Final inspections are huge parts of the apparatus purchasing process and are nothing to glance over. This month, we asked Bill Adams and Ricky Riley, “What are your key final inspection criteria?”
Final Inspection Criteria: Put It in Your Specs
Usually conducted prior to a rig being delivered and accepted, the final inspection is to ensure the apparatus is in full compliance with a purchaser’s specifications. Making sure the rig meets the specs can become problematic if not approached in a commonsensical manner. No single plan is plausible for all purchasers. How and where a final inspection is conducted as well as where delivery and final acceptance shall take place and the method of payments should be part of the purchasing specifications. If not in writing, they do not legally exist. Specifics should be fully understood by buyer and seller prior to signing a contract.
Purchasing a fire truck is a legal business venture that should not be overtly influenced by personal relationships between the triad of manufacturer, purchaser, and local dealer (if applicable). A “good ole boy club” camaraderie should not interfere with the outcome of the business transaction. Taxpayer monies should be judiciously accounted for. The provisions of the purchasing specifications, successful bid proposal, and subsequent contract should be honestly, legally, and faithfully executed by all parties.
Final inspections are susceptible to becoming confrontational, antagonistic, and self-defeating when a nonpreferred vendor is awarded a contract. Disgruntled members of an apparatus purchasing committee (APC) may willfully cause havoc because their favorite vendor lost the bid. That is the time for the APC chairman or the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to exhibit professionalism and leadership. Honesty and integrity are essential when conducting any inspection.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
A final inspection conducted at a manufacturer’s factory is not necessarily the final acceptance and delivery of the apparatus, nor is it recommended to be so. How and where final inspections are conducted are usually contingent on the purchasing method and should be clearly defined in the purchasing specifications.
One scenario is when there is a factory pickup where the final inspection is conducted and the purchaser pays for and takes ownership of the apparatus. When the rig is picked up, it is theirs. Accidents, flat tires, and breakdowns on the way home not specific to workmanship or factory defects are the purchaser’s problem. If problems occur after arriving home, standard warranty procedures would be applicable.
Another scenario is when a demonstrator or stock apparatus is purchased and very few modifications are made like adding graphics or an extra shelf or a slide-out tray. A comprehensive final inspection may not be necessary and conceivably could be done at the time of delivery and final acceptance.
Final inspections commonly occur at the factory, with the rig going to a local dealership for predelivery prep, adding graphics, tool mounting, radio installation, etc. Is the real final inspection at the factory, the dealership, or when the rig is delivered?
Purchasing specifications should define how and when payment shall be made, including whether it be in full or in partials. It is equally important to define if any monies can or will be held back to ensure full compliance for discrepancies found at final delivery. That is being fair to all parties.
CHECK, CHECK, AND DOUBLE CHECK
The success of a final inspection is contingent on how well purchasing specifications were written, how comprehensive the successful proposal was examined, and how accurate prior inspections were conducted. Do not underestimate the value of a prebid conference, a public bid evaluation, a bid award meeting, the preconstruction conference, a prepaint inspection, and possibly postpaint inspection prior to the final inspection.
Prebid conferences with prospective vendors may help eliminate misunderstandings in specification verbiage. Public examinations of bids (including by the vendors) before awarding a contract aids in determining any irregularities in submitted proposals. The importance of a bid award meeting and preconstruction conference is self-evident, and any discrepancies should be documented and an action plan described and signed by both buyer and seller. Discrepancies in prepaint and any subsequent inspections should also be documented. The final inspection is a review of how discrepancies found during previous meetings/inspections were resolved as well as ensuring the final fit and finish is acceptable. Remember: If it’s not in writing, it might not exist.
DELIVERY AND ACCEPTANCE
Final inspections conducted at the point of manufacture may not verify all specified items until the apparatus has been delivered. How they are to be verified should be clearly defined. For example, National Fire Protection Association(NFPA)1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, mandates road tests shall be done when the apparatus is “fully laden.” Likewise, after the rig is fully laden and with a full crew is when it should be weighed to verify it is within the limits specified and in accordance with NFPA 1901. My preference is to do both when it is delivered.
It is conceivable that a rig can be driven 2,000 miles to its final destination after factory tests and certifications have been made. That’s a lot of shaking, rattling, and rolling that can “jar something loose.” Pump tests and aerial testing should be revisited, albeit abbreviated, on delivery.
Some performance criteria cannot be verified until a rig is delivered. While seemingly minor, they can be very aggravating if not rectified. As mentioned with pump-equipped apparatus, a brief pump test should be conducted. You might want to ensure the pump pumps, it can pull a vacuum, and the pressure controller works and verify the tank-to-pump flow rate. Other performance criteria in a purchasing specification could include the following:
- When fully loaded, the top of the main hose load shall be 12 inches below the hosebed side sheets.
