Ziegler placed re-rent orders with the company daily for a total of 20 more pumps. These additional 26 pumps and the 34 pumps Ziegler initially had in its own inventory were sent to several sites in Minnesota, North Dakota, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Iwan stated that while the situation was not entirely unusual, and they knew the flooding was coming, “We didn't expect it to be of this magnitude or last so long. We still had pumps out as of the beginning of June,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers also planned for the worst. The organization purchased 39 Dri-Prime pumps and warehoused them in Chicago just for an emergency situation like this. When the flood hit, the company, with a long history of working with the Army Corps of Engineers, helped them mobilize their pumps as needed.

Another customer needing equipment fast when the Mississippi River started to rise was the Department of Public Works in Rock Island, Ill.

In the course of five days, Mike Collard, the city's utilities maintenance supervisor, ordered 17 Dri-Prime pumps ranging in size from 4- to 12-inches. With each day's request, Collard received same day service from the Chicago branch, 170 miles away.

“We need an 8-hour window to set up equipment before the river gates can be closed,” Collard explained. “With the spring thaw of the heavy snow we had last winter, the river was rising fast. Added to that was heavy rainfall.”

Because Rock Island is basically a peninsula, located at the junction of the Mississippi and Rock rivers, it has an earthen levee to protect it from the flooding rivers. Along the levee are street-level drainage pipes that drain water through the levee to the river. When the river rose above street level, the river gates had to be closed to keep the water from flowing back into the city. In addition to pumping millions of gallons of storm water over the levee and into the river, these pumps also were used to pump water from drains built into the levee to keep water from saturating the earthen levee. Because he was using the automatic self-priming pumps, Collard needed only a three-man crew to maintain all 17 pumps around the clock.

To meet the Mississippi River emergency demand, 15 tractor-trailers were used to ship pumps. In addition to the Chicago branch, branches in Georgia, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and West Virginia shipped equipment to meet the demand.

“All 16 members of our Chicago branch were involved in this effort as well as another 14 from five other branches,” said John Michael Paz, president of Godwin Pumps. “And most of them worked through the Easter weekend. But that's the nature of our business.”