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10 Mistakes When Purchasing Apparatus and How to Avoid Them: Part 2

By Phil Gerace, Director of Sales and Marketing, KME

Today’s fire service is likely one of the best educated in the history of the nation and has relatively easy access to vast amounts of information about apparatus, suppliers, components, and regulations. Yet, whether the department is a rural volunteer, combination county, or large municipal, the apparatus acquisition process is likely one that challenges the staff because of its complexity.

KME’s core sales management and marketing team has well over 200 years of fire service experience in fire apparatus design, sales, service, and support. In addition, many team members have held or continue to hold leadership positions within fire departments from coast to coast. Over the last 29 years, KME has worked with federal, municipal and industrial departments and delivered over 10,000 vehicles. Through the years, we’ve observed common challenges and offer here some advice to consider when making an apparatus purchase. These are not unique to a single supplier or type of fire customer; they are commonly seen across the board. It is our hope that through this information, we can contribute to a more informed and better equipped fire service that is able to obtain the safest apparatus available.

Part 1 covered:

  1. Research Before the Acquisition Process Begins
  2. Understanding Purchase Options
  3. Translating Performance Expectations into Specifications


Part 2 includes:

Estimating the Final Required GVWR 

Mistake: Underestimating the required GVWR by using NFPA weight estimates rather than the actual equipment weights for the apparatus and how equipment requirements may grow in the future. 

Recommendation: When an older apparatus is replaced, in many cases the new body compartments have more cubic foot storage capacity. The tendency is “to fill up” the compartments with equipment. However, there must be a balance between storage capability and actual chassis GVWR.

While it’s true that GVWR costs money (the higher the ratings, the higher the cost for axles, brakes, suspensions, and tires), these costs are minimal compared to ending up with a truck that simply cannot legally carry the required load. Obviously the goal is to have apparatus with the proper weight distribution.

If the new apparatus is carrying a similar equipment load to an existing truck, it’s a good idea to get an accurate picture of what’s actually being carried on the in-service apparatus. Often over time, equipment is added but rarely deleted, so what was an original equipment requirement on day one has likely grown by hundreds of pounds. If the new apparatus has a different equipment load from existing trucks, the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) has a weight and cube calculator on its Web site (www.fama.org) that may be helpful in calculating weights.

An interesting point to also keep in mind is that as the GVWR of components increases, so does the weight of the component. For example, the difference between an axle with an 18,000-pound rating and a 20,000-pound rating axle isn’t 2,000 pounds of increased GVWR. It’s actually closer to 1,500 pounds because of the increased weight of the steering components, wheels, tires and springs.

It’s important that you share the information with potential vendors and look for their recommended GVWRs and require that a weight calculation be submitted with their proposals. Keep in mind that the weight distribution is not only based on what is being carried, but also where it’s being carried. Moving components from the front compartment to the rear may drastically alter the balance of weight, so accurate communication is key. And to make it even more difficult, while it is important to factor in all of the equipment being carried and to account for future expansion space, it’s also important that you don’t over specify the GVWR by a large amount. It would seem that the easy solution to the problem is to specify the largest available GVWR for the apparatus, but having a vehicle that is oversized by more than 10 percent can be detrimental as well as it will provide for a rough ride for the crew. Extreme over sizing can also cause over braking of the apparatus, which can cause the brakes to glaze and become less effective or even fail.

To summarize, simply relying on NFPA minimum calculations will rarely yield the results you need. Instead, be realistic about what will be on the truck today and in the future and take the time to make your needs clear.

New Technologies 

Mistake: Relying solely on past components and technologies with little interest in new ideas entering into the fire service. 

Recommendation: Every department, large and small, must consider the ramifications of making a significant change in its SOPs by changing components. There are parts, training, and safety considerations with every change. However, going into the process with an open mind about some changes may substantially increase safety and performance of a new rig without unduly burdening support services.

The first step in the process is to properly evaluate new technology to see if it would truly benefit your department. This evaluation must involve not only the company that produces the item, but also the potential apparatus manufacturer to see if the item can be integrated into the design of your apparatus. Many departments are hesitant to be “the first” to use a new item, so it’s often helpful to ask for references of other departments who are already using this item to get their opinion. However, being first may be an advantage as some suppliers substantially discount items to garner “real-world” feedback about their product’s performance.

Some of the topics that should be considered when evaluating new technology should include but not be limited to:

  • Has the item been tested in the same atmosphere in which your department operates?
  • What support network is set up for service and maintenance of the system?
  • If the item is a prototype, what costs are expected for future upgrades to the system as testing is completed and improvements are made?
  • Is what was shown at a tradeshow truly available to fire apparatus manufacturers now?
  • Are the potential apparatus manufacturers educated on the item and capable of installing the item and/or system?
  • What training is available and/or required for the department after taking delivery?

In some situations after evaluating the new technology, your department may determine that it’s not adequately tested or ready for installation in your department, or you may add the new item into your specification and help improve your departments firefighting capabilities. In either case, your department will be better served by your efforts to keep advancing the safety and functionality of your apparatus.

Specifications that Kill 

Mistake: Inadvertently including specifications that “kill” competition and increase costs. 

Recommendation: During the specification process, a variety of resources are used and, in many cases, include a potential supplier. Departments need to ensure that they are balancing features and performance characteristics that they desire with spec descriptions that are not so proprietary to a particular supplier that other potential suppliers cannot comply or decline to submit an offer.

This is not to say, however, that if a particular brand or model of warning lights is desired or a specific pump brand has become standard that it not be included in the specifications. Multiple apparatus vendors have access to all brands of pumps and warning lights. However, there are certain product descriptions and models that act as a warning signal to potential bidders that the opportunity may not be worthwhile pursuing and consequently end up costing the fire department more money because of decreased competition and could potentially necessitate a rebid. In addition, many of these proprietary components have higher costs of maintenance as well as very high costs of parts replacement.

One specific example is to avoid items that are patented and available to only one manufacturer. By specifying a patented system that only one manufacturer can “legally” install, you’ve limited the competition for your business to that one manufacturer.

Another common example of an item that can “kill” competition is the engine. There are engines available in the market that all apparatus manufacturers can obtain and install in your apparatus. There are also proprietary engines in the market that can only be obtained and installed by one specific manufacturer. Specifying that the apparatus must be built with this one specific engine make and model, and not allowing exceptions to that requirement, will again limit the bidding to one supplier. The question that must be asked within your department is whether you must have that specific engine make and model, or if another brand that has the same or even better performance and ratings would be acceptable.

To avoid situations like these, it is helpful to write a “performance” based specification instead of a specific part-driven specification. For example the specification could be written: “Apparatus will be powered by a diesel engine with a minimum of 450 horsepower and 1250 lb. ft. of torque at 1,400 rpm” vs. “Apparatus will be powered by an XYZ diesel engine Model 123 manufactured by company ABC.”

Some common areas to avoid proprietary or manufacturer-specific items include:

10 Mistakes When Purchasing Apparatus and How to Avoid Them: Part 1


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