Spec Writing To Get What You Want

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of columns by Bob Barraclough about purchasing apparatus.

Budgets are tight and getting tighter. The economic conditions demand that you get all the truck you can for the money you have. Apparatus purchasers need to write specs that are open enough to ensure good competitive bids and that are tight enough to get the rig you really need and want. And that is a tough assignment.

Normally, departments use a committee to consider the needs and then develop specifications that meet the department’s requirements. When putting this group together, keep the number as small as possible. Include an engineer or driver, someone from maintenance, a tactical officer and a safety officer, if there is one.

The next step would be to ask for input from department members. Find out what would they like in a new apparatus and what could make their jobs safer or easier. Then get a copy of the 2009 version of the National Fire Protection Association’s 1901 apparatus standard. (Call NFPA at 800-344-3555. The cost is about $40). This standard defines the minimum requirements for the vehicle type you are considering. After familiarizing yourself with the book, turn to Page 146, the beginning of Annex B. Copy pages 149 through 169, and answer the questions. Once you have done this, you and any apparatus salesmen should have a pretty good idea of what the department is considering for the new apparatus.

One good source of information is fire magazines. (For current and past issues of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment go to www.fireapparatusmagazine.com to see what is new and what has recently been delivered.) Talk to neighboring fire officials who have recently purchased trucks to see what they like and don’t like about their new units. Talk to the firefighters as well as the officers as often times the firefighters have somewhat different opinions than you will hear from the spec writers or officers.

When possible, visit trade shows to see how the various components fit together and what manufacturers offer. This would include pump panel designs, pump location and size, dash board layouts, equipment storage layout and size, topside access, hose bed locations, ladder storage, warning light packages, crew compartment configuration, striping designs and paint color, to name a few. There are many, many decisions to be made before you begin talking to the manufacturers.

One determination that has to be made is the main function of the unit. This is crucial as it could mean the difference between a 20,000-pound short wheelbase initial attack vehicle, a 35,000-pound rescue pumper and a 50,000-pound-plus long wheelbase quint or aerial. The answer will lead to developing a budget figure, which is usually rounded off to the nearest hundred thousand dollars.

Source For Funding

At some point, the source for funding must be defined. Leasing is very popular, especially since interest rates are so low. Don’t forget to check with your local banks as they may offer special rates for fire departments. If your department sets aside funds annually for future apparatus purchases, you are very fortunate.

Know your budget and plan accordingly. There are no free rides. You are not going to get a 10-person custom cab, 2,000-gpm pumper with A and B foam systems, hydraulic generator, light tower and twin Q2Bs for $250,000. However, the $250,000 will get you a nice commercial chassis pumper with most of the features needed to handle 98 percent of your calls.

Bells And Whistles

Buying a new truck or engine is like buying a car. You have the basic Chevy, which will do what you need, but if you want the latest bells and whistles, you have to move up a couple of classes to the Cadillac or Lexus. Obviously, as you move up in style and options, the price escalates. You can buy the equivalent of a Kia or Hyundai, but then you will get a very basic truck that may or may not meet the requirements of NFPA 1901 or your department.

Timing is something that must be considered when starting your process. It will take about a year to evaluate your needs, do the research, visit one or more apparatus manufacturers, attend a couple of shows to see what is new, listen to the sales pitches from the dealers, develop the spec and go out to bid. Then, once the bid is awarded, it will take another nine to 12 months to get the rig built. That’s a two-year process if everything goes as planned. The question is, can you wait that long to get exactly what you want? There are alternatives.

Quick Deliveries

Most manufacturers have finished or almost-completed trucks that are available for quick deliveries. Once you have decided what components are required and which ones would be nice to have, contact the apparatus dealers to see if you can get a close match. Check out several builders and their prices to ensure the unit will be within your budget. Using this process one must be careful to adhere to the purchasing rules of the village or municipality. The main advantage is the reduction in time it will take to get the new unit. And you don’t have to write specs or go out to bid.

Another way to short-cut the year it takes to research and bid a truck is to use a buying co-op such as the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) or the BuyBoard in Texas, COSTARS in Pennsylvania, the federal General Services Administration or any of the other forms of state bids that are available. Usually, for a nominal fee, you can use the co-op bid prices, add or subtract options and place an order with the manufacturer. This can be done in 30 days or less. Also, in some states, such as California, a fire department can add on to a contract that was bid in another municipality. In California, CalFire and OES bid trucks every 12 to 18 months.

