Apparatus Purchasing: Make it Simple, Part 1

KISS is an abbreviation for a theory attributed to the military and later adopted by industry to keep things clear-cut, uncomplicated, and easy to understand.

By Bill Adams

Politically correct variants are “keep it short and simple” and “keep it simple and straightforward.” Those acronyms should be applicable to fire apparatus purchasing in general and to specifications and standards in particular.


The intent of this article is not to degrade, impugn, or criticize purchasers, apparatus manufacturers, or specification writers (spec writers). Writing fire apparatus purchasing specifications is a major responsibility. It is a demanding job, and I give credit to all who do it. There is no disparaging or passing judgment on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Apparatus. The document is conspicuously referenced because all specifications are heavily influenced and governed by it. NFPA 1901 is the bible of fire apparatus purchasing-regardless of whether spec writers subscribe to its principles and philosophies. It’s not going away. Live with it.

One objective when purchasing a new rig is to improve the vocation of firefighting. Any regulatory standard or specification making firefighters’ work less hazardous and less complicated to perform is commendable. Specifications and regulatory standards should be as functional as the apparatus they intend to describe. Unfortunately, some regulatory requirements are confusing, hard to read, and harder to understand. As a result, writing effectual purchasing specs can be a challenge. Purchasing fire apparatus should not be a complicated process.


Being unaware, uninformed, and unfamiliar does not necessarily mean one is ignorant or uneducated. Regardless of being career or volunteer, not all firefighters are as well versed in the technical aspects of writing specs as those who professionally write them and the standards that govern them. Infrequent exposure to spec writing and purchasing does not mean an apparatus purchasing committee (APC) lacks the skill or ability to buy a fire truck. Even experienced firefighters and APC members might need a little help. The industry should help them.

APC members can be intimidated, perplexed, and even confused by technospeak-technical jargon beyond their grasp. Some may be overwhelmed by a lack of clarity in the written word. Asking for clarification of specifications and standard verbiage is not an indication or admission of ignorance. Some APC members may refrain from asking too many questions for fear of appearing foolish. In my opinion, regulatory standards and specifications should be simplified and made easy to read. Doing so will make firefighters and (some) spec writers better educated and an APC’s job less complicated.

Specs and Standards

Fire apparatus original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) publish standard specifications proprietary to their products. They use them to educate prospective customers and to promote their products. OEMs encourage purchasers to use them as purchasing specifications. That is their job. Although using proprietary specifications is questionable in some political arenas, it’s a common practice, and most everyone does it. Get over it. I do not address the validity of proprietary specifications herein, but I do address making them and the regulations that govern them understandable and easy to read.

Historically, fire apparatus specifications were considered long if they exceeded a couple dozen pages. Thirty years ago, one manufacturer was ecstatic when his specification broke the 75-page mark. Today, specs for a simple pumper can easily exceed 100 pages. I question if they need to be that long. It is understandable if the intent of lengthening the document is to educate the consumer. It is debatable if they are lengthened merely to eliminate competition with detailed proprietary verbiage.

In 1985, NFPA 1901 was 44 pages long with more than 70 percent of the pages dedicated to the actual requirements. In 1999, NFPA 1901 increased to 148 pages with the actual requirements taking up 75 pages-about 50 percent.

The 2009 edition, in effect today, is almost 200 pages long. Fifty percent is devoted to the requirements. Twenty-five percent is devoted to informational data with titles of “Specifying and Procuring Fire Apparatus,” an “Apparatus Purchasing Specification Form,” a “Fire Apparatus Delivery Inspection Form,” a section titled “Weights and Dimensions for Common Equipment,” references, and an index. The remaining 25 percent is devoted to Annex A. According to NFPA 1901, “Annex A is not part of the requirements of this NFPA document but is included for informational purposes only. This annex contains explanatory material, numbered to correspond with the applicable text paragraphs.” The pages of explanatory materials are half as long as the requirements.

Be advised that NFPA 1901 informational data is an excellent resource for writing specifications and purchasing fire apparatus. It could be used as a training aid for all firefighters, explaining the “hows and whys” of their work platform-the fire truck. Perhaps that data belongs in a stand-alone educational document rather in a standard with cast-in-concrete mandatory requirements.

