BY CHRIS MC LOONE
It’s no secret that specing a new fire apparatus at some point will come to boiling down what you need on the rig and what you want on the rig and what you need it to do and what you want it to do. It’s never an easy process, especially with a variety of personalities and opinions on the apparatus purchasing committee (APC).
A natural place to start is determining the fire truck’s mission. This is usually determined before the first meeting takes place but confirmed therein. With that, I’m not telling anyone something they don’t already know, but this is also a point when you learn who will be the key influencers during the specification process. And, it is at this point that you have to make it a point to speak up! If done right, the foundation laid at this important meeting will ensure a relatively easy ride as you go about designing your rig. But, if you don’t speak up, you aren’t contributing. If you are the committee chair, try to ensure that the people you select for your committee aren’t just on it to “be in the know” about the new rig. Pick people who will challenge you, who will challenge the mission of the rig, and who will challenge other members of the committee. Bring in people who have ideas based on their experience riding on, driving, and operating the current rigs in the department. But, make sure they are going to speak up.
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Make sure everyone on the committee understands the dynamics of designing and building a fire truck. I have often said to firefighters at my fire company when they discuss how we should have designed an existing rig or how we should be designing the next one that everything in fire apparatus design is a tradeoff. I heard a real good analogy that the design is like a balloon in the truck—if you push it in in one place, it will pop out of another place. This is important when you consider the mission of the rig. If you are two or three meetings in and you move from a truck that was to be a short-wheelbase, short-overall-length pumper built for maneuverability with three crosslays and 1,200 feet of large-diameter hose to a truck that has an additional three lines coming off the bumper, plus two more 2½-inch discharges off the rear step, and the 500-gallon tank has become a 750-gallon tank, then it is likely the short overall length is going to increase, as is the wheelbase. Sometimes along the way an APC finds it necessary to add a component, but it must do so understanding that it will likely change a feature in a different part of the truck. But, it is also critical to not load it up to the point that the truck you originally envisioned becomes a mammoth.
Along with remembering the mission, make sure you have someone who is checking drawings against specs and against original requirements when you are at that point. A lot can happen, and there can be a number of side conversations that occur that change the truck before the spec is finalized and good prints created. Make sure all conversations and ideas are brought back to the committee so a unified message is sent to whoever is representing the manufacturers you are considering and so committee members don’t feel their voices weren’t heard or considered.
Fire departments take great pride in the design of their rigs. New APCs always run the risk of being accused of going backward with a new rig design. Some of these comments will be legit, and some will be more opinion. As you put your specs together, ensure you are building the truck for today and for tomorrow. Don’t worry so much about yesterday because over the life of the rig, you may prove that a particular feature wasn’t necessary. When in doubt, look at the data if you have them. We really should be well passed the days of designing because we might get a call on meeting night or equipping because we might not have the right unit on location quick enough to perform a task. Go back to the mission of the rig. What are you building it for? Keep your eyes on that, and the rest should work itself out.