By Ricky Riley
In almost all fire departments, other than building new fire stations, one of the biggest capital purchase items is the apparatus for the firefighters to ride on. Depending on your organization, this acquisition can be a rather straightforward process using predetermined budget purchases and apparatus specifications already in place. Or, it can be an emotional and drawn-out process when having to raise the funds and then develop specifications for the apparatus.
The planning and meetings that go into this big-ticket item can be tedious and span many months—and that is even before you sign the contract with a manufacturer.
One of the first items you need to discuss is the type of apparatus you are considering purchasing and its intended use. When starting specifications, you must take into account the needs of your communities, operational procedures, building stock, and unique response areas. By taking all of these into consideration, hopefully you will have figured out what chassis and crew carrying capabilities you will require, body compartment needs, water tank size, aerial requirements, and rescue equipment configurations.
The group that should be putting this together is the apparatus committee. By forming a team that is focused on the community and the department as a whole, organizations will have successful purchases.
In a volunteer setting, this group should comprise riding and operational members of the department first and foremost. These are the personnel that will be using the rig and the group that will be out in the public with the new apparatus. They should feel ownership and pride in the final product and boast how it will operate and function based on their designs and suggestions.
The chief also needs to be on the committee as he is responsible to the organization, the community, and the city government or elected officials. If the chief is not the responsible party for the finances, then the treasurer or finance person should be an advisor to the group. Remember, all your design ideas and wishes come with a price from the apparatus builders. Someone needs to be watching the dollars.
If possible have someone in the group who understands the mechanical portion of the rig, along with the maintenance requirements and needs of your department or town. Keep the group as an odd number in case it requires voting to solve a problem or decide chassis and body options.
This entire group should focus on the most efficient and capable rig for your department. The committee should not contain people that have hidden agendas or who are not focused on what is best for the apparatus. The central focus needs to be on the purchase—not personal or department politics.
A career department apparatus committee also needs to follow many of the recommendations above but also has unique dynamics to consider. One of the things we did with the committee in our organization was including a base group of officers and drivers to help standardize the fleet. They were tasked with understanding the wants and needs of the personnel that ride the rigs every day and what they wanted in our new apparatus.
We ensured that all shifts were represented and that they each had an equal voice in the process regardless of rank. When we ordered special apparatus, like aerial apparatus or heavy-duty rescues, we included personnel from those companies on the committee to provide their insight and requirements for the apparatus. The core group’s responsibility was to ensure consistency in the chassis, body components, equipment placement, and cab designs. All committee members have the department’s and the community’s needs as their primary goal in each and every decision.
As our department changed the design of its engines for example, the group was tasked with laying the rig out and how it would function in their response districts. When these changes hit the street before production, they were able to explain each decision to all the troops across all shifts. This gave each committee member ownership in the process and the full understanding of the operational changes for the department. The group had a command officer on the committee to help oversee the changes for the department, but left how they would incorporate these into the new apparatus up to the members.
Visit the Manufacturer
One of the most important things we did with our committee was send it to the manufacturing facility so members could see the whole progression from the initial frame rails all the way up to the delivery. Members were able to see how the units were built and could understand the process and how each decision they made would affect the apparatus along with the accompanying financial aspects. They talked to everyone from the engineers who designed the apparatus all the way to the person that was welding the body together to fully understand the whole vehicle construction procedure. This educated them fully in the entire purchasing and building process, and they could answer questions from field personnel who wanted information about the new rig they were getting ready to ride.
A new piece of fire apparatus should be a proud symbol of accomplishment for the department and your community. There are many considerations when developing apparatus specifications and making the final purchase. These are just a few of them for when your department is embarking on this journey. Hopefully some of these tips will help you secure a piece of apparatus you and your community will be proud of for many years.
RICKY RILEY is operations chief for the Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and a member of the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as chief of department. He also served for 20 years with the Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue before his retirement in 2005.