News, Technology

An Unconventional Way Of Buying Apparatus

Issue 1 and Volume 12.

Mountain View's 1991 Seagrave aerial is equipped Detroit Diesel 8V92T, Allison automatic transmission, Jake brake, a Federal Q, Code 3 siren.
Mountain View’s 1991 Seagrave 110-foot tiller-drawn aerial is equipped with a Detroit Diesel 8V92T, an Allison automatic transmission, Jake brake, a Federal “Q” and a Code 3 electronic siren. This rig has a fully enclosed cab and 35,000 miles on the odometer. (Fire Trucks Plus Photo)
Mountain View's newest engine is a 2000 model.
Mountain View’s newest engine is a 2000 model, purchased when a new station was opened. The running gear, cab, pump, tank and warning devices are the same as the 1991 versions. Notice the reflective stripe has been continued around the front of the cab and the front suction has been deleted. Mileage for Engine 2 is 20,500. (Fire Trucks Plus Photo)
Engine 6 is one of six pumpers, purchased in 1991.
Engine 6 is one of six pumpers, five first line and one reserve, purchased in 1991. All are equipped with the same running gear, cabs and warning devices as the aerial. The pumpers have front suctions, 1,500 gpm Waterous pumps and 500-gallon water tanks. Engine 6 has 66,000 miles showing. Due to a top-notch maintenance program, the pumpers are in excellent condition.

The city of Mountain View, population 71,995, is located in Northern California’s Silicon Valley. Its fire department staff includes 70 uniform personnel, staffing five engine companies, one rescue and one truck company.

Prior to 1990, replacement of major fleet units, including fire trucks, in Mountain View was usually handled on an as needed, one at a time, basis. 

This is typically what you find in almost every fire department today. Using this method, a fire department normally has a mixture of new units, apparatus that are reaching their prime – 5-8 years – and some ready for retirement.

Maintenance costs are spread out, with the older units taking the “lion’s share” of the budget. Similarity, or like units, usually takes a back seat to the budget process with little or no thought being given to the operators who need to be intimately familiar with the rig they are operating every day.

In 1987-88, the Mountain View Fleet Services Manager Steve Miller was evaluating the city’s fire fleet replacement strategy. At the time, it was a mixture of LaFrance, Crown, VanPelt, GMC, and Duplex vehicles spanning 35 model years.

As you can imagine, they were different in almost every respect. In his 35-year career, Miller has always believed “standardization is of the utmost importance.”

Miller felt that the concept of replacing an entire fleet of fire apparatus, both front line and reserve units, all at one time was a wise and practical move. With that in mind, Steve set about convincing the finance, fire, maintenance and operations departments, that a single purchase of like units was the way to go.

After running the numbers and gathering information on the advantages of all units being the same, Miller and other city staff were able to identify the benefits that could be realized from the operation and maintenance of a common fleet.

The feeling was that there would be fewer injuries and accidents as well as increased productivity and training efficiencies. The numbers showed the rate of increasing expenditures and down time projected over the life cycle, which were the norm at the time, far exceeded the anticipated costs of the fleet replacement concept.

Helping Decision-Makers

In order to help the decision-makers understand his concept, Miller cited an example. He made a comparison between fire personnel being awakened for an emergency call to a person trying to rush to an appointment in a rental car after a long plane trip. Both the firefighter and the traveler will have to fuss with ignition switches, light switches, wiper controls, heater and A/C controls, and so on. The only difference is that the firefighter is going through all that under emergency conditions.

After considering the financial savings anticipated, the reduced injuries and potential operational and familiarization benefits, the fire fleet replacement project was approved.

An apparatus committee consisting of fire and fleet services employees was established and visited the factories of several builders, developed a spec and then went out to bid.

Nine bids were received and then the apparatus committee began the evaluation process, eliminating those not meeting the city’s specifications. The committee believed it was important that the manufacturer of the pumpers, six in all, and the tractor-drawn, 110-foot ladder, be the same. Mountain View chose Seagrave and took delivery in 1991.

Since then, the Mountain View fire department has been operating the units and swapping them around to different stations to equalize the use and mileage. When the city added another fire station in 2000, an additional Seagrave pumper was purchased.

Expectations Realized

Miller reported that all of the city’s expectations have been realized: less down time, less injuries, less accidents and damage to equipment, higher productivity of mechanics, reduced training time for fire personnel, quicker and safer responses to emergency calls and much safer equipment for all operators.

One of the biggest advantages for the operators was that when their engine needed repairs or went into the shop for preventative maintenance, the replacement rig was identical to the one they normally used.

The city placed a 15-year life cycle on the fleet and set aside yearly funding so that in 2005 it would be ready to replace the fleet again.

“In 2003-2005 [timeframe], we once again did an analysis of the concept,” Miller said. “This time, we had two outside consultants come in and evaluate our units, and verify our concept of entire fleet replacement at one time. If anything, the reports showed that we had operated our fleet at an uncommonly low cost with a very low degree of downtime. All the fleet units are in good condition for their age and use and should bring a high trade-in/sale value.”

Miller added, “I firmly believe that when one considers a program such as this, picking the right manufacturer may be the determining factor as to whether or not, or to what degree another agency will be as successful as we have been. Even in the worst of conditions, quality designed and built equipment should not begin to experience failures before ten years on normal service. Our units are still in better shape than some other local agencies with newer units. The old adage that you get what you pay for, or perhaps better said, ‘you pay for what you get,’ points out that a piece of fire apparatus is a truck subjected to special service requirements.”

Miller continued to say that the design principals and concepts used by a manufacturer to create a unit that will serve the community are at the core of how successful the operations are.

“With increasing concerns over operator safety in accidents with fire apparatus, it is hard for me to realize that more fire apparatus specifying/purchasing individuals don’t take the time to really understand what’s under all the red paint, chrome, diamond plate, horns, bells, and gold leaf,” Miller said.

There is a difference in the basic design concepts that the various manufacturers use. You need to determine what they are and evaluate how they will affect the success of your fire apparatus acquisition plan.

Editor’s Note: Bob Barraclough is editorial director of Fire Apparatus and has been involved with the fire service for more than 40 years as a firefighter and industry consultant. He is a member of the NFPA 1901 Fire Apparatus Standards committee, an organizer of the annual FDSOA Apparatus Specification Symposium and a long-time member of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association.

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