Build It for Them

alt   Chris Mc Loone


Last month, my fire company decided that since it was our 110th anniversary, we would get out our horse-drawn hose reel, assemble it, and find our strongest young members to pull it through town in our annual Independence Day parade.


The last time we had it out was for our 100th anniversary, and it has become obvious that there aren’t many fire company members left who actually know how to put this thing together.

So, a few of us younger members went through the process, and hopefully in another 10 years when we bring it out again we won’t be shaking our heads trying to figure out how all the parts fit together. Yes, we have considered leaving it together, but our firehouse doesn’t really have the space to do so.

This hose reel isn’t actually the one we purchased originally, but it’s a match. Last month, I mentioned how purchasing our hose reel nearly depleted our funds back in 1904. I did some checking, and our treasury dropped to $0.75 after we paid for it. But, the company kept moving forward, continued to raise funds, and purchased 500 feet of hose for the cart’s reel shortly thereafter. This was October 1904, six months after the fire company’s founding. And, it wasn’t until February 1905 that that we responded with the new hose reel to its first fire.

Once we had the reel assembled, I went to the hose tower to get the hose that goes with it. I brought the first length back and asked the group, mostly younger members, what the coupling at the end of the hose is called. Sadly, no one knew about Jones Snaps, and it’s been years since I actually had a Jones Snap key, so that history was lost on them. It’s hard to appreciate how great threaded couplings are until you’ve struggled with the Jones Snaps.

When I was fact finding about the cost of the reel and how it affected our fire company’s bottom line, something struck me. We live in a time when fire apparatus costs are in the hundreds of thousands, not $110 like in 1904. I’ve discussed here how some departments serve their communities with 35-year-old apparatus out of necessity. Sometimes, a truck this age may even be the newest apparatus a department owns. In other communities, the apparatus is newer, but it’s still a struggle sometimes to secure funds for replacement. In large municipalities, getting approval to replace an aging apparatus is more challenging than ever. But, none of this is new. Apparatus purchasing has never been an easy process, and it probably never will be.

I read a short item on a Web site recently about a new apparatus purchase. The company that submitted the new delivery was understandably proud of the truck it just built. It makes sense-we are all proud of the finished product after all the work we put into planning a new rig. The fire company worked with an outside consultant, the apparatus manufacturer, and its own purchasing committee and ended up saving approximately $50,000 on items and equipment for the truck. In today’s purchasing climate, that is a significant savings.

As I sit down with my fellow purchasing committee members to plan our next rescue truck, I realize it is no different than in 1904. Back then, we had a committee; it researched options, presented them to the company, got approval to make the purchase, and shortly thereafter it equipped the reel. The process is the same today, and with some hard work, we can build functional apparatus and save some money.

I think a bit of hard work on the specification end of the process, previous purchasing experiences, and a decent needs vs. wants exercise all go a long way toward easing the process. But, here’s one more. Back in 1904, Weldon Fire Company was a new organization founded to help people. Our first apparatus allowed us to do that because we stayed within our means and focused on our community. These days, the same method holds true. Stay within your means, and build the apparatus for them-your customers. Ultimately, on its worst day, the community your department serves will get the most out of the fire apparatus you build.

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