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Too Many Unnecessary Words Can Frustrate a Vendor

By Bill Adams

No sensible or sane fire apparatus vendor would ever admit he could be or has been rude, caustic, and disrespectful to potential purchasers. I heard some vendors used to be like that. Some might still be around. Their possible contentious behavior is illustrated below to substantiate my belief there are too many unnecessary words in apparatus specifications (specs). Envision a prebid conference where potential bidders review and make comments on a fire department’s preliminary specifications. Simply put, specifications describe requirements for bidders to meet. Bidders either comply or they don’t. One example is stating the fire truck shall be painted “red.” It is or it isn’t. End of story; there’s no in between. If the specs state the rig shall be painted “bright red,” then its’ a whole new ballgame. If paint numbers are not specified, how can a purchaser compare one bidder’s proposal that states “bright red” to another’s that states just “red?” The word bright has no value; there’s nothing to evaluate. There should be a value or a “point of comparison” for each word so proposals can be compared. Words with no value should be removed from the document. Be fair to bidders. They shouldn’t have to second guess what purchasers write in their specifications. Below, in italics, are statements taken from the front sheets of a municipal purchasing specification found online. The following questions and statements could be posed at a prebid meeting by a fictitious ill-mannered vendor who’s exasperated deciphering confusing specification verbiage. Visualize yourself trying to answer them—in a public forum.

“Sealed proposals are desired from reputable manufacturers of automotive fire apparatus…” How the heck do you determine the qualifications of a reputable manufacturer? Don’t ask my ex-wife if I’m reputable; her opinion differs from mine.

“Each bid must be accompanied by bidder’s accurate written and detailed specifications…” If I misspell a word, will you say my bid isn’t accurate and disqualify it? By the way, what do you mean by detailed? Your document does not define it.

“Contractor shall furnish satisfactory evidence that he has the ability to design, engineer, and construct the apparatus specified.” What do you require? Will a statement from my gardener be satisfactory evidence? Does it have to be notarized?

“The design of the equipment shall be in accordance with the best engineering practices.” That’s an irrational statement. Do you really think someone will bid their second-best engineering?

“The equipment design and accessory installation shall permit accessibility for use, maintenance, and service.” How accessible? Does it have to be behind a door? Will a removable cover held on with four screws be acceptable?

“All oil, hydraulic, and air tubing lines and electrical wiring shall be located in protective positions, properly attached to the frame or body structure and shall have protective loom or grommets at each point where they pass through structural members.” How do you evaluate protective positions? Can you define them? I understand what loom and grommets are, but how do you properly attach something? Can you use screws, nuts, and bolts or duct tape?

“Parts and components shall be located or positioned for rapid and simple inspection and recognition of excessive wear or potential failure.” What constitutes rapid and simple inspection? What defines excessive wear? How can you tell when a component is going to potentially fail?

“Drains, filler plugs, grease fittings, hydraulic lines, bleeders, and check points for all components will be located so that they are readily accessible and do not require special tools for proper servicing.” Does readily accessible mean you don’t have to get under the rig to reach it? What is a special tool?

“Design practices shall minimize the number of tools required for maintenance.” What is the minimum number of tools allowed to be compliant?

“All components shall be designed and protected so that heavy rain or other adverse weather conditions will not interfere with normal servicing or operation.” What is an adverse weather condition—snow, sleet, a tropical downpour, or perhaps a hurricane? Will 18 inches of snow prevent normal operation?

“All 4-way aluminum tread plate shall be “polished” finish with NFPA approved pattern on walking and step surfaces…” Nobody can meet this requirement. NFPA does not approve anything. Manufacturers certify the product they are using meets NFPA requirements. Is that what you really mean?

“Since all fire apparatus manufacturers have the ability to shear, brake, and weld as these specifications require—all basic requirements must be complied with.” What do you mean by basic requirements? Does it include metal thicknesses, compartment sizes, or the overall length?

“Each Bidder shall be prepared, if so requested by the Purchaser, to present evidence of his design experience/capabilities and manufacturing ability to carry out the terms of the contract.” What do you consider is evidence of design experience? Do you want proof of engineering degrees or a statement saying the number of years a bidder has been in business? How about proof someone has built a certain number of apparatus?

Following is a comprehensive “catch all” way of saying if you don’t “like” a manufacturer, you can disqualify him: “Bidders will be required to demonstrate, by example of their previously delivered apparatus, precision of metal cut profiles, accuracy of fastener spacing, fit-and-finish of assembled fabrications, absence of imperfections in metal finishing, and ease of which the assembled fabricated body components may be disassembled and removed for modifications, repairs or replacement.” How do you compare precision, spacing, fit and finish, and ease of disassembly? Is it on a rig delivered last year or one delivered five years ago?

No wonder that sarcastic dealer sounds frustrated. It is obvious the intent of the specification examples shown above is to purchase the best rig possible. It’s equally obvious that the frustrated dealer “sounding off” at prebid meeting will embarrass the fire department and lessen, if not eliminate, the chance of securing an order. Purchasers challenged in a competitive bidding environment may have to justify their specification requirements to decision makers in City Hall that may be more interested in complying with legal bidding criteria, the written word in specifications, and keeping voting taxpayers happy. Write specs carefully. Eliminate unnecessary and unprovable terminology. 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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