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Cantankerous Wisdom: More on Clean Orders and Dilweed

By Bill Adams

Dilweed is the fictitious cost estimator at the ABC Fire Truck Manufacturing Company. He’s a nerd, a nondescript bespectacled employee cloistered in a small room in the basement of ABC’s office building. Coworkers pay little attention to him. If a pricing issue arises, dealers and customers alike will pay attention to him. His job is to place a monetary value on each word in a set of purchasing specifications. He final prices all the parts and pieces on a fire truck proposal and on any changes made after a contract is signed. And, he’s very, very good at what he does. Management loves him; he’s the consummate employee. He’s the person who coined the term “if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist.

Dilweed has stated numerous times—and management agrees 100 percent—that he was not hired as a referee, or an interpreter, or a spell checker for specifications. He’s not paid to be a mind reader either; it’s not his job to “think” what a purchaser wants. The dealer has to assume some responsibility. If there’s a discrepancy in the pricing of an apparatus component, Dilweed reigns supreme. Because of that, he’s despised by most of ABC’s dealers.

Dilweed doesn’t really know what a fire truck looks like, nor does he care. He’s a numbers man. Everything in his world revolves around a number. And, each number has a price assigned to it. All manufacturers use computer software programs where a number is assigned to each widget. As an example, number XX-4561 could mean a three-inch riser piped from the top of a pump manifold directly straight up with one support bracket for a monitor. When Dilweed looks at XX-4561 in his pricing chart, it gives him the cost for the pipe, support bracket, valve, and the number of labor hours to install it. He also knows the corresponding specification says, “the riser shall be located in the forward center section of the pump house.” No big deal.

Visualize a preconstruction meeting where a purchaser says he wants the riser piped to the passenger side rear corner of the pump house. Time out! The price may not be the same. Dilweed gets a call in his office inquiring if there is an additional cost to move the riser. He notes the requested location was not specified in the purchaser’s specifications. If the required location is not already assigned a number and cost, he contacts the plumbing department who says it’ll take an additional hour and a half of labor and the extra materials required are two three-inch 45-degree elbows, a three-inch 90-degree elbow, four feet of three-inch pipe, two additional support brackets, and an additional three-inch Victaulic coupling. Dilweed prices out the component parts. The price to move the riser is given to the dealer, who informs the purchaser. The purchaser goes tilt—accusing the dealer of gouging the fire department because the order is already in house. The dealer throws Dilweed under the bus, blaming him. Management is happy Dilweed saved them hundreds of dollars. A “clean order” could have alleviated the problem.

As mentioned in a previous “Cantankerous Wisdom,” some manufacturers only accept clean orders where there are absolutely no questions at all about what goes where. If that is the case, the importance of accurate specifications, and pre-bid and preconstruction meetings cannot be stressed enough. (See Pre-Con and Pre-Bid Meetings on The Rig). The location of the riser should have been addressed in the purchasing specification verbiage. It could have been rectified at a pre-bid meeting. Don’t blame Dilweed.

One comment concerning a preconstruction meeting would be timing. If a manufacturer has received a clean order and eight months later at a pre-con meeting, the customer wants to change things around that have a financial impact, the customer is at the mercy of Dilweed. Sorry—that’s life. Changes are not limited to piping only. Another example could be requesting a rear four-light tail cluster to be raised to allow storage on a rear tailboard. Perhaps a custom fabricated wiring harness is required or special programming is required for a CNC machine to drill holes in a one-of-a-kind location for the light assembly. Even determining the final location of telescoping light poles and hosebed configurations at a pre-con could affect pricing. If bidders want an accurate prices, their specifications should also be accurate.

If all the nitty-gritty details of what goes where on the fire truck are spelled out in the purchasing specifications and made known to potential bidders before the bid opening, Dilweed will come up with accurate pricing for the bid. When specifications are vague and ambiguous, Dilweed enters the fray. He doesn’t get too many Christmas cards from dealers and purchasers.

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.