Apparatus Purchasing: Specification Tunnel Vision

Bill Adams notes that APCs and specification writers seldom admit they made a mistake when writing purchasing specifications.
Apparatus purchasing committees (APCs) and specification writers seldom admit they did or could make a mistake when writing purchasing specifications. Some can become irate and defensive if their specification format or verbiage is addressed. Asking a simple question is often misinterpreted as a direct assault against their integrity, knowledge, experience, and expertise in the fire service.

Some are unaware they could be experiencing an unintended trait called tunnel vision. Paraphrased from the Medical News Today Web site: “A person with tunnel vision can only see what is directly in front of them.” It is closely associated with narrow-mindedness. The Miriam-Webster dictionary says: “… the narrow-mindedness of some people prevents them from seeing that not all changes are for the worse.”

Tunnel vision can place APCs in precarious positions. It can unintentionally influence qualified bidders from submitting proposals; inadvertently increase the cost of an apparatus; and, embarrassingly, reduce a rig’s fireground efficiency.

Related Features:
Apparatus Purchasing: Ambiguous Compartment Dimensions
Apparatus Purchasing: Can’t Afford a Real Ladder Truck, Part 2
Apparatus Purchasing: Restraint of Trade
Apparatus Purchasing: Revisiting Purchasing Specifications
Apparatus Purchasing: Custom Cab Headlights
Apparatus Purchasing: Frustrating the Vendors

Unwillingness to accept changes and following unrealistic and self-imposed requirements can be the bane of both career and volunteer entities. Tunnel vision is not restricted to competitive bidding. APCs choosing to work with a single, preferred vendor can be similarly affected.

Apparatus manufacturers (OEMs), dealers, and sales staff are equally susceptible. It is irresponsible to knowingly promote and sell an apparatus that is unsuitable for a response district—just to make a sale. Fire departments purchasing similarly ill-suited apparatus are doing an injustice to their taxpayers and, more importantly, to their firefighters.

Generic Format

In a recent series, Dave Perkins, northeast region director for E-ONE, a REV Group brand, and I described the collaboration required when generically designing a very customized apparatus. All the equipment and features required on a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, Chapter 5 pumper and a Chapter 6 aerial were consolidated onto a quad—a nonaerial-equipped apparatus. The design was not proprietary to Perkins’semployer or to any either of us have previously worked for. Everything fit as intended by a fictitious APC. Our cooperative job was done. It should have been left at that.

Self-Inflicted Tunnel Vision

In preparing a follow-up article to highlight the design, I compiled a comprehensive set of specification and design requirements for it, including detailed diagrams with explicit measurements. It was a major mistake. Intending to illustrate a rig that all OEMs could fabricate, the focus became “make everything fit” when it should have been “make everything work.” It became an obsession. I unknowingly developed tunnel vision.

The requirements and diagrams were shown to a couple OEMs, some dealers, and several firefighters I have worked with for many years—some for decades. When asking for their opinions and input, I anticipated their tacit approval. It was not forthcoming. Their responses were brutally honest. Several remarked that I should have sought their opinions and advice beforehand. It was no different than my advocating purchasers should consult multiple vendors before writing specifications. I was not following many of the principles I have promoted and written about for many years. One poignant comment was the accusation that I was fixated on “having it my way” regardless of the ramifications. That also is something I’ve cautioned APCs against doing.

Their comments about the specifications and diagrams illustrate several examples of tunnel vision I was unintentionally guilty of. They are paraphrased and abbreviated. The objective is to encourage APCs and spec writers to think outside the box, look at alternatives, consider options, contemplate the benefit of changes, and evaluate other peoples’ ideas. We can learn from each other’s mistakes.

