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The Rig: Unclear Specifications

By Bill Adams

Fire apparatus specifications (specs), regardless of being purchasing specs published by fire departments or proposal specs tendered by apparatus manufacturers, can be poorly written. Imprecise specification verbiage is usually an honest oversight or lack of experience. While some errors or omissions may seem insignificant, some can cause undue grief and aggravation. Others can result in increased cost, animosity, or sometimes outright hostility between buyer and seller.

A poorly written specification is one where verbiage is subject to multiple interpretations. Included is the use of regional or local verbiage unfamiliar to a bid estimator sitting in an office a thousand miles away. A poor spec is one with a vague explanation, description or location causing a reader to ask for an explanation.

Following in italics are a dozen examples. They’re exact passages from one fire department’s published purchasing specification. It’s immaterial who wrote them. Questions and comments are mine.

  • “The following specifications will be used for purchasing one (1) 1,250 gallon-per-minute, side-mount pump, Class A Pumper.” There is no such thing as a Class A pumper. Did they want to purchase a pumper that’s compliant with NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, Chapter 5?
  • Describing piping connections to two crosslays: “Outlets to be equipped with a 1.50″ National Standard hose thread 90-degree swivel located in the hosebed so that hose may be removed from either side of apparatus.” Should they be located dead center of the beds so they can’t be reached from either side? Or, should they be located close to a side of the rig so they can be reached while standing on a running board?
  • Describing the same crosslays: “Each bed to be capable of carrying 200 feet of 1.75″ double-jacketed hose and shall be plumbed with 2.00″ i.d. pipe and gated with a 2.00″ quarter-turn ball valve.” Are the crosslays single-stacked or double-stacked in width? Many manufacturers regularly use flexible high-pressure hose to pipe crosslays. Was flex piping omitted for a reason? Why specify flex hose can be used for all piping less than three inches in diameter under “pipe and plumbing” and then omit it under “crosslays?”
  • “Running boards shall be 12.75″ deep and spaced .50” away from the pump panel. A splash guard shall be provided above the running board treadplate.” Can the splash guard be part of the running board that’s turned up against the body? Or, is it an applique on the pump panel? Stainless or treadplate? How high is it supposed to be?
  • Describing dividers in the main hosebed: “Each divider shall be fully adjustable by sliding in tracks, located at the front and rear of the hosebed. It shall be held in place by tightening bolts at each end.” The tracks in the leading edge of a hosebed are normally recessed in the hosebed floor. Is that where the track should be at the front of the hosebed? Some people put the track(s) on the front wall of the hosebed. A 30-inch tall hose bed divider might need more support than one 18 inches high.
  • A specification states a blue print of the exact apparatus will be submitted as part of the formal proposal. If the blue print does not correspond exactly with the specification, which document prevails? The spec didn’t say.
  • From the Instructions to Bidders: “A qualified delivery engineer representing the contractor shall deliver the apparatus and remain for a sufficient length of time to instruct personnel in the proper operation, care, and maintenance of the equipment delivered.” What is a sufficient length of time—eight 8 hours, two days, or one weekday and a weekend? What constitutes a qualified delivery engineer? Can the engineer be an employee of the local dealer or the manufacturer? Does it matter?
  • Describing the tailboard area: “A handrail of 42” made of stainless steel will be added on the intermediate step.” If there’s only one handrail, is it reasonable to believe it’s a horizontal rail? If it is horizontal, how high above the tailboard should it be mounted? Or, does that statement mean to add an additional handrail to all the ones listed elsewhere under “handrails?”
  • “There shall be tracks for mounting shelves in the compartments. These tracks shall be installed vertically to support the adjustable shelves. The location shall be per customer instructions.” Are the tracks welded or bolted in place? Are the tracks supposed to be on the side walls, the rear walls, or on both the side and rear walls? How many per wall?
  • “A total of four (4) air bottle compartments shall be provided, two (2) each side of the body. The air bottle compartment shall be in the form of a PVC round tube to accommodate different size air bottles. A Sig-4 door with latch shall be provided to contain the air bottle.” Are the tubes supposed to be lined with anything? Should there be a bumper on the bottom of the tubes? Need a drain hole?
  • “A Eberhard step shall be provided on the front of each fender compartment. The front step shall be a bright finished folding type. Chrome Eberhard folding steps shall be provided at the rear. All steps shall provide adequate surface for stepping.” What’s the difference between “bright finished” steps and “chrome” steps? Do they want the Eberhard 606009 Series? Do they want two-hole or four-hole mounting brackets?
  • “There shall be two (2) discharge outlets piped to the front of the hosebed and located on each side. Plumbing shall consist of 2.50″ piping with a 2.50″ full-flow ball valve controlled at the pump operator’s panel. The discharges shall terminate with a 2.50″ male National Standard hose thread adapter.” Are the connections to be located near the top of the hosebed or down by the hosebed floor? When located in the upper portion of the bed, some people notch the hosebed divider so a spanner can be used. Be careful where you spec the connections when beds are single stacked in width.

Although some questions may be considered insignificant, unanswered ones can make life miserable on the fireground—for as long as the fire department owns the rig.

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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