Apparatus Purchasing: Back to Basics

By William C. Peters

I have been writing for Fire Engineering for more than 20 years, and this is my 10th annual apparatus supplement. I have always approached apparatus purchasing and safety from a purchaser’s standpoint. Over the years, I have offered many successful techniques that I have developed and passed on to the fire service. In this article, I will condense many purchasing subjects into one “Reader’s Digest” version. I sincerely hope that it will assist you in your purchasing project.

WHERE DO WE START?

The process of specifying and purchasing fire apparatus has always been a challenge to fire chiefs. Purchasing fire apparatus represents a significant financial investment to the community. For this reason, fire apparatus must be economical and dependable and remain in service for many years. There are numerous steps involved in procuring new apparatus, and it is a long and sometimes technically oriented and cumbersome process, especially for those who are not familiar with the process.

Conducting a needs assessment of the fire department’s operations, having an understanding of the current National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards related to fire apparatus, and researching the latest apparatus industry trends should help those persons responsible for the procurement of new fire apparatus (photo 1). Good sense and sound technical knowledge should help overcome poor judgment based on emotional issues.

(1) The first step in apparatus purchasing is conducting a community needs assessment. (Photos by Ron Jeffers unless otherwise noted.)
(1) The first step in apparatus purchasing is conducting a community needs assessment. (Photos by Ron Jeffers unless otherwise noted.)

Because of the infrequency of this process, specifying and purchasing fire apparatus can be very difficult for the fire chief who is unfamiliar with all of the necessary procedures involved. A common method many purchasers use is to rely solely on the advice and guidance of an apparatus salesperson who is all too willing to provide proprietary specifications for his product. This can add to the chief’s anxiety and apprehension, as he is concerned with obtaining suitable apparatus at a reasonable price for his community.

NEEDS ASSESSMENT

The first and most important part of the process of acquiring new fire apparatus is to determine the department’s operational needs. This is not always as simple and as straightforward as it would seem. The fire department leadership typically determines the way in which the fire department operates by issuing standard operating guidelines (SOGs); however, meeting these needs can be accomplished in many ways. The decision on how to meet these needs establishes the direction and design of the apparatus purchase for the department.

For example, a rural community with good accessibility for apparatus will usually specify a large water tank on the apparatus to meet the operational needs, whereas another department in a more urban community that has adequate fire hydrants to supply water and excessive EMS activity may select the smallest compliant water tank to match typical department operations. In both cases, department operations dictate some of the apparatus design features to meet the needs.

A critical first step in procuring a piece of fire apparatus is the needs assessment. When conducting a needs assessment for purchasing new apparatus for a department, you must address the following questions before a committee or group starts the investigative part of the process:

  • What will be the new vehicle’s primary function?
  • What other functions will the apparatus need to accomplish?
  • What physical characteristics or restrictions are critical for the new vehicle? Locating larger modern fire apparatus in older stations has become a real challenge.
  • What features are preferred (meaning, they would be “nice to have”) but not necessarily required on the new vehicle?
  • How many firefighters will the apparatus normally need to carry?
  • Are there special operating conditions that the vehicle must be suited for, such as steep inclines or a tight turning radius?
  • Are there special requirements for carrying equipment or powering equipment such as a generator or rescue tool?
  • What is the vehicle’s projected activity level?
  • What are the apparatus operator’s qualification needs?
  • How much funding is available for the apparatus purchase?

In many cases, the way these 10 questions are answered will very quickly narrow down the design of the apparatus. It is also important to remember that purchasing and designing fire apparatus involve a series of decisions and compromises. In many cases, all of the preferred requirements cannot be included on a single piece of apparatus without adversely affecting the apparatus’s primary function.

It is important to answer these questions up front so the committee or group can constantly focus on meeting these needs. Committees have to be careful that they do not purchase apparatus that does not meet the objectives of what they started out to accomplish.

Some committees tend to purchase apparatus based on what they have seen or on a convincing salesperson’s recommendations instead of basing the decision on meeting the fundamental department operational needs. Remember that in most cases, the department is purchasing apparatus with either public funds or funds raised by volunteer organizations from the public support. Spend these funds wisely and not capriciously.

