Adams, Aerials, Apparatus, Apparatus Purchasing, Apparatus Showcase, Rescues

Apparatus Purchasing: Writing Specs for Compartment L1

Issue 8 and Volume 22.

By Bill Adams

The first equipment compartment on a fire truck located behind the cab on the driver’s side is often designated “L1” on manufacturers’ blueprints and in purchasing specifications – L1 obviously meaning left side, first compartment.

This article addresses L1 full-height compartments on traditional-style pumpers and rescue-pumpers equipped with conventional midship pump houses. What the compartment is designated or numbered and how it’s fabricated are irrelevant. How and why it is described in a set of purchasing specifications (specs) are important.

1 This traditional-style pumper body by HME-Ahrens Fox has a decent size L1 compartment. Note the yellow wheel chocks and uncluttered pump panel. (Photo courtesy of HME-Ahrens Fox
1 This traditional-style pumper body by HME-Ahrens Fox has a decent size L1 compartment. Note the yellow wheel chocks and uncluttered pump panel. (Photo courtesy of HME-Ahrens Fox.)

Technical purchasing specifications including compartment dimensional requirements are generated by three entities. The first is by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) or the fire department on its behalf. Writing effective purchasing specifications in-house is challenging at the least and intimidating at most. Fire departments commonly use outside sources for advice and technical expertise. The second is when the document is provided by a preferred apparatus manufacturer (OEM), which, as expected, ensures the verbiage totally favors the apparatus it builds. It is commonplace and understandable. When a manufacturer’s “standard” specification is published by the purchaser, it is readily obvious to other OEMs what the purchaser wants. It can influence their decision on whether or not to bid. The last are specs generated by a third party such as a local dealer or a consultant. Dealers’ specifications understandably reflect the product they sell. Although a dealer may tell a prospective purchaser a nonproprietary specification is being provided, experienced dealers can subtly skew verbiage and narrative to be self-serving. That’s business. It’s their job – get over it. Anticipate it. Some are better at doing it than others. Experienced dealers can look at a spec and immediately identify the dealer that wrote it. That can also influence whether or not to bid.

2 Two vertical dividers mounted on a slide tray on the floor of compartment L1 with an adjustable shelf above it. Note the vertical up and down handles on the pump panel’s discharges and inlet.
2 Two vertical dividers mounted on a slide tray on the floor of compartment L1 with an adjustable shelf above it. Note the vertical up and down handles on the pump panel’s discharges and inlet.

Most consultants and professional spec writers claim to write nonproprietary documents. However, some – and I emphasize some and not all – have preferences for specific manufacturers and will slant their verbiage accordingly. That is human nature, especially for those previously employed in the fire service or industry. Purchasers should read between the lines. Principles and ethics aside, there is nothing illegal when dealers and consultants write a proprietary purchasing specification. Sometimes end users will request a spec writer to do so. The AHJ promulgates the document; hence, the spec writer is not accountable or culpable – the AHJ is. I am not passing judgment on who writes a spec. That’s a local decision. Equally irrelevant is if the spec is proprietary in nature. That, too, is a local choice.

3 A traditional pumper body with a floor-mounted slide tray in the full-depth portion and an adjustable shelf in the upper shallow portion. (Photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Spencer Manufacturing.)
3 A traditional pumper body with a floor-mounted slide tray in the full-depth portion and an adjustable shelf in the upper shallow portion. (Photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Spencer Manufacturing.)

There are many ways to specify a compartment. Specifications have been categorized as being open, proprietary, performance, generic, and even deceptive. The definition of each is in the eyes of the beholder. Regardless of the type being written, there are consequences when using certain verbiage that may not be obvious to the purchaser – unless that is the intent. In a highly regulated competitive bidding environment, consequences can be significant. Lawyers and purchasing agents may not care how a fire department interprets what they wrote. Their concern and obligation is a bidder’s compliance to the written word in the specifications, the legalities, and cost. Following are examples of purchasing spec verbiage for a full-height full-depth L1 compartment on a traditional rescue-pumper body. Comments are based on my interpretations of the written word. Whether a bidder “meets the intent” of a specification is immaterial and a debate for another day.

