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NFPA 1901: Estimated In-Service Weight

By Bill Adams

This is a follow-up to my February 2016 posting titled “NFPA 1901 and Certifications.” As previously mentioned, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, requires the submission of a multitude of certifications and documentation. Some of this paperwork, to use a generic term, must be submitted with the completed apparatus. Not submitting it upon delivery can be grounds for a purchaser to withhold payment until it is received. Some is required to be submitted at the bid opening with each bidder’s formal proposal. Many times it isn’t. Not submitting it at the bid opening can be grounds for a purchaser to reject a bidder’s proposal. 

Whether the fault lies with the apparatus manufacturer, the local vendor, or the purchaser is immaterial. Determining fault is not the intent. Making purchasers aware is. Manufacturers should be cognizant of each and every facet of NFPA 1901. It is their business to do so. It’s their livelihood. So should their dealers, vendors, and sales staff unless they are new on the job—in which case someone someplace with some authority must take responsibility for failing to provide proper oversight or adequate training. It is called being held accountable. Accountability is a two-way street. Purchasers have an obligation to understand their responsibilities in the purchasing process—one of which is holding each bidder accountable to meet every requirement of NFPA 1901 regardless of whether the bidder likes the requirement and regardless of any personal relationship that may exist between buyer and seller.

There is no insinuation that all purchasers are incapable of evaluating bid proposals. Because of the infrequency of purchasing apparatus, an apparatus purchasing committee (APC) may not have the experience to be aware of every requirement. That is a good reason to allow all bidders the opportunity to review competitors’ bids at a bid opening. The benefit of allowing peers to examine competitors’ bids will be well worth the time expended.

Estimated In-Service Weight
NFPA 1901 sentence 3.3.63 defines estimated in-service weight as: “The amount that the fire apparatus manufacturer estimates the apparatus will weigh when it is placed in service with all fixed and portable equipment installed, all tanks full, and all personnel seating positions occupied.” It is pretty clear what it means.

NFPA 1901 sentence says an estimated in-service weight estimate must be submitted with the proposal: “The detailed description of the apparatus shall include, but shall not be limited to, estimated in-service weight, wheelbase, turning clearance radius, principal dimensions, angle of approach, angle of departure, transmission, axle ratios, and, if applicable, the rated capacity of the aerial device.” It doesn’t say only if the bidder wants to submit one or only if the purchaser really cares about it. It says it “shall be included”—period, end of discussion. It doesn’t always happen.

On a side note, the sentence says the angles of departure and approach shall be provided. Beware that some bidders’ proposals and blueprints may only say their angles “meet” or “exceed” NFPA 1901’s minimum requirements. That’s not what was requested. In my opinion the sentence means the bidder is to provide the angles for the apparatus being proposed. 

Some purchasers’ specifications verbiage may not specifically state that the submission of an estimated in-service weight is required. That is immaterial. It doesn’t have to. When a purchasing specification states a rig shall be NFPA 1901 compliant, the onus is on the bidder to provide such documentation regardless of what the purchaser’s specification says or omits. Informal questioning of several apparatus dealers found some are unaware, uninformed, or ignorant of the requirement. That’s sad. Opting not to submit the estimate because they fear being held accountable is disconcerting. That is not an accusation; it is an opinion. Concurrently, purchasers have the responsibility to ensure that all required documentation is submitted with each bid. Not doing so is equally unsettling. “Here’s a half million dollars of taxpayers’ money. Go buy a fire truck. Hope you know what you’re doing.”

Is An Estimated In-Service Weight Really Necessary?
NFPA 1901 sentence 12.1.3 states “The manufacturer shall engineer and design the fire apparatus such that the completed apparatus, when loaded to its estimated in-service weight, with all movable weights distributed as close as is practical to their intended in-service configuration, does not exceed the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating).” 

Realistically, how would a manufacturer know what size axles, tires, and suspension to propose if it did not estimate how much the rig is going to weigh? Besides determining a GVWR for both axles, the weight analysis is necessary to ensure side-to-side weights and front-to-rear axle weights are within the parameters set by both NFPA 1901 and the chassis manufacturer. 

Figure B.5.1(b) in NFPA 1901’s Annex B, is an “As-Delivered Weight Analysis Calculation Worksheet” that shows the “expected reserve capacity” for the chassis front axle, rear axle, and total GVWR. It’s important and should be highlighted in purchasing specifications. Basically, it tells the purchaser where and how much equipment weight-wise can be added on the new rig after it is delivered. It is important because the purchaser is responsible for not overloading the rig after it has been delivered. Purchasers are also responsible to maintain the side-to-side weights and the elusive front-to-rear weight ratio after the rig has been delivered. How often do fire departments check those weights? In an unfortunate scenario of being involved in an accident, the fire department may need to provide them. 

In regulated competitive bidding environments, not adhering to the “shall be” requirements in NFPA 1901 can be both embarrassing and costly. In a fictitious scenario, three bidders submit proposals for a new rig. The APC recommends to the authority having jurisdiction that Bidder A, its preferred vendor, meets all the requirements and should be awarded the contract. Unexpectedly, the other two bidders pointed out that Bidder A did not submit the NFPA 1901 required estimated in-service weight analysis and legally its bid should be rejected. When questioned, the APC claimed ignorance of the requirement. Not only did the APC embarrass itself, it could be humiliated if the bid award was given to one of the other bidders. Whoever prepared Bidder A’s proposal either didn’t know about or opted to ignore the estimated weight requirement and had to explain to the boss why they lost the sale. 

I believe maybe three or four decades ago axle manufacturers recommended that the actual laden weight on an axle should not exceed 95 percent of its GVWR. If you had a 27,000 pound rated rear axle, they recommended not exceeding 25,650 pounds on it when sitting in the barn. I can’t remember why nor do I know if it’s a requirement or a recommendation today. Ask the axle manufacturers. Then ask your favorite fire apparatus vendor the next time he wants to sell you a rig. Get the answer in writing. 

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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