We talk with Upfitting Specialist Richard Meise about his career, how DWS upfitting division has grown, and what makes an ideal upfitting candidate.
After spending a lifetime in New Mexico and Arizona, Rick Meise and his wife decided they’d experienced their fill of the desert life and wanted a green new adventure. After many talks about moving to the Pacific Northwest they decided, as a well-known Oregon institution famously instructed, to “just do it.”
Before relocating, Meise spent 17 years upfitting emergency vehicles in the Southwest. He carefully scoped out potential employers in the Northwest before settling on Day Wireless Systems. “(DWS) didn’t do as much upfitting at the time, they weren’t the biggest. But they had a good reputation, and the products and technology were high quality and I was familiar with them,” Meise recollected.
The transition was more agile than you might even imagine.
Meise drove to Salem, unloaded the UHaul, went to the DWS office without an appointment or even a call ahead, and within an hour he had an offer letter for employment. That was around 7.5 years ago, and it has been nothing but carefully crafted custom vehicles and exploding growth for the Upfitting department ever since.
Upfitting weaves technology, electronics, and other custom elements required for field work in primarily police cars, but also fire, emergency, and other commercial vehicles. At age 18, Meise started in automotive electronics with car audio and, through a colleague, transitioned to emergency vehicle upfits. Upfitting utilized his core skills while providing interesting and ever-evolving challenges.
While Meise isn’t directly responsible for the significant growth of DWS Upfit since his arrival, but his dedication to the craft and mentorship of new Upfit technicians has been a considerable factor. “The product we deliver has to work, has to function flawlessly. It can’t be breaking down when they need it the most,” said Meise. Since the work can be the difference between life and death, technicians who are skilled and dedicated to reliable output are critical to Upfit.
Although the base skills used in automotive electronics are a universal toolkit, the technology is always changing and there’s always something new to learn. “When I first started, there weren’t computers and mobile internet and video systems in cars,” Meise recalled. “Technically, things have improved and changed a lot. And there’s always constant upgrading with OEMs (automakers).”
Through the past seven years, Meise has found DWS a supportive environment to learn and work as a team to help grow Upfit. One thing he learned is to expect new challenges.
“A few years back, a local police department got a bulletproof military troop hauler (a BearCat) for SWAT use. Everyone was excited to work on it. As we got in, it turned out to be the hardest vehicle to work with due to its reinforced nature,” he recounted. “It was impossible to drill through and we had to get special equipment and tools. But in the end, it got done using the same methods of wiring as other vehicles.”
As the technology continues to progress, automakers have included an unending possibility of features and options for customizing emergency vehicles, such as dimming the lights on the driver’s side so responders aren’t blinded when they open their door. Sometimes the purchasing department or stakeholder doesn’t know about all the options, so training and trials are sometimes part of the job.
In one recent case, DWS performed 67 video installations for a police fleet. Initially, two vehicles were set up with test options, eight officers drove each vehicle, and all of them came back with different, minor things they wanted to adjust. Their sergeant organized the requests to come up with the one setup they used for all vehicles.
To help ensure each vehicle is delivered with consistent builds, teams will often take on similar tasks in each vehicle. Since every tech works a little differently, this helps ensure all the components will have the same installation and operation. This process has been complicated by recent supply chain issues, with some components and even vehicles themselves being delayed by manufacturers for months, resulting in some vehicles from the same order being delivered up to a year apart. The good news is that challenge seems to be abating.
Overall, the builds Meise enjoys the most are K9 police vehicles. As a dog lover, he enjoys creating safe spaces for these key police workers, making sure they are comfortable with thick rubber mats, temperature control, and remote alerts to help ensure their human partners can adjust conditions as needed. Helping ensure dogs are taken care of is a high priority and one that provides particular satisfaction.
So You Think You Can Upfit
If joining our Upfit team sounds interesting, here’s what you could expect. People with a background in electronics, car audio, RV or van builds would be good candidates. Attention to detail and problem solving are critical, but you’d be joining an excellent and supportive team who are always learning themselves and eager to help, train, and work with other good people.
As a senior tech, Meise is one of the people helping onboard new team members. In the first week, a new employee is paired up with one of the other upfitters like him, and will learn the processes and basics of the most common work elements. The team is good about communicating not just how to do the work, but why, which helps provide context for the techniques and a basis for continuing to learn new elements and skills, as well as troubleshoot issues.
After the first week, newer techs will be hands-on doing the work, running wires, mounting parts, and learning how to do each new task as they go. Other techs will be working alongside and answer questions or provide feedback. On slower days, everyone on the team will swap jobs so everyone gets cross-trained on different elements and eventually learns how to do an entire upfit build.
Although each day is filled with new challenges and the work is varied, one of the aspects Meise enjoys is the environment. “It’s a good team, we have fun. Everyone likes being here and is willing to help each other, which makes things easier.”
Another environmental bonus is the work takes place in the same indoor space during standard working hours, so there is an element of knowing what to expect about the environment, even if the tasks themselves may vary.
Of course, the knowledge of providing reliable vehicles for police and emergency responders is satisfying, and may have actually once helped Meise out of a sticky situation. Ten years ago in New Mexico, before he came to DWS, Meise was traveling a little faster than he should to a cabin he had in the mountains. He saw a local police officer make a U turn to get behind his car and pulled over to wait for the officer. After he ran the plates, the officer used his PA to say, “Rick, slow down!” before driving off. Meise still doesn’t know who the officer was, but possibly his reputation in upfitting proceeded him.
Work in Upfit for DWS is enjoyable, rewarding, and even though it’s skilled, precise work, it is more of a team effort than competition among employees. “At the end of the day, if it looks like a police car, that’s what we’re going for,” jokes Meise.
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