- Each crosslay shall accommodate 200 feet of 1¾-inch DJRL hose with a nozzle sitting on top of the hose load.
- Compartment No. 2 shall be large enough to accommodate a Model ABC 20-inch smoke ejector on a floor-mounted slide-out tray.
- The delivery engineer shall perform a flow test on the 2½-inch rear discharge to ensure it flows the specified gallonage at 150 pounds per square inch pump discharge pressure.
- The delivery engineer shall perform a flow test on the rear six-inch intake from draft to ensure it flows the gallonage specified.
- From a dead stop at the red light on Main Street, the fully laden apparatus shall crest the hill at South Road at no less than 30 miles per hour.
The procedures to conduct performance testing should be in writing. Can the department load its equipment on the rig, and can fire department personnel drive it before it is paid for in full? How long do they have to load and test it? Some manufacturers and dealers may operate similar to a car dealership: “You pay, and it’s yours; don’t pay, it’s mine, and you ain’t taking it off the lot.” Or, they could say, “Have the village cut the check, and I’ll bring the truck.”
It may not be in the department’s best interest to wait for the “factory training” to ensure a rig meets specified performance criteria.
A final inspection is not a mini vacation—it’s work. Leave the golf clubs at home and bring your work clothes. Is it necessary to invite the village purchasing agent, the fire department’s attorney, the corpulent fire commissioner who can’t fit underneath the rig, the fire company’s elderly president or treasurer who hasn’t rode on a rig in five years, or the outgoing fire chief just because you think he deserves another free meal? The department mechanic and a good scribe should be invited.
ERRORS AND OMISSIONS
The most difficult obstacle to overcome is determining what is and is not acceptable if a discrepancy occurs. No manufacturer wants to hear, “It doesn’t meet the specs—we don’t want it.” It is disconcerting that an experienced manufacturer who has built hundreds of rigs a year for decades makes mistakes. Caution: Waiting more than a year for a new fire truck may influence some purchasers to accept deficiencies they shouldn’t. Preplan the final inspection like you would preplan for the big fire on Main Street. Good luck.
BILL ADAMSis 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.
The Final Inspection: Don’t Rush
The final inspection of your fire apparatus is a culmination of probably many years of work. This could start from working on a budget for a municipal department, laying the foundation for the apparatus replacement, or it could be many years of fundraising for a volunteer department to finally get a rig replaced for your community. Now that the finance part is done, now comes the task of developing the specification and going through the purchasing process. Once again, all this takes time to get it right for your department and your community.
The final inspection is when all the behind-the-scenes work and all the mounds of paperwork and e-mails finally get turned into a fire truck that you can see and touch. If you work through all this process of finance, specifications, approvals, and making sure your truck committee and bosses are happy with your product, I believe regardless of how much of a veteran you may be at purchasing apparatus or how new you are to a truck committee, the excitement of traveling to your manufacturer to see the end product is rewarding and gratifying. But once you get past the wow factor, touch the rig, and of course turn the lights on, it is now time to get to work on the final inspection.
PROCESS BY COMMITTEE
My final inspections are a process by committee. I have been fortunate enough to have a team who has done a large number of finals, and we have the process down to an art form—we believe. That doesn’t mean that all our inspections go perfectly from our end. We may miss some things even though we are well versed in the process. But the egoless group is more than ready to look over each other’s work and ensure all aspects of the rig have been completed.
As the manager of the process, it does require me to take have a little bit more of a detailed process and requires a heavier backpack full of stuff than most of the rest of the committee. These are the items I start off with when we head to our manufacturer for a final inspection:
- The truck file. This is all the documentation, e-mails, change orders, and notes from every meeting with the committee, salesperson, and manufacturer. This is the file that is always going to be associated with the truck and provides a detailed history of the unit from its inception to final delivery. This file will only grow through the final inspection and the delivery process and will provide anyone with a resource to find anything on the rig now and over the life of the apparatus.
- A complete copy of the specifications in long form from your manufacturer. This fully explains each individual item on your rig and the expected performance and construction specifications of every item. This specification should be kept up to date as any purchaser progresses through engineering conferences and change orders throughout the process.
- An abbreviated component list of everything that is on that particular rig. This is what I will use as my check-off through the final inspection process. This is a list of every component, light, switch, and option that we asked to be built into our apparatus. These brief descriptions of the components guide us through the final, with our full specification document as the backup in case we have any questions or concerns on how the individual options are supposed to perform, operate, or be constructed.
- A final set of engineering drawings that are big enough for easy reading and for reference. These final engineering drawings should have been signed off on by both the manufacturer and the customer for final positions of everything on the rig.