4 A traditional-style body with an adjustable shelf in the full-depth lower section and a fixed shelf where the compartment transitions to half depth in the upper section. This is a fairly narrow compartment, probably indicative of a short wheelbased pumper.
4 A traditional-style body with an adjustable shelf in the full-depth lower section and a fixed shelf where the compartment transitions to half depth in the upper section. This is a fairly narrow compartment, probably indicative of a short wheelbased pumper.

L1 on a Rescue-Pumper Body

  1. “Compartment 1 shall be 40 inches wide by 60 inches high by 26 inches deep.” Shall be means compartment dimensions cannot be larger or smaller. The description is exact. There is no wriggle room. If the compartment is not that exact size, an exception must be taken. Bidders proposing a larger compartment often camouflage noncompliance by submitting a “clarification.” Some might submit a proposal with larger dimensions and say nothing. Both proposals are noncompliant.
  2. “Compartment L1 shall be approximately 40 inches wide by 60 inches high by 26 inches deep.” Approximately cannot be defined or evaluated. It is ambiguous. Who determines what constitutes an approximate measurement? Can it be 38 inches wide or 35 inches wide? Should it be within 20 percent of the “approximate” measurements? I would venture any compartment proposed would meet this vague requirement. It would be hard to legally prove otherwise.
  3. “Compartment L1 shall be no less than 40 inches wide by 60 inches high by 26 inches deep.” The words no less than are key. Proposals meeting or exceeding the stated dimensions meet this requirement. Those exceeding the stated dimensions would not have to take exception or provide a clarification. Those with smaller dimensions are noncompliant.
  4. “Compartment L1 shall contain 36 cubic feet of storage space.” Shall contain mandates that only a compartment with that exact cubic footage of space will meet the specifications. This type of description can be used to confuse or make life difficult for other than a preferred bidder who “might know” the purchaser wants a 40-inch by 60-inch by 26-inch compartment. I call it being deceptive. A purchaser would have no recourse if a low bidder submitted a proposal with L1 compartment dimensions of 36 inches wide by 72 inches high by 24 inches deep – also containing exactly 36 cubic feet. Too bad if it isn’t wide enough or deep enough for what the fire department wants to carry. It loses.
  5. “Compartment L1 shall contain approximately 36 cubic feet of storage space.” The same consequences as in number two above apply here. The storage space can be greater or smaller.
  6. “Compartment L1 shall contain no less than 36 cubic feet of storage space.” See comments in number three above.
  7. “Compartment L1 shall hold four (4) five-gallon pails of foam on the floor, two (2) Model ABC 16-inch smoke ejectors on the first shelf, six (6) Model XYZ 500-watt portable LED lights on the middle shelf, and six (6) Model DEF collapsible traffic cones on the upper shelf.” This is a performance specification. If the equipment does not fit when the rig is delivered, the purchaser can say, “Take it back; it doesn’t meet our specs.” That is a terrifying thought to most dealers. It could be a very expensive mistake.
  8. “Compartment L1, aft of the midship pump house ahead of the rear wheels on the road side, shall be full height and frame-rail depth for its entire height and as wide as possible.” This is a wide open generic specification where any size compartment proposed will be compliant.
5 A single fixed shelf midway of L1. The door is hinged on the pump panel side, which could mean L1 may not be used as the traditional “pump operator’s compartment.” (Photos 4 and 5 courtesy of E-ONE
5 A single fixed shelf midway of L1. The door is hinged on the pump panel side, which could mean L1 may not be used as the traditional “pump operator’s compartment.” (Photos 4 and 5 courtesy of E-ONE.)

Splitting hairs? Maybe. The intent is to make purchasers aware of possible ramifications when writing a compartment specification – regardless of the type of apparatus. Using approximately, no less than, no more than, and shall be may have unintended consequences not necessarily in the best interest of the fire department. They are applicable to any part, piece, or accoutrement on a fire truck specification using that terminology. Independent volunteer fire companies and fire departments not subject to authoritarian governmental and political oversight can probably purchase whatever they want regardless of specification verbiage. Those subject to the strict legalities of competitive bidding may have to comply with the literal meaning of a word or phrase. Spec writers should choose both carefully.