NFPA STANDARDS

NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, serves as a guide to the manufacturers that build fire apparatus and the fire departments that purchase them. The document is updated every five years, using input from the public through official public comments. The committee membership is made up of representatives from the fire service, manufacturers, consultants, and special interest groups. The committee monitors various issues and problems that occur with fire apparatus and attempts to develop standards that address those issues. A primary interest of the committee over the past years has been improving firefighter safety and reducing fire apparatus crashes.

The 2009 edition of NFPA 1901 encompasses the various types of fire apparatus for structural and industrial applications. NFPA 1901 does not include wildland apparatus, as this is covered in NFPA 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus.

The primary types of apparatus covered by NFPA 1901 are the following:

  • Pumper Fire Apparatus
  • Initial Attack Fire Apparatus
  • Mobile Water Supply Fire Apparatus
  • Aerial Fire Apparatus
  • Quint Fire Apparatus
  • Special Service Fire Apparatus
  • Mobile Foam Fire Apparatus

NFPA 1901 contains a chart that lists all 25 chapters in the standard and a column for each primary type of apparatus. The first step for the purchaser beginning the process is to determine the apparatus’s primary function. Then reviewing the column will dictate which chapters of the standard are “Required” and which are “If specified.”

For example, if specifying a “Pumper Fire Apparatus,” obviously chapters for the chassis, body, fire pump, and tank will be “Required.” Chapters for other functions such as foam systems or line voltage electrical components are “If specified.” The requirements are based on the primary use of the apparatus as determined by the purchaser. Study this carefully, since this determination will have an effect on the whole apparatus. For example, you could add an aerial device to a pumper, but it might not qualify as a quint. A quint is required to carry 85 feet of ground ladders, whereas a pumper only needs one extension, one roof, and one folding ladder. Or, you could have an aerial apparatus with a tank and pump that does not meet the requirements of a quint. Perhaps the hosebed is too small, the capacity of the water tank could be less than the 300 gallons needed for a quint, or the aerial might not have a required waterway.

Keep in mind that this standard is a minimum standard, and you may wish to exceed the requirements to meet the needs of the various localities.

NFPA Annex Material

The Annex Material in NFPA 1901 contains recommendations and work sheets to assist the apparatus purchaser. Annex A is Explanatory material. Any paragraph number in the standard that is followed by an asterisk (*) has an additional recommendation or explanation in Annex A.

Annex B is designed to help users develop specifications and inspect the new apparatus for compliance with the standard. The “Apparatus Purchasing Specification Form” in Annex B is a particularly useful form for the purchaser to make sure that all issues are clearly identified and addressed in the specifications. It is also a very good format for the manufacturer to understand and make sure all needed information is obtained to ensure that the bid or proposal is accurate and complete.

A “Fire Apparatus Delivery Inspection Form” and the “As Delivered Weight Analysis Calculation Worksheet” found in Annex B are organized worksheets designed to help the purchaser determine if the delivered apparatus meets NFPA 1901. All fire apparatus are custom built to the users’ requirements and do not always meet the minimum requirements of NFPA 1901. There is no organization or oversight group that automatically checks or inspects new fire apparatus for compliance to NFPA 1901. It is normally up to the purchaser to inspect for compliance, or an independent third-party group can be contracted to conduct the compliance inspections.

Annex C directs purchasers to the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association (FAMA) Web site (www.fama.org) to download a Worksheet for Determining Equipment Weight on Fire Apparatus. Vehicle weight requirements have traditionally created some of the greatest safety problems with new fire apparatus. Great emphasis has been placed in this area of the new standards to help alleviate these problems in the future. Purchasers should pay close attention to issues related to weight and weight distribution of new apparatus.

Annex D, “Guidelines for First Line and Reserve Apparatus,” essentially takes into consideration all of the operational and safety changes that have evolved over the past years of updates in the apparatus standard. It states the following:

“It is recommended that apparatus greater than 15 years old that have been properly maintained and that are still in serviceable condition be placed in reserve status and upgraded in accordance with NFPA 1912, Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishing, to incorporate as many features as possible of the current fire apparatus standard. This will ensure that, while the apparatus might not totally comply with the current edition of the automotive fire apparatus standards, many improvements and upgrades required by the recent versions of the standards are available to the firefighters who use the apparatus.

