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Purchasing Specifications or Textbook, Part 2

By Bill Adams

Part 1 described my personal opinion that fire apparatus purchasing specifications can be “short and sweet” and right to the point. They should not be used as a textbook or an educational tool for the fire department. Four scenarios were pointed out. A motor’s air compressor description could be reduced from 82 words to 13; a mechanical siren could go from 85 words to nine; describing a roll-up door description could reduce 422 words to 15 and a foam system from 458 words to eight.

Being emboldened, I questioned Jason Darley, the North American sales manager for the W.S. Darley & Co. Pump Division about the validity of using such a long-detailed document. Darley uses the following 497-word description of one of its pumps as a recommended purchasing specification.

“The pump shall be a Darley LDM single stage fire pump, capable of a 1500 GPM rating. Power to drive the pump shall be provided by the same engine used to propel the apparatus. The pump shall be midship mounted and designed to operate through an integral transmission, including a means for power selectivity to the driving axle or to the pump. The pump casing shall be a fine grain cast iron alloy, vertically split, with a minimum 30,000 psi tensile strength and bronze fitted. The pump shall contain a cored heating jacket feature that, if selected, can be connected into the vehicle antifreeze system to protect the pump from freezing in cold climates. The impeller shall be a high strength bronze alloy of mixed flow design, accurately balanced and splined to the pump shaft for precision fit and durability. The impeller shall feature a double suction inlet design with opposed volute cutwaters to minimize radial thrust. The seal rings shall be renewable, double labyrinth, wrap around bronze type. The pump shaft shall be precision ground stainless steel with long wearing titanium hard coating under the packing glands. The shaft shall be splined to receive broached impeller hubs, for greater resistance to wear, torsional vibration, and torque imposed by engine. A stuffing box shall be provided and shall be of the plunger injection style, utilizing a plastallic composite packing equalizing pressure around the shaft. Packing shall be renewed by removing the plunger, inserting the packing, and reinstalling the plunger. This packing design shall be provided to minimize friction, heat generation, and apparatus down time. This feature is designed to allow replacement and/or adjustment of packing within a 15 minute period. Due to the advantages of the above packing feature, rope or braid type packing gland designs are not acceptable. The bearings provided shall be heavy duty, deep groove, radial type ball bearings. They shall be oversized for extended life. The bearings shall be protected at all openings from road dirt and water splash with oil seals and water slingers. The transmission case shall be heavy duty cast iron alloy with adequate oil reserve capacity for low operating temperatures. A magnetic drain plug shall be provided. Transmission case shall include a dip stick for checking oil level. The pump drive shaft shall be precision ground, heat treated allow steel, with a minimum 2-1/2″ x 10″ spline ends. Gears shall be helical design, and shall be precision cut for quiet operation and extended life. The gears shall be cut from high strength alloy steel, heat treated and gas nitrided. The gear face shall be 3-1/2″ minimum. The gear shift shall be a heat treated alloy steel splined spur gear to engage either the pump drive gear or the truck drive shaft gear. The gear ratio of the pump shall be selected by the pump and apparatus manufacturer’s Engineering Department. Due to the advantages of the above gear and drive feature, chain drive and designs requiring additional lubrication are not acceptable.”


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Darley was challenged if the following six-word description of the pump would “ensure the customer gets the same thing at the bid table”: “Darley LDM 1,500 GPM midship mounted.” I didn’t anticipate his emphatic reply.

Darley: “As you know well with your history and experience in the apparatus world on both sides as a purchaser and a seller, if a customer doesn’t work with their dealer to ensure they specify something, odds are very good they are not going to get what they want. This often leads to a difficult transaction for all involved: the fire department, the dealer, and the manufacturer. No one involved wants this to occur, and the best way for everyone to avoid it is for them to take the time and commit the diligence to ensuring that all accessories, options, and details of the highly customized tools used to fight fire are provided to all of the additional emergency services to the communities served.”

Accessories are often included in specifications but can be easily overlooked or perhaps just assumed to be included—maybe it seems like “every truck has this” or even it will be there “because it’s required by NFPA” or other simple assumptions.

Darley gave several more examples:

  • “A pump specification is just that. It does not describe items such as discharge plumbing and intake relief valves—none of the other options you think might assume ‘just come with it.’ “
  • “Merely specifying a primer’s model number does not ensure the type controller or additional ports for front or rear discharges.”
  • “A thermal relief valve is an inexpensive addition that can ensure you don’t ruin your pump by deadheading it. Just because your last truck had them does not guarantee the next one will if it is not specified.”
  • “Sacrificial anodes may not be supplied on the suction and discharge side of the pump unless they are asked for.”

Darley asked me if I still believe in my own statement that I have repeated often in various articles written about apparatus purchasing: “If a requirement is not written into the purchasing specification, it does not exist.” I still believe it.

Compromise?
Darley is correct in that there are some items in a purchasing specification that may require more information than just a model number. I agree that important and sometimes optional features and necessary add-ons to component part(s) such as colors, controllers, capacities, and mounting locations should be noted.

At the same time, unnecessary and repetitive verbiage can be eliminated such as the incessant referencing of individual parts and pieces being compliant to applicable NFPA standards. The words “shall be provided” can be written once per page or paragraph or section with the component parts and pieces with necessary technical descriptions listed. Grammatically correct full sentences are not necessary. 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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Why Is This in Your Specs?

If the real intent of writing what could be considered proprietary dimensions is to ensure the success of a preferred vendor, then so be it. Just bear in mind that the decision to write such a specification may have to be justified in a public forum.