Manufacturers’ Comments

  • We can build it, but they won’t like it.
  • Why lock yourself into a wheelbase? You’ve written wall-to-wall and curb-to-curb turning radii are more important than wheelbase.
  • You need flexibility in the custom chassis requirements. Manufacturers that do not fabricate their own chassis are limited in what is available from manufacturers that do.
  • The high-side compartments are too tall. Equipment on the highest shelves may be impossible to reach let alone safely remove. Even with drop-down steps, a firefighter must hold on and hand the equipment down to another or attempt to carry it down alone. It isn’t safe and is not recommended.
  • Novices like yourself are not qualified to engineer an apparatus “you think” all manufacturers can fabricate. You can end up with a design nobody can or wants to build. If it is possible to fabricate, it may well be cost prohibitive. Provide generic diagrams and let the professional designers and engineers do their jobs.
  • A more versatile design would enable manufacturers to modify it later to be acceptable to a broad customer base. That may influence manufacturers to invest resources to engineer and bid the apparatus. Design costs could be amortized over multiple units.

Dealers’ Comments

  • You said rear preconnects “shall be” a certain height from the ground. Saying they “shall not” exceed a certain height allows dealers leeway in proposing a design. Explain the intent and let dealers propose solutions.
  • If you want to gain more compartment height, eliminate the 2-inch front lips on the shelves and use straps to hold equipment in place.
  • The removable preconnect trays under the hosebed are jammed together. Using aluminum trays with thinner wall thicknesses saves room.
  • Electric rewind reels work well for preconnects; however, they take up an inordinate amount of compartment space to store the small amount of dry hose required. The reel specified occupies almost 25 cubic feet. A shelf holding a similar amount of hose takes up 5 or 6 cubic feet. Even when a reel is mounted high, firefighters still must reach the hose. Store extra hose on shelves in hotel packs. They’re easy to carry, take up less room, and are inexpensive.

Firefighters’ Comments

  • You always preach there should be two means of egress from a roof, but only one 35-foot extension ladder was specified.
  • I’ve never heard of storing SCBA lying flat on a shelf. Mount them vertically on pull-out boards where they belong.
  • If this rig is always in front of a building, having all 200-foot attack lines may be inefficient. They might be too long. Also, consider having a couple 100- to 150-foot 3-inch lays for quick connections to sprinkler and standpipe connections, a ground monitor, or portable deluge sets.
  • There are two 3-inch discharges with LDH connections on the right side. You say pumpers don’t lay LDH from a crosslay, so put one at the rear where the LDH is kept.
  • High and wide roll-up doors can be heavy to operate and hard to reach for short firefighters.
  • The hard suctions are impossible to reach. Relocate them so they can be removed without someone getting hurt.
  • One firefighter threw my own words back at me: “If you have to climb onto your rig to get a primary piece of equipment, someone did a lousy job designing it.”

The preceding shows how spec writers can become so engrossed in “making everything fit” that “making everything work” is compromised and fireground efficiency might be affected. There are other ways—less likely to be admitted—where tunnel vision affects apparatus purchasing:

  • We’ve always bought Peter Pirsch apparatus—why should we change?
  • Our neighbors bought a Maxim 10 years ago and they still hate it so we’re not buying one.
  • The Crown Coach salesman has always treated us good.
  • The city councilman’s brother sells Grummans, and we all know where our bread is buttered.
  • If the big city runs Hahns, we can too.
  • A neighboring department’s Oren pumper with a 500-gallon tank has a low FDNY-style hosebed. It doesn’t matter that we run 1,500-gallon tanks; we want the same style bed.
  • Everyone is buying 10-seat Ward La France custom cabs so we should too.
  • The other company bought a 1,750-gpm pumper. Let’s buy a 2,000-gpm pumper.

. . .

Exercise caution when writing overly detailed specifications with specific measurements. They could appear proprietary for a preferred manufacturer. Vendors might believe the fire department has already decided whose apparatus they will purchase and decline to bid.

Tunnel vision is like a dormant disease. When undeveloped and inactive, it may be tolerable. If it becomes malignant and metastasizes, it can be detrimental to a successful apparatus purchase.

Good luck.


BILL ADAMS is 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.

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