Kickin’ Tires; Makin’ Wish Lists

Chris Mc Loone   Chris Mc Loone

With FDIC International 2015 set to take place at the end of this month, the fire service trade show season is officially underway.

At various locations around the country, firefighters will visit regional as well as national exhibitions to get a glimpse of the latest and greatest products from apparatus and equipment manufacturers. From custom apparatus to rigs built on commercial chassis, what I really enjoy about these shows is seeing how other fire departments are designing their fire apparatus. Not every idea works for every department, but chances are that every firefighter will walk away with at least one idea for current or future apparatus.

If you are in the specification phase for a new apparatus, visits to these trade shows are invaluable-whether on your own or with your apparatus purchasing committee (APC). If you are with your committee, split up. The entire group probably won’t be able to cover the show floor in its entirety if you stay together, and it might be a little easier to take a look at something objectively without the “peanut gallery” in the background.

Also, assign APC members to specific aspects of the truck. Assign one or two members to find out all they can about scene lighting options and configurations. Assign another group to look at crew cab configurations and still another to look at equipment mounting methods and designs. Along the way, they’ll still get to look at all the fire apparatus, albeit for different reasons.

The danger here is that the list of things the committee is going to bring back might be hard to sort through and prioritize. More than likely some will feel they’ve discovered the solution to all the problems your department has faced with the apparatus it is replacing and are going to feel very strongly about it. Given recent presentations I’ve sat in on, these lists-and our willingness to purchase everything on them-are becoming a problem. That is not to say that it is not necessity driving us to spec an engine, for example, that has to carry additional equipment than engine company operations call for. However, there’s a difference between spec’ing anything we want because we can and spec’ing what we need.

Trying to keep up with the department down the street or the next town over is an easy trap to fall into. But, if you and your APC focus on the mission of the apparatus you are looking to purchase, you should be able to sort through pretty quickly what is necessary vs. what would be “cool” to carry.

Cost will often be a determining factor, but do not be afraid to look at the total cost of ownership for the 10 to 15 years you will probably own and operate the truck-sometimes longer if it goes into reserve status. For example, in the short term, LED warning and scene lighting packages may be more expensive to purchase. But over the lifetime of the truck, will you save in maintenance and parts when you are no longer replacing bulbs regularly? Is that savings worth the initial investment? Only your APC can answer that.

And, don’t forget that we operate in an industry that is constantly innovating and coming up with new products to help make our jobs easier and safer. The equipment you buy today will be improved five years after you mount it. When you are at the trade shows, take a look at how the equipment is mounted and where. My hunch is you’re going to find open space in some compartments that is there specifically to allow for future equipment purchases.

None of this is groundbreaking, but it is worth bringing up as we venture out to the apparatus exhibits to see what’s new. It is often easy to get caught up in how we think we should be doing something vs. how it should be done for our benefit and that of those we protect.

So, enjoy the upcoming trade show season. Bring back ideas to your department that are good fits and truly practical for the hazards and structures you face. And, don’t be too annoyed with all the strollers on the last day of the show. Remember, we were all just like these kids once: wide-eyed at the sight of fire trucks. We have to get them started when they are young!

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