If a negotiated contract without bidding passes the legal beagle test in your community, it is another avenue for procuring a new rig. Some folks just have to have brand “R” or “P” or “K,” and nothing else will do. It will shortcut the process, but I’m not sure how to get the best deal when using this process or how to compare prices from builder to builder. It could be invaluable when trying to standardize the fleet. Also, it could help build a relationship with a dealer, and it promotes a sense of loyalty with the manufacturer, which could get you some of those special items that builders normally say they will not do.

Back to the decision making process. Limiting factors have to be considered. This could include length, height, weight, budget, minimum crew capacity and color. If it helps, Chief Brunacini said he talked to God one day and she said, “Fire trucks should be red.”

The Main Objectives

For the purposes of this column, let’s pick a pumper for further discussion. One has to decide the main objectives, whether it is an initial attack unit, a rescue, a water supply vehicle, a taxi (for carrying the troops) or a combination.

In the chassis area, you will have to make a choice between custom and commercial. Generally, commercials are less expensive, but offer less flexibility. Customs are designed from the ground up and with proper maintenance will give a longer service life. I believe that custom cabs are, for the most part, stronger and therefore safer than commercials. Many other factors could be included, so it would be wise to investigate this decision thoroughly.

With today’s selections of engines and transmissions, a good match is only a computer printout away. Ask the dealer to run a performance scan on the combinations you are considering. You really don’t need a 500-hp engine if you are on flat land and below 2,000 feet elevation carrying 500 gallons of water. With the high torque engines available and proper gearing, pickup is not a problem.

Water tank size is normally determined by past experience, hydrant spacing and crew size. Remember, water weighs about 10 pounds per gallon in a tank so every 100 gallons of water adds another 1,000 pounds to the truck weight.

Most major pumps are single stage and will do the job for all incidents except a very large high rise. They are cheaper, easier to run and easier to maintain than the two-stage versions. Many pump manufacturers go to a larger pump body for 1,500 gpm and higher capacities, which will increase the cost. Unless you need higher capacity for special situations, a 1,250-gpm pump should be adequate.

With 60 to 70 percent of new pumpers being equipped with a foam system, fire departments are recognizing its value. This is another area that will take some research to decide what type of proportioning is best for your operations and what type of foam concentrate is needed.

Other options you might consider are light towers (frankly every unit should have one), generators (engine, hydraulic or PTO driven), body style (normal or rescue style with deep compartments), intake and discharge locations (none on the pump panel), deluge gun (remote controlled please), equipment mounting, rescue tool systems and winches.

Aerial Devices

Since many new pumpers are equipped with an aerial device, you might want to consider one on your next rig. They range from a 35-foot Snozzle, to a 50 to 75-foot water tower or aerial ladder that all aerial builders can provide. Any larger device would be considered an aerial, aerial platform or a quint instead of a pumper.

Phew, that’s a lot of decisions. Assuming you are going to write the spec and go out to bid, it is time to bring in the dealers. Remember, their job is to sell. Ask questions, look at samples of body construction and wiring, check out any compromises you will have to make by using their brand, ask for evidence of financial stability (no verbal promises here) and ascertain which version of their product they are proposing. That is so you can compare apples to apples from builder to builder.

Before you start writing, think carefully about what you must have, what you would like to have and those nice little extras that could be included if the budget allows. There is nothing wrong in asking that some of the nice-to-have items be quoted separately so you can pick and choose. A word of caution: Taking proprietary parts and pieces from each manufacturer’s specs will raise the price considerably, and you could end up with an American LaMack or something like that, assuming someone would build it.

Beware Of Promises

The best bet is to write a performance spec using the same sequence as NFPA 1901. Don’t engineer the truck. If you say it has to be this way only and the builder does what you insist, you own it when it has a problem. Another very important point: If it is not in the spec (in writing), you probably will not get it. Beware of verbal promises from salesmen who say, ” Yeah, yeah, that’s a part of our standard truck.”

(The next installment – Preparing The Bid Package – will be in the July issue.)

Editor’s Note: Bob Barraclough is a 50-year veteran of the fire service and fire manufacturing industry. He is chief columnist for Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment magazine and a 20-year member of the NFPA 1901 Fire Apparatus Standards Committee. A principal organizer of the annual FDSOA Apparatus Specification Symposium, he is also a past president of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association. Barraclough serves as a consultant to Rosenbauer America and Akron Brass and is called upon as an expert witness in litigation involving fire industry products. His career includes executive positions at E-ONE, Hale Fire Pumps, National Foam, Span Instruments and Class 1.

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