- Pictures, pictures, and more pictures. In many cases, we have chronicled all our past final inspections and will use those pictures to compare the past rig to the latest one we are completing. We can easily show our selected manufacturer or salesperson photographic evidence that it was built this way the last time. And even if you do not have multiple deliveries and this is the first rig you have purchased in the past 15 years, have plenty of pictures of your past rig, options, or designs that you might have referenced in the project. It is always good to have those in hand ready for reference and discussion if needed.
- A department laptop that is compatible with the electronic systems on your apparatus. Manufacturers use a number of systems to monitor everything on your fire truck, including diagnostic systems, seat belt monitors, and camera systems. Make sure you can use all these systems as they were designed and that you can operate them from within your department. The place to get all this education is at the manufacturer where the person who installed the system and programmed it is right there and should be at your disposal for any questions.
- Trusted eyes. Get the correct people from your department there to help with the final inspection. Depending on the complexity of your apparatus design, this may require a group that understands the chassis and basic components and another group for aerial checkouts or the many components and designs that could go into a rescue squad. The end users of our rigs need to be included in this final inspection.
Before making the trip for the inspection, ensure that the manufacturer is ready for any performance tests or other inspections you would like to do when you arrive. These could include any of the following:
- Tilt table test.
- Pump testing.
- Flowing water through all discharges on an engine.
- Flowing aerial master streams.
- Road test.
- Uneven terrain testing.
- Watertight test for cab and compartments.
- Aerial testing.
These tests could require proper scheduling with the factory personnel.
The inspection starts with a review of the specifications and a component list for the completed unit. Copies are made for all attending personnel who are there to do the rig checkout, and they are all briefed on how to read the list and to whom they should direct their questions concerning the list. Each and every item on that component list needs to be checked off to ensure its presence on your build. Then, depending on the check-off team’s preference, the functionality of those items must be checked to ensure proper operation per the department specification. Doing this inspection with the department’s end users familiarizes members with the location and functionality of all the parts and pieces of the apparatus they will be using to do their job. They can now ask any embarrassing questions that they would never want to ask about any or all components on their new apparatus.
1 Get underneath the fire apparatus at final inspection and do not rush the process. (Photo by author.)
There is more to a rig than just the flashy paint and bright lights. The final inspection will require you to get underneath the apparatus and ensure that all the wiring is properly secured, all connections are as water-resistant as possible, and all are properly marked for function. Check all the air lines for chaffing points that through normal running up and down the road could cause an air leak or line failure. Go over these to extend the in-service times of your apparatus. As a part of your check-out team, work on bringing a mechanic that fixes your current apparatus so he can assess how all these wires and lines are run and can give you an expert opinion on what might need some attention by the builder.
Do not rush through this process! Spend the extra day or so with your new apparatus ensuring that it was built to your specifications and that it is operating correctly. This time taken at the factory will only enhance the reliability and operational efficiency of your rig. Be sure to keep a running list of all issues or problems with the apparatus and review those with your salesperson and the manufacturer. Make sure the manufacturer fully understands these outstanding issues and, more importantly, what your expectation is for the repair of these items. Even though the salesperson is supposed to be your advocate with the manufacturer, always make sure the builder is fully aware of your expectations. This will certainly lower the chances for any misunderstanding of what you, the buyer, wants.
Once the list is complete and expectations have been set, I want the manufacturer to completely fix my list of issues and deficiencies before the rig leaves the building. The manufacturer’s job is to deliver us the apparatus that we specified and ensure that it functions to our requirements. Work with the manufacturer to meet your expectations for the rig you purchased. Do not leave the factory without making your feelings and desires for your apparatus known. If you do not tell them what you want, that just leaves a huge possibility for confusion, miscommunication, and usually some bad feelings along the way. You bought it, and the OEM built it for you. Make sure you are happy with the end product.
This final inspection process is the culmination for most departments of a very long process. This inspection is your opportunity to make sure everything is right before it comes home to your department and to your community. It has to be right mechanically and operationally. That is your job as a member in the final inspection process. These trips are hard work if you do them correctly. The focus needs to be on the rig. These parts, pieces, options, and designs have to be right for when the bell rings and the rig is expected to perform. As a member of a final inspection team, this duty cannot be taken lightly. Team leaders, take the right people for the fire truck—not those who are there for a social media moment.
Finally, during this process you have to hold the builder accountable, your salesperson accountable, and yourselves accountable for this new apparatus. It is your job to do it right.
RICKY RILEYis the president of Traditions Training, LLC. He previously served as the operations chief for Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and as a firefighter for Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue. He also currently serves as a firefighter with the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department. He also is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board.