By Bill Adams
Evaluating proposals for a new fire truck can be a challenging experience when purchasing specifications (specs) are vague and ambiguous. The task can be overwhelming when each party involved has a different interpretation of a purchaser’s written requirements. There are two venues where compliance to specification requirements is evaluated. The first is in an unregulated purchasing environment where the rules of law are not applicable. It is a scenario where an independent entity such as a volunteer fire company can purchase what it wants from who it wants with no legal means of recourse available for unsuccessful bidders. It’s like the wild west. Anything goes; there’s no real accountability. The other is in a political subdivision where established governmental rules and regulations must or should be followed such as in cities, towns and fire districts. Whether they are or not followed is a topic for another day and are not addressed here.
Purchasing specifications are broken into two parts. One is the technical nuts-and-bolts portion, which involves the physical construction and firematic particulars of the apparatus itself. That portion will be addressed in a later posting. The second part, known as the boiler plate or front sheets, includes the qualifications of bidders; service requirements; bidding criteria; and, when applicable, all the legal mumble-jumble lawyers mandate is necessary when bidding. I have nothing against the legal profession. Mumble-jumble is my term for legalese—most of which I don’t understand.
What can be frustrating to many bidders in the regulated bidding environment is trying to interpret what a purchaser actually wants while simultaneously not giving the store away by proposing more than what is required and possibly by disqualifying themselves by taking an unnecessary exception to the specifications. The below requirements are from municipal purchasing specifications found online.
“A qualified delivery representative shall deliver the apparatus and remain for a sufficient length of time to instruct personnel in proper operation, care and maintenance of the equipment delivered.” Bidder A uses a professional, bonded, and insured commercial drive-away service to physically deliver the apparatus. A direct factory or dealer employee then does the actual training. Bidder A says he met the specs. But, should he legally have taken an exception to the specification? By the way, what constitutes “a sufficient length of time” for training? If Bidder A stipulates two days of training will be provided, can the purchaser reject the bid because two other bidders proposed three days of training?
“The bidder/dealership shall show that the company is in position to render prompt service and to furnish replacement parts.” Bidder B said he met the specs. His company contracts with a local full-service fire apparatus repair shop to provide service. Can the purchaser reject Bidder B’s proposal because they really wanted, but didn’t actually say they wanted, a bidder-owned service facility? What is prompt service—24 hours, a day, or within the week? Does being in position to furnish replacement parts means certain parts or a dollar volume of parts must be in stock? Or can you just own a fax machine to send in a parts order?
“Each bidder must provide with bid proof of dealer-owned-and-operated service facility located within the State along with factory-trained service personnel. Service personnel shall be factory-trained to handle parts and warranty repair for their respective manufacturer. In addition, local service facility must have the capability to dispatch factory-trained service technicians with dealer-operated mobile service units location for field service repairs.” Factory-trained to handle parts and warranty repair for their respective manufacturer? Does the repairman have to be factory-trained to repair an Elkhart valve, an Akron deluge set, a Task Force Tips nozzle, a Hannay reel, a Ziamatic ladder rack, or a Command light tower, etc.?
“There shall be one (1) class held at the Fire Department by a factory certified trainer. The class shall consist of basic orientation of the apparatus and shall last approximately 3 hours. The class shall cover basic operations of cab, chassis, pump, aerial, and body components that are included on the new apparatus.” Bidder E said he met the specs. However, other bidders complained that despite the trainer being employed by Bidder E as a delivery engineer for 25 years, he does not physically possess a letter of certification from the factory. Did Bidder E meet the specs or should it have taken an exception? Is there a better way to describe a repairman’s qualifications?
“Bids will be evaluated using the following criteria:
- Cost of bid.
- Compliance with our specifications.
- Delivery Date.
- Availability of parts and service.
- Operation and maintenance cost of equipment.
- Life cycle cost of equal equipment.
- Performance of equipment in actual operating conditions.
- Prior experience with vendor and their product.”
Most bidders will say they meet all these requirements. The first four are obvious and provable. How can a bidder claim compliance with the last four? If the purchaser does not specify what those four requirements are, how can a bidder claim compliance and more so, how can a purchaser evaluate responses? Purchasers have to define their requirements. If a requirement isn’t in writing, it does not exist, and it can’t be evaluated. Say what you mean in plain English. Explain it so everyone knows what you want. Be fair to the bidders if you want them to be fair with you.
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.