6 This rig has a fairly wide L1 compartment with a single shelf. Purchasers often order additional shelves after they get a rig home and start filling it. Note the low crosslays. (Photo courtesy of KME
6 This rig has a fairly wide L1 compartment with a single shelf. Purchasers often order additional shelves after they get a rig home and start filling it. Note the low crosslays. (Photo courtesy of KME.)

L1 on a Traditional Pumper Body

Besides rescue-pumper-style bodies with full-height and full-depth compartments, what I call a traditional pumper body can also feature full-height compartmentation on either or both sides. The main difference is traditional pumper body compartments are frame-rail depth in the lower section and about half as deep in the upper section. One reason is the booster tank is normally T-shaped on a standard body and rectangle-shaped on a rescue-pumper body. The T-shaped tank usually results in a lower hosebed and shorter wheelbase, typical for rigs designed primarily for engine company operations.

7 A Spartan ER with a typical narrow L1 pump operator’s compartment. There’s storage for three hose donut rolls on the bottom with two adjustable shelves on top. The door is hinged opposite of the pump panel.
7 A Spartan ER with a typical narrow L1 pump operator’s compartment. There’s storage for three hose donut rolls on the bottom with two adjustable shelves on top. The door is hinged opposite of the pump panel.

Rescue-pumper body purchasers are generally more concerned with how much ancillary equipment they can carry vs. low rear hosebeds, short wheelbases, and large booster tanks. Hence, the sizes and carrying capacity of each compartment are the primary criteria in purchasing specifications. The proverbial cramming of 10 pounds of stuff into a five-pound container requires foresight, careful planning, and extremely detailed purchasing specifications – yet another topic for later debate.

8 Another narrow L1 compartment with a roll-up door on a Spartan ER with a single shelf in both upper and lower sections. (Photos 7 and 8 courtesy of Allan Smith, Colden Enterprises
8 Another narrow L1 compartment with a roll-up door on a Spartan ER with a single shelf in both upper and lower sections. (Photos 7 and 8 courtesy of Allan Smith, Colden Enterprises.)

When writing purchasing specifications for traditional-style pumper bodies, priority is usually placed on booster tanks, hose loads, accessibility to preconnects (especially at the rear), short wheelbases, and generally small maneuverable rigs for urban environments. When laying out such a rig with vendors, apparatus purchasing committees usually have “cast-in-concrete” nonnegotiable requirements such as the following: The rig cannot exceed a certain length; height; maximum wheelbase; certain tank size; set hose load; specific seating arrangement for a chosen cab style; and preferred compartment configuration such as high sides both sides or high side road side and low side curb side. The emphasis is on humping hose and fighting fires and not carrying stuff. Staying within those parameters, vendors will inform the fire department how much room is left and what the measurements “can be” for the style of compartments desired. Those compartment measurements end up in a purchasing spec. Fire departments usually “make things fit” when a traditional bodied pumper is delivered.

9 A CustomFIRE traditional pumper body, also with a narrow L1 compartment, with wheel chocks mounted inside and a small slide-out tray in the lower section. Many departments opt for tool boards in the upper half deep sections of compartments. They are available from a number of manufacturers. Note the pump panel behind a roll-up door. (Photo courtesy of CustomFIRE
9 A CustomFIRE traditional pumper body, also with a narrow L1 compartment, with wheel chocks mounted inside and a small slide-out tray in the lower section. Many departments opt for tool boards in the upper half deep sections of compartments. They are available from a number of manufacturers. Note the pump panel behind a roll-up door. (Photo courtesy of CustomFIRE.)

Why Specify Dimensions?

Most manufacturers complying with the above cast-in-concrete parameters will likely propose their own standard traditional pumper bodies with compartments that are likely relatively close dimensionally.

10 Another narrow L1 compartment on a traditional-style pumper body. This rig’s pump panel is also enclosed behind a roll-up door. (Photo courtesy of Summit Fire Apparatus
10 Another narrow L1 compartment on a traditional-style pumper body. This rig’s pump panel is also enclosed behind a roll-up door. (Photo courtesy of Summit Fire Apparatus.)

Some questions for purchasers of traditional pumper bodies include the following: Why is it necessary to specify exact compartment dimensions when compartmentation may not be a priority? After some soul-searching, answer this question: Are the compartment dimensions specified to favor a preferred OEM, or are they specified to eliminate nonpreferred OEMs? Why force otherwise qualified bidders to take exception to perhaps unnecessarily restrictive requirements? It may discourage some from bidding.