What makes a standard or specification difficult to read? When verbiage is subject to different interpretations is a major reason. Both documents should avoid vague and unclear language. Another is when readers cannot easily understand if a requirement “shall be” followed, “should be” followed, or “ought to be” followed. The words in quotes in the preceding sentence are found in NFPA 1901-sometimes when addressing the same subject. Repeatedly asking for clarifications may show the document hasn’t been written for the masses. Ouch.

Fire Helmets

Wearing fire helmets in a cab is one area that may be subject to interpretation. Page 1901-1, Origin and Development of NFPA 1901, contains the following statement: “In addition, the document discourages the wearing of fire helmets in the cab and requires provisions for proper storage of helmets while the vehicle is moving.” In Chapter 14, Driving and Crew Areas, sentence says, “The following statement shall be included in the operator’s manual: The helmets shall not be worn by persons in enclosed driving and crew areas.” In Annex A, sentence A. says, “The minimum seat head height values in this standard assume that the occupants are not wearing helmets. The use of a helmet puts the occupant at greater risk of neck or back injury during a rollover or a severe road event.”

In one place, NFPA 1901 says it “discourages the use” of wearing helmets in the cab. In another it says you “shall not wear” them. In a third place, it says why “you shouldn’t wear” them. Shall not, should not, and being discouraged from doing so have different implications-including legal ramifications. I believe it should say in one place you can’t wear them and be done with it. If the safety gurus want to take it a step further, sentence says a sign has to be visible from each seating position saying that seat belts must be worn. On the same sign, add a sentence saying that helmets shall not be worn.


People can interpret the requirements for nozzles in different ways. NFPA 1901 requires pumpers and quints to carry two handline nozzles that flow at least 95 gallons per minute (gpm) each and one handline nozzle that flows a minimum of 200 gpm. Some may deduce the 200-gpm handline nozzle is for a 2½-inch handline. However, the standard does not specify 2½-inch threads. Since some nozzles with 1½-inch threads will easily flow in excess of 200 gpm, what is the intent, and what should an APC specify?

An astute engine company officer may point out that NFPA 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, requires a minimum of two handlines for an interior attack with a combined total of 300 gpm. It appears one standard requires as a minimum two 95-gpm handline nozzles only meeting two thirds of the flow required by another standard. Perhaps the standards should be in sync.

Also, sentence 5.8.2, Fire Hose and Nozzles, item five, says, “One playpipe with shutoff and one-inch (25-mm), 1 1⁄8-inch (29-mm), and 1¼-inch (32-mm) tips,” shall be carried on a pumper. Unlike the requirement for handline nozzles, it does not specify a minimum flow for each tip. Asking why minimum flows are specified for handline nozzles and not for the playpipe tips is not being judgmental. It is asking for a clarification.

A well-trained pump operator may point out that there can be unlimited flows from straight tips. Variables are hose size, hose length, and nozzle pressure. Does the standard consider the aforementioned playpipe a handline nozzle meeting the 200-gpm requirement? If the intent is to carry a large-capacity straight bore nozzle, “large-capacity” should be defined. It is not now. Should NFPA 1901 become involved in the ongoing debate comparing the effectiveness of a straight bore nozzle vs. a combination fog nozzle?

The Gated Inlet

The requirement for what is commonly known as an auxiliary gated intake is also ambiguous. Chapter 16, Fire Pumps and Associated Equipment, sentence 16.6.3, says, “At least one valved intake shall be provided that can be controlled from the pump operator’s position.” It has to be at least a 2½-inch intake. That appears to be cut-and-dried. However, Chapter 5, Pumper Fire Apparatus, sentence, says, “If none of the fire pump’s intakes are valved, a hose appliance that is equipped with one or more gated intakes with female connection(s) compatible with the supply hose used on one side and a swivel connection with pump intake threads on the other side shall be carried.” That appears confusing.

I interpret it as saying that in one place there shall be at least one valved (gated) inlet on the pump and in another it says if you don’t have one, you can carry one as long as you hook it up where the pump operator can reach it. Does it mean you can carry it loose in a compartment and you don’t have to follow sentence 16.6.3? How does an APC spec it? I wonder if all the OEMs interpret those two sentences the same way.

The three aforementioned examples demonstrate just a few areas where a regulatory standard’s requirements may be confusing and subject to multiple interpretations by APC members. A spec writer may have a difficult time incorporating diverse opinions into an effective set of purchasing specifications that prospective bidders may interpret differently. Easily understanding a regulatory standard’s requirements should make for a better purchasing spec. I will address purchasing specifications in Part 2.

BILL ADAMS is 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.

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