Do You Get Your Hands Dirty?
When it comes to training, there are few firefighters who will disagree that hands-on training is the best way for us to develop our skills.
During hands-on training evolutions we learn what our limits are, and we also have an opportunity for repetitive training that will prepare us for many of the incidents to which we respond. Live burning, extrication training on vehicles, search and rescue using modular training buildings, etc. provide realistic scenarios for drills.
Not only do these evolutions allow us to practice tactics through repetition, but we also get to know tools we use inside and out—and that means fire apparatus too.
Similar “hands-on” theories apply to the tools and apparatus we use. I was talking to a colleague recently, and we were discussing how the technology we use every day for various tasks has also changed how some departments make purchases.
Editorial Advisory Board member Bill Adams has often commented that when a fire apparatus salesperson enters a purchasing committee meeting for the first time, he is facing a group that more than likely already knows a great deal about his product and already has the answers to many of their questions because they have already done exhaustive research via the Internet. But, is that really enough to make up your mind as a purchaser? You are getting ready to spend, for an aerial for example, up to and often exceeding $1 million on the purchase. Do you want to go to your board of commissioners, your department brass, or the mayor and say that you want to spend X amount of dollars on a rig that you liked because you saw it on the Web? Many have heard the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Not so when you’re talking about spec’ing a rig.
Blueprints and specification documents only go so far. Pictures showing a rig from different angles and showing compartment and cab interiors don’t cut it when trying to evaluate the fit and finish of a fire truck. The only way to do this is to get out and get your hands dirty.
The information we have at our fingertips is unmatched in history. But, there is nothing that can replace standing next to a fire apparatus and inspecting it to determine your committee’s preferences. The way to do this is to make sure you attend the trade shows. Depending on the show’s size, you’re going to do some walking. But unless you’re planning to invite five or more manufacturers to your department’s parking lot one night, you won’t have the opportunity to analyze rigs from various manufacturers in one place. And, let’s be honest—for obvious reasons, the aforementioned manufacturer muster in your parking lot is likely not going to happen.
Why trade shows? Many times you’re going to see the best of the best of what a manufacturer is offering. You get to see exactly what a manufacturer means in a description online or in promotional materials. You get behind the wheel; you put two of your tallest firefighters across from each other in the cab to truly test the legroom; you put firefighters next to each other to test how easy it will be to don a self-contained breathing apparatus shoulder to shoulder. You open and close doors, and you evaluate features.
Build quality is also something you’re not going to evaluate on a Web site. Publications like Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment will lay out what’s new from apparatus and equipment manufacturers. Our Web site will enhance this information with a variety of galleries and videos, but the only way you’re going to make the most educated decision you can is getting out and seeing examples of what you’re looking for from a variety of builders, and trade shows are where you’ll find the samples you need. There will always be personal preferences and preferred vendors. But, you can’t figure out what yours are without climbing on the rigs like you did when you were a kid.
Naturally, visiting other fire departments that have rigs like the one you want to buy and have had them for more than a couple of years will pay huge dividends in seeing how the rigs hold up.
We are living in a time when virtually any question can be answered by typing a search term into a browser window. The level of detail of what is available from any apparatus or equipment manufacturer is greater than it has ever been. It’s OK that we may have all but made a decision by the time we meet with a salesperson or see a rig in person, but it is critical that we get hands-on when it comes to making the final decision.