Photo 11 is a pumper-rescue body still on the production floor at Ferrara. It looks like this full-depth and full-height compartment wasn’t specified for any shelves or trays. Purchasers should be mindful that if an item is not in the purchasing specs, it does not exist.
Photo 11 is a pumper-rescue body still on the production floor at Ferrara. It looks like this full-depth and full-height compartment wasn’t specified for any shelves or trays. Purchasers should be mindful that if an item is not in the purchasing specs, it does not exist.

Some purchasing committees just can’t accept that traditional pumper body compartment dimensions are dictated by and usually limited because of the aforementioned priorities. The alternative is to upgrade to a manufacturer’s all-inclusive combined rescue-pumper body and pump house configuration. Or, they can reinvent the wheel starting with a pencil, a blank piece of paper, and an increased budget.

Photo 12 is another Ferrara still on the production floor. Some thought went into this L1 compartment. It has two vertical slide-out tool boards on the right side and a slide-out tray and two adjustable shelves on the left side. (Photos 11 and 12 courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus
Photo 12 is another Ferrara still on the production floor. Some thought went into this L1 compartment. It has two vertical slide-out tool boards on the right side and a slide-out tray and two adjustable shelves on the left side. (Photos 11 and 12 courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus.)

Dimensions and Interferences

Merely specifying “Compartment L1 shall be 60 inches high by 40 inches wide by 26 inches deep” does not ensure specific equipment will fit because the specification as written does not require it. The compartment specification fails to address the many variables that should be considered to make effective use of the available 36 cubic feet. Some include the following:

  • Are the compartment dimensions specified the raw inside dimensions?
  • Is a clear door opening specified? Is that measurement door frame to door frame?
  • Consider specifying a “usable clear door opening” unimpeded by door hardware such as shutter door rolls in the up position as well as the door tracks and weather stripping on each side of the compartment.
  • In a quest to provide deeper compartments, some manufacturers extend compartment walls very close to the frame rails and “box in” around spring shackle hangers and protruding chassis components, which lessens the actual usable width and depth in those areas.
  • Hinged doors in the closed position lessen the interior usable depth by the thickness of the door. Depending on the method of body construction, each hinged door lessens the usable door opening when in the open position by the thickness of the door or doors if two are specified.
  • When specifying slide-out trays, ask the vendors what the actual usable interior dimensions of the trays will be. They will depend on the usable door width opening and the space required between the tray’s sides and the door.
  • Are the tray’s slide mechanisms specified on the sides of the tray or underneath it? Either the usable tray width or usable compartment height above the tray will be affected.
  • Consider the height of outward-facing “lips” on shelving. Equipment must be lifted over the lip to remove it. A two-inch-high lip may require two inches of dead space above the equipment.
  • Specifying adjustable shelving tracks on a compartment’s rear wall may affect the usable depth of the compartment and a shelf.
13 An L1 compartment on a Pierce pumper with a single shelf in both the upper and lower section. Generator and exterior lighting switches are commonly found in the upper sections of L1 compartments. [Photo courtesy of the Redmond (WA) Fire Department.]
13 An L1 compartment on a Pierce pumper with a single shelf in both the upper and lower section. Generator and exterior lighting switches are commonly found in the upper sections of L1 compartments. [Photo courtesy of the Redmond (WA) Fire Department.]

There should be a justification for specifying exact dimensional criteria – especially in compartments on a traditional-style pumper body. Not considering physical interferences may negate the perceived benefit of specifying the exact compartment dimensions – on any style body. Good luck.

14 A Toyne pumper’s L1 compartment with a pull-out and tilt-down tray with an adjustable shelf above and below it. (Photos 14 and 15 courtesy of Toyne
14 A Toyne pumper’s L1 compartment with a pull-out and tilt-down tray with an adjustable shelf above and below it. (Photos 14 and 15 courtesy of Toyne.)

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

15 A Toyne pumper’s L1 compartment with a pull-out and tilt-down tray with an adjustable shelf above and below it. (Photos 14 and 15 courtesy of Toyne.)