“Apparatus that were not manufactured to the applicable apparatus standards or that are over 25 years old should be replaced.”

Annex E is the history of NFPA 1901, and Annex F is a list of informational references.

The various charts, tables, and worksheets found in NFPA 1901 can be very useful, particularly for new purchasers of fire apparatus. Purchasers should take full advantage of the many years of experience and development this standard represents.

APPARATUS TYPES AND CHARACTERISTICS

Pumper Fire Apparatus

The most common style of apparatus built for fire service use is the pumper. NFPA 1901 defines a pumper as a fire apparatus with a permanently mounted fire pump of at least 750-gpm capacity, water tank, and hose body whose primary purpose is to combat structural and associated fires (photo 2). These apparatus were previously called “triple-combination pumpers” because they incorporated three distinct components, namely pump, tank, and hose body.

(2) The most commonly purchased piece of fire apparatus is the pumper.
(2) The most commonly purchased piece of fire apparatus is the pumper.

In most departments, the pumper is the primary apparatus from which most operations are based. The main purpose of a pumper is to provide personnel with sufficient apparatus, equipment, and water to sustain an initial attack on structural fires. However, in many departments, this apparatus can be used for several other purposes including hazardous materials mitigation, technical rescues, EMS support and services, building inspections, preplanning, public education, and an endless number of other activities.

Fire Pumps

Fire pumps used on pumpers range in size from 750- to 2,000-gpm flow capacity and greater, depending on the water supply capacities and target hazard fire flow requirements. The NFPA requires the fire pumps to be rated in 250-gpm increments for consistency of rating and testing.

The vast majority of pumps being installed today are single stage because of the simplicity of the design and operation as well as reduced weight and cost. This makes sense, since modern diesel engines can supply ample horsepower and torque through the entire required operating range of the pump. Two-stage pumps require a transfer valve to switch between series and parallel operations, which require additional maintenance and operator training. Departments that serve many high-rise buildings may want to consider two-stage pumps, since the normal operating pressures associated with supplying building fire suppression systems may be better aligned to two-stage pumps.

The most common design for powering fire pumps is through the use of a transfer case (split driveline design), where power is directed either to the driveline for propulsion or the pump. An additional drive method that is available is by the use of a Power Take Off (PTO). In the past, PTO-driven pumps were used mostly with apparatus that had either smaller-capacity pumps or special requirements such as pump-and-roll capabilities. Recent improvements in PTO drive system designs have resulted in many standard 1,250- or 1,500-gpm pumps being driven by a PTO system.

Water Tanks

Water tank sizes generally range from 300-gallon capacity (minimum for a pumper and quint) to 1,250-gallon capacities on standard single-axle style pumpers. Water tank size has to be closely scrutinized to make sure the apparatus chassis does not become overloaded. Items such as axle and suspension ratings, body design, and hosebed height will typically dictate the water tank size. Normally, 300-gallon tanks are more commonly found in urban areas where hydrants are readily available, with higher capacity tanks found on apparatus responding in the more rural areas.

Most manufacturers have gone to water tanks constructed of plastic to alleviate corroding and rusting problems associated with metal tanks. These tanks are durable, easy to repair, and lighter in weight. They are also very flexible in design parameters and can be fitted into various pumper configurations.

Body Construction and Compartmentation

Each manufacturer has specific design methods for how they construct their apparatus bodies. The design and construction of a body have as much bearing on the strength of the body as the thickness, alloy, and tensile strength of the materials used. Closely evaluate construction designs to ensure the body accommodates the department’s needs.

Purchasers should allow some flexibility in the construction designs of the pumper bodies to allow for the variations in construction methods of reputable manufacturers. It is also important that purchasers closely examine the construction techniques and quality control of the body builder to make sure the body will withstand the many years of expected use.

Compartment designs vary widely on pumpers and are based on the amount of equipment and hose the department needs to carry. The basic designs are as follows:

  • High-side compartments on one side with low compartments on the other, allowing ground ladders to be mounted to the side of the apparatus above.
  • High-side compartments on both sides with the ladders stored on an overhead-power equipment rack or through the body or tank from the rear.
  • Deep high-side compartments on one or both sides to hold the maximum amount of equipment.

Many departments have special needs that require modifications and an individual design of the basic compartments. Although this is available from all manufacturers, this customization can become quite costly.

Pumpers are required to have 40 cubic feet (cu. ft.) of weather resistant and ventilated compartments to hold up to 2,000 pounds of loose equipment. Compartments with a capacity greater than 4 cu. ft. are required to have compartment lighting, with some exceptions such as ladder tunnels and underbody compartments. Several methods of compartment lighting are available, including standard incandescent lighting fixtures, light-emitting diode (LED) lighting fixtures, and LED strip lighting.

Two styles of compartment doors are available today. The hinged door is the more traditional design, but many departments have chosen to use roll-up or shutter-style compartment doors. There are advantages to both types, depending on their application and location.

Roll-up doors have the advantage of not protruding into the way of firefighters or into lanes of traffic when the doors are open. A disadvantage is that the drum roll occupies space at the front top opening of the compartment. In some cases, this reduces the door opening height by eight to nine inches. On rescue-style trucks where the compartments are especially tall, the loss of the compartment opening height may not be a factor. Roll-up doors are also subject to being jammed closed when loose equipment falls against the interior of the door. Heavy appliances can also damage the shutter tracks on both sides of the door openings. Properly mounted equipment will alleviate these conditions.

Hinged doors, on the other hand, have their own distinct problems. Lift-up-style hinged doors can be difficult to see in rearview mirrors and are known for being ripped off after being left open when apparatus leave the station. If the doors are large, the door weight can cause the door to come loose from the hinges. Many specifications call for hinged doors larger than 32 to 36 inches wide to be made as double doors to eliminate the excessive weight on the hinges.

Roll-out trays, roll-out and drop-down trays, vertical slide-out tool boards, wheel well compartments, underbody trays, drop-down ladder racks, through-the-tank storage compartments, and many other creative methods take advantage of all usable space. Also, several tool bracket manufacturers have developed a multitude of creative tool mounts for every type of tool and equipment.

Hose Storage

Available hose storage on pumpers varies; departments must determine what methods of hose deployment work best for their particular operations and specify their pumpers’ hose storage accordingly (photo 3).

(3) There are a wide variety of hose storage options available on fire apparatus. Local methods of deployment should dictate the configuration.
(3) There are a wide variety of hose storage options available on fire apparatus. Local methods of deployment should dictate the configuration.

NFPA 1901 requires a minimum of 30 cu. ft. of storage for 21⁄2-inch and larger hose and two areas 3.5 cu. ft. to accommodate preconnected hoselines. Most pumpers will well exceed these capacities.

Generally, hose storage is divided into two types: supply hose storage and attack-line hose storage. Normally, supply hose storage is located so hose will deploy out the rear of the pumper. The supply hose storage is designed to accommodate long lays of supply line.

Many pumpers carry in excess of 1,000 feet of supply line, and if large-diameter hose (LDH) is not used, they may divide the storage area so parallel lines can be deployed at one time.

When specifying a new pumper, specify the hose size, type, and capacity so the required hose storage area can be accurately calculated. In addition, calculate weight to ensure that adequate rear axle/suspension capacity is provided.

Attack line hose storage is accomplished in many ways. Traditionally, departments have used rear hosebeds with good success for many years. Other options are crosslays and speedlays in the pump compartment area as well as front and rear bumper loads.

NFPA 1901 requires all hose to be secured from unintentional deployment from the front, back, sides, and top of the apparatus. This includes all hose storage areas including front bumper preconnnects, running board hose troughs, crosslays, speedlays, and hosebeds. Some of the methods employed are straps, netting, and covers–both hard and soft.

INITIAL ATTACK FIRE APPARATUS

Initial attack fire apparatus as defined in NFPA 1901 is fire apparatus with a permanently mounted fire pump of at least 250-gpm capacity, water tank, and hose body whose primary purpose is to initiate a fire suppression attack on structural, vehicular, or vegetation fires and to support associated fire department operations. As can be seen from the definition, these types of apparatus can vary dramatically according to the department’s intended use (photo 4).

(4) Initial attack apparatus are used for fire suppression for structural, vehicular, and vegetation fires.
(4) Initial attack apparatus are used for fire suppression for structural, vehicular, and vegetation fires.

Cab and Chassis Designs

Normally, most initial attack fire apparatus are constructed on commercial-style chassis. In the past, the major problem associated with this type of apparatus was designing a unit and not exceeding the limited gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the suitable commercial chassis available. However, the available choices of commercial chassis have improved substantially. The major commercial chassis manufacturers now offer chassis with both two-door and four-door cabs in the GVWR range that more closely meet the needs of initial attack apparatus. However, it is still very important for the purchaser of initial attack fire apparatus to match the chassis payload capacity to the design of the apparatus. A vast majority of initial attack fire apparatus are built on four-wheel-drive chassis.

Pumps

Initial attack fire apparatus can have fire pumps with a minimum of 250-gpm capacities, but many have larger fire pumps. Some rural departments use this style vehicle to supply water from drafting sites since this style apparatus may have greater accessibility to rural water supplies than full-sized pumpers.

Departments that use initial attack apparatus for pump-and-roll type operations such as brush fires may want to consider separate engine-driven pumps. This allows constant pumping operations independent of the vehicle ground speed.

One of the more recent enhancements is the addition of compressed air foam systems (CAFS). They are used for initial attack on structure fires or brush fires. Several manufacturers are building packaged CAFS matched to fire pumps that work well for initial attack apparatus. Compressed air foam gives the limited amount of water normally carried on initial attack apparatus much greater fire suppression potential for both structural and brush fire operations. Some recognized authorities of foam systems claim that compressed air foam will increase efficiency of water as much as four times. This will allow a rig with a 300-gallon water tank to have the suppression potential of 1,200 gallons of plain water.

Water Tanks

NFPA 1901 requires a minimum capacity water tank of 200 gallons on an initial attack apparatus. In many cases, larger capacity tanks are provided when the chassis GVWR can accommodate the additional weight. The capacity and location of the water tank are critical factors in the balance and axle loading of the apparatus. Overloaded axles will affect both on-road and off-road performance and safety.

Body Construction and Compartmentation

Weight is a major issue on this style apparatus, which promotes use of aluminum or plastic composite material bodies. Compartmentation is generally limited on initial attack apparatus because of the reduced size of the bodies. If there are special requirements for specific sized compartments for larger equipment and appliances, it should be noted early in the apparatus design (photo 5).

(5) Plastic composite bodies with integral water tanks are becoming more common.
(5) Plastic composite bodies with integral water tanks are becoming more common.

Hose Storage

The hose use on initial attack fire apparatus is similar in function to the use on pumpers. However, the required hose capacity for supply hose, 10 cu. ft., is one-third of the requirement for pumpers. Initial attack apparatus usually work in conjunction with other full-sized pumpers and rely on their ability to carry additional quantities of hose and equipment.

Initial attack fire apparatus are still required to have a minimum of two preconnected hosebeds, with each having a minimum of 3.5 cu. ft. capacity. As with all apparatus, establish minimum requirements up front when designing initial attack apparatus since options and capabilities will be limited in their construction.

MOBILE WATER SUPPLY APPARATUS

Mobile water supply apparatus, commonly known as tankers or tenders, are normally a less complicated, more basic designed apparatus than most of the other types. The NFPA 1901 committee monitors various fire apparatus accidents, and it has been noted that tanker/tenders are involved in a large percentage of fire apparatus accidents, particularly those involving rollovers and fatalities.

A mobile water supply apparatus as defined by NFPA 1901 is a vehicle designed primarily for transporting water to fire emergency scenes to be applied by other vehicles or pumping equipment. Since the primary purpose of the vehicle is to transport water, the majority of the requirements in NFPA 1901 relate to the water tank. The apparatus is not required to be equipped with a pump (photo 6).

(6) Mobile water supply apparatus are required to have direct tank fills and tank dump valves capable of off-loading water to the rear and each side. (Photo courtesy of Cranbury Fire Co.)
(6) Mobile water supply apparatus are required to have direct tank fills and tank dump valves capable of off-loading water to the rear and each side. (Photo courtesy of Cranbury Fire Co.)

Cab and Chassis Designs

A large percentage of mobile water supply apparatus are built on commercial-style chassis, but a substantial number are built on custom chassis as well. In many rural areas, mobile water supply apparatus serve as water and personnel transporters. Tanker/tenders have a tendency to be heavy, large vehicles with a high center of gravity, which makes them prone to rollovers when involved in accidents.

Consider a few key items when specifying chassis for use as tankers/tenders, such as determining the number and size of axles. When axle loading becomes questionable, either consider adding additional axles or reducing water tank capacity. Fully lined frames that are reinforced are recommended for large tanker/tenders.

Give equal consideration to braking and retarding the vehicle’s speed as you would to power or horsepower for acceleration. NFPA 1901 now limits the top speed of apparatus carrying more than 1,250 gallons of liquid or more than 50,000 pounds GVWR to 60 mph.

Departments should also provide adequate training to members driving these heavy units, especially to those personnel who do not routinely drive large vehicles. Emphasize deceleration, braking, and procedures associated with maintaining control of a large vehicle when a wheel drops off the pavement.

Fire Pump

A rated fire pump is not required by NFPA 1901, but many departments choose to have this capability. Since a major investment has already been committed to purchase the chassis, body, and water tank, the additional cost associated with a rated fire pump is not that significant. Adding the fire pump gives the capability of having both a tanker and a water supply pumper in a single vehicle. Many traditional-style tanker/tenders have pumps strictly designed to load and unload water. The ability to pump fire streams will be left up to other apparatus.

Water Tanks

The water tank is the heart of the mobile water supply apparatus. Adhering to NFPA requirements on tank baffling and venting are paramount to ensure safe operations. The venting capacity must be matched to the filling and dumping capacities. If adequate venting is not provided, severe damage can occur with large flow filling and dumping.

Generally, there are two style tanks on mobile water supply fire apparatus: the rounded elliptical style and the square-cornered style, typically called a “dry-side tanker.” Many rural departments prefer elliptical tanks because of the price and reduced forces created perpendicular to the chassis from the movement of the tank water. However, elliptical tanks do not lend themselves to carrying large quantities of hose. In situations where the apparatus will be required to carry supply hose, most departments choose to purchase a dry-side body so hosebeds can be constructed on top of the water tank.

The majority of water tanks today are constructed of plastic, including the elliptical-style tank. Some elliptical tanks are covered with a polished stainless-steel wrap to give the appearance of stainless-steel tanks. If preferred, steel or stainless-steel tanks are also available.

One of the most significant requirements relates to filling the water tank and dumping water from the tank. An external fill connection capable of filling the water tank at 1,000 gpm minimum is required, along with the ability to dump water to the left, right, and rear of the apparatus. The dump valves must be capable of dumping 90 percent of the tank at 1,000 gpm or greater. Most modern tanker/tenders are provided with air or electrically actuated dump valves on the right, left, and rear of the vehicle. Controls for the valves are usually in the cab and adjacent to the discharges. This allows for quick dumping–the operator does not need to leave the cab of the vehicle.

The side and rear dump valves vary in sizes but are normally in the 10- and 12-inch-diameter range and are commonly butterfly-style valves. A convenient option to have on these dump valves is the automatic extensions that activate when the valve is opened. Quick turnaround times are critical in efficient tanker operations.

Body Construction and Compartmentation

Portable folding tanks are typically on tanker/tenders and normally not on pumpers. Many different styles of folding tank compartments are used today. One of the major considerations is the amount of staffing available to offload the portable tanks. Some very well-designed portable tank racks are available where the tanks are lowered down to a convenient level for minimal staffing to offload the tanks.

Mobile water supply apparatus are required to have a minimum of 20 cu. ft. of compartment space available for equipment.

Hose Storage

NFPA 1901 requires a minimum of six cu.ft. of hose storage area for 21⁄2-inch or larger hose and, if equipped with a fire pump, two areas each with 31⁄2 cu. ft. of space for 11⁄2-inch or larger preconnected hoselines. If the apparatus is going to be used other than as a water shuttle apparatus, consider more hose storage area. When you need to carry large amounts of hose, you may have to consider a dry-side body with a square tank rather than an elliptical tank.

AERIAL FIRE APPARATUS

Aerial fire apparatus as defined by NFPA 1901 is a vehicle equipped with an aerial ladder, an elevating platform, or a water tower that is designed and equipped to support firefighting and rescue operations by positioning personnel, handling materials, providing egress, or discharging water at positions elevated from the ground. As can be interpreted from this definition, a wