chief concerns | Richard Marinucci
Selecting the Right Components
In the general population, there are people who prefer Ford; some GM; and others Dodge, Nissan, or any of the other brands. If you have more money, you can choose Mercedes, BMW, Cadillac, Lexus, or a different luxury car.
When you want to go even higher, you may be able to pick a more custom vehicle. Regardless, in the end, the vehicle you choose is based on your personal preference, which comes from past experience, style desires, funding available, and probably influence from advertisements and marketing efforts of the vehicle companies. It can also be from networking and the opinions of your connections. Regardless of your reasons, it often boils down to your choice. But in almost all cases, you will not have any options or be very limited when picking components. You get what the manufacturer puts on the vehicle with few exceptions. Of course, the components may be factored into your decision-making process.
But when it comes to components in a fire truck or other emergency vehicle, many (if not a majority) in the fire service have their own preferences when it comes to pumps, fittings, nozzles, hoses, and the like. Department mechanics will have their preferences regarding engine types, transmissions, and maybe even tires. You should be getting the picture. There is a certain brand loyalty that goes beyond the manufacturer of the truck and promotes purchasing custom vehicles so that departments get the end vehicles they desire that have the components they really want. This is not a bad thing and has its advantages. But, departments should evaluate what they are doing and make sure there are sound reasons, not that a habit has been formed. This is only stated because there are many good products available, and they may be able to meet the needs of the department.
GOOD FOR THE ORGANIZATION
You should be able to get the vehicle that makes the most sense for your organization, and a person who knows nothing of your operations cannot make the choice for you. There are quality consultants who can help, and the good ones will learn as much about your department as they can so they can make recommendations based on your needs—not necessarily their preference. Of course, a good consultant should have a feel for the market and what vehicles are likely to match your circumstances. But, they may also have their own personal biases based on their experiences and history with particular manufacturers. Whether you use consultants or your own in-house experts, knowledge of the components will help you get the best vehicle for your situation, but only if they take the time to evaluate your needs.
When drafting specifications for a custom vehicle, you need to decide which components are mandatory by particular brand and which ones have options. The more flexibility you have, the more choices you are likely to have. For example, if you want a particular pump on the truck, you may restrict which companies may be able to offer that option. Of course, if all of your vehicles have the same pump, there is an advantage to keeping things similar for training, repairs, and parts. This may not matter if the person who does the maintenance and repairs of your pumps is someone outside your organization. If this is contracted out, the person doing the repairs will stock the parts and know how to repair the pump. If this is the case, then it may be the ease of operation that could determine selection. If it is extremely simple with little time needed for training and routine maintenance, then this could be your best option.
Most of the options for components are very reliable and will deliver the quality that is desired. Companies that cannot produce parts that meet the needs of departments will not survive because word will spread in the industry. Any company doing business for any length of time will have a track record of performance. Rarely do you hear of significant problems. This means that you will end up with something that works, and your choices will be based on your personal experiences and beliefs. I think if you find a product that is working for you and you have experienced few issues, you should continue as long as the pricing stays in the range. I also think that occasionally organizations should evaluate how they do things to make sure they are using sound logic and judgment when spending the department’s funds. It is about finding the balance between what you actually need, what is nice to have, what works, and what you can afford.
Unless you purchase a stock fire truck, you have the opportunity to select the components. This is not the case for all vehicles. If you purchase a command truck from one of the auto companies, you will get the engine, tires, transmission, etc. that come with the vehicle. Because you get a choice in your fire trucks, you need to do your homework and select parts that work for your organization. This is beneficial in the short and long term when considering training, maintenance, and repairs. But if there is little perceivable benefit, you should reevaluate your approach so you are not overspending on things that have little relevance to the outcomes. It is easy to get into a habit and continue on “just because.” Use your available resources, including your apparatus personnel, to make an informed decision on all aspects of your vehicle.
When I buy a personal vehicle, it is a Ford. Why, you ask? Because my father-in-law worked for Ford for more than 40 years, and we get the family plan. It may not be the best reason, but I have had little problem with my vehicles (reliable), and they are comfortable. It is about loyalty to a brand. Other car manufacturers make good products, but I am unlikely to change. I think this is the same with fire vehicles. The slight difference is that the brand goes beyond the manufacturer and gets to the various components. We have a tendency to specify what we are comfortable with in the parts we choose. There are some logical reasons as stated above. But, occasionally we should reevaluate to make sure we aren’t doing something because we have always done it.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering Editorial Advisory Board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.