Features, Fire Apparatus

Cantankerous Wisdom: The Apparatus Vendors Meet Willie

By Bill Adams

The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) directed the apparatus purchasing committee (APC) to schedule meetings with interested apparatus vendors, enabling them to present their product and APC members to ask questions. The biased APC chairman and his equally biased supporters on the committee were livid. They had already decided what they wanted. They had a preferred manufacturer—regardless of what the rest of the department wanted. And, they surreptitiously already received a set of proposed specifications and blueprints from the manufacturer.

Equally aggravating was that their in-house nemesis—Willie—was still on the APC. He was an internal “check and balance” between the narrowminded members and the rest of the fire department who were openminded and wanted competitive bids. The APC chairman cringed at the thought Willie might jeopardize purchasing from the preferred vendor by asking what he perceived as “stupid” questions.


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Prior to the committee’s meeting with the preferred vendor, Willie caught wind the chairman tipped off the vendor to not pay him much attention because Willie was slow, not too smart, and asked really dumb questions. That was a mistake. Sometimes you can push the gentle bear too far. Willie’s comments and questions are in italics. The vendor’s answers follow.

* In your spec’s under the pump house chapter, it says to prevent damage to the pump and piping, all discharges and suction inlets and their adapters will not extend beyond the running boards. But your blueprint shows the elbow on the rear suction inlet well past the tailboard. Shouldn’t the same requirement apply to the rear piping? If it isn’t in your specifications, you don’t get it. You should know that. Besides, that’s why there’s a backup camera.

* In looking at your blueprint’s rear view, it shows the hose loaded right up to the top of the bed. With the dual lift-up treadplate hosebed covers that you do show, should we specify there’s a clear distance from the top of the hose to the cover? I never heard of such a thing. Why would you do that? So we don’t rip the damn cover off.

* Your specs and blueprint say the angle of approach and angle of departure shall not be less than 8 degrees. What are the actual angles for the rig you are proposing? Well Willie, that shouldn’t make a difference as long as it meets NFPA. It makes a difference to me. I asked the question and I deserve the common decency of an answer.

* The underbody compartments ahead of the rear wheels appear to be hanging really low. Shouldn’t they have to meet the same angle of departure and approach criteria? That isn’t required by the NFPA. Why would you care about that? Because my tax money will have to pay for the damages if they bottom out.

* We specified a 1-inch lip on each compartment shelf’s leading edge, but your proposed specs call for a 2-inch lip on all four sides like a tray. Please fix it. Our standard construction has 2-inch lips. It seems foolish to change it. With all due respect sir, I don’t care what your standard is. Our requirement is based on the equipment we intend to carry, how we want to carry it, and the available room. Hence, either fix it or take an exception.

* We called for an electric rewind cord reel to be mounted in the upper section of the compartment and your print shows it mounted on the floor. Why? Well Willie, if you had taken the time to look at the reel manufacturer’s catalog you would have seen the dimensions of their reels and they will not fit. With all due respect sir, if you had taken the time to look closely at their price list you would have seen it says custom sized reels are available. Likewise, if you had taken the time to call their 800 number and asked—as I did—you would have found out they will build one that will meet our specs and will fit in your compartment. That’s why we didn’t specify a model number. We also didn’t specify a manufacturer by name because their competitor will build one also. Would you like the names and numbers of the people I talked to?

For some unknown reason, the vendor ended the meeting earlier than expected and contemptuously asked Willie when leaving why his questions were borderline antagonistic. Willie: I represent all the members of this fire department and not just the purchasing committee members endeared to your product. Likewise, I represent the taxpayers—like myself—of this fire district who want the best value for their tax dollars. Be rest assured sir, I will relay your concerns and your answers to my questions to all the parties who will be voting for—or against—a manufacturer to build our new rig. Have a nice day.

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.