By Chris Mc Loone
Deputy Commissioner Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Deputy Commissioner Robert Corrigan to discuss recent apparatus acquisitions and orders by the Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department (PFD). After our discussion, I had the opportunity to visit Ladder 14, which recently took delivery of one of the city’s brand new tractor-drawn aerials. While speaking with Corrigan, he answered a few questions about the city’s apparatus acquisition program and the challenges he’s faced since being given the responsibility for replacing or upgrading the PFD’s fleet.
Since you were placed in charge of apparatus acquisition, what has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is always funding. Apparatus costs have skyrocketed over the past 10 years for all municipalities, and when a department falls behind in regularly scheduled acquisitions because of recession, it’s even more difficult to catch up. In Philadelphia, our apparatus are purchased by the Office of Fleet Management (OFM), and the PFD has worked to be a better partner with them by developing our own five-year plan of apparatus priorities. This plan allows city leadership to properly assess needs and risk and understand costs. The PFD has also submitted for the maximum allowed for apparatus in AFG grants, $3.4 million. Through the administration proposal for $9.8 million for new apparatus along with our AFG grant request, we believe we are on a solid path to renew our fleet.
In recent years, Philadelphia has used apparatus manufactured by other manufacturers, so the Spartan ER rigs are going to be a new experience for you. What led you to choose Spartan ER as your vendor for the new pumpers?
In Philadelphia, after a specification is written, it goes out to bid. Spartan won the contract, and we have very high hopes for these vehicles. Spartan won’t be a totally new experience; we have very positive history with the vendor, Campbell Supply Company, and are very excited to work with them again. The first two units are on track to be completed ahead of schedule and are expected to be in service this spring.
Talk about the Spartan ER order for the pumpers. Describe the new rigs and how they will differ from current pumpers in Philly’s fleet.
These are pure fire suppression engines, and we took a lot of input from our firefighters on their design. One noticeable feature is a very low (40 inches above the tailboard) hosebed, a direct result of firefighter feedback. Another change is the return to a mounted deck gun, which was not provided on the previous pumper contract. We wanted to allow company officers to have the option of a blitz or exterior attack. Fires now are burning hotter and faster, and more lightweight construction is appearing in our city. All of these reasons necessitated a return to a piped deck gun. After the first two units, we will return to a 10-inch raised roof to provide more headroom for our members. We also have better lighting, taking advantage of new LED technology, and better use of storage space, including a compartment for backboard storage in the pump house.
Talk about the PFD’s apparatus purchasing process.
As I mentioned, Philadelphia’s Office of Fleet Management signs our specifications and budgets and purchases our vehicles. This is a great system for our city; OFM is staffed with seasoned vehicle technicians, and they won’t let us make a mistake regarding the mechanical composition of a vehicle. It’s a very collaborative effort between the two departments, and they’ve been an incredibly loyal partner in a process that has the potential to be contentious.
When a requirement for a vehicle is identified, OFM drafts a specification for that vehicle, incorporating lessons learned from past units. They, and the PFD Technical Support Unit (TSU), will visit companies to get end-user input. Once OFM completes the draft specification, the PFD TSU will review the specification closely, and once the specification is complete, it is submitted to the city procurement department, which invites manufacturers to bid on the specification. Since the apparatus contract is awarded to the lowest bidder, it is crucial to get the specification right the first time, as it is very difficult to fund changes after the award.
What keeps you up at night?
Worrying about the safety and welfare of our 2,200 firefighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians. We are focused on providing our members in the field the best equipment and apparatus available to protect them and our city.