By Bill Adams
At morning coffee, one of the Raisins said years ago that his former fire department was enamored with its favorite fire truck salesman. Every Christmas he’d drop off a bottle or two of an adult beverage for the chief and a couple of calendars to hang in the fire station. Over the years, cigarette lighters with his company’s name and logo, ball caps, and monogramed pens and pencils were liberally distributed—usually just before a rig was ordered and always after its delivery. Truck committee members often ended up with a polo shirt or jacket. I said that used to be part of doing business. Years ago, we vendors called that stuff “T&T” (trash and trinkets). It was part of a vendor’s overhead—the cost of doing business. Some Raisins said handing out trash and trinkets shouldn’t be part of the purchasing process. Others wanted the freebees. “Why, we deserve those things. Vendors can afford it. They make too much money as it is. They owe us.” Purposely left out of this discussion are wet downs, which I have no experience with. Other vendors said they can be extremely expensive. Advertising today is a major expense for the apparatus manufacturers, their dealers, and sales people. Advertising is one thing; being taken advantage of is another. Some purchasers feel vendors are obligated to hand out trash and trinkets and buy them dinner and drinks for as long as the rig they purchased is in service! Everyone seems to have their hand out. They’re beating up the vendor, and it’s not right. I always wanted to say, “I’ll take two grand off the cost of the rig, and you guys buy your own drinks and dinners—forever.” But, it did feel good to see a bunch of firefighters displaying the logo of the rig you sold. I guess you can’t have it both ways.
A few decades back (I can’t remember exactly—maybe the 70s or 80s) there were at least four manufacturers of custom cabs and chassis for the fire service that did not build complete fire apparatus. There are none left today. Two manufacturers of complete rigs offer their cabs and chassis to the many smaller independent apparatus manufacturers who don’t build their own. If they no longer offer their chassis for resale, what is going to happen to the apparatus industry? A lot of the independents will be forced out of business. A couple of other complete rig builders have occasionally sold their cabs and chassis to a few of the independents, but I doubt they could pick up the slack. They may not be willing to either. The industry may be reduced to a handful of manufacturers. That’s one way to eliminate the competition.
Another morning, the white hairs were debating the value of specifying a penalty clause for a late delivery when buying a new fire truck. They railed: So What? Who cares? and What difference does it make? I mentioned there are several ways a manufacturer can address a penalty clause. I said bidders used to put in their proposals statements similar to the delivery time was not subject to “acts of God” or “acts of nature” or “unavoidable delays in delivery of component parts beyond our control.” I went on, saying some manufacturers will state the delivery time starts “upon receipt and acceptance of the order” at their factory. That started another squabble about who determines when an order is accepted. I said some manufacturers will only accept a “clean order” from a purchaser or dealer. They started in again: What the hell is a clean order? We’re talking about fire trucks—not washing dishes. I said if they ever met Dilweed, who works at the fire truck factory, they’d know what a clean order is. There’ll be more on Dilweed and clean orders the next time. I can’t be late for the free lunch down at the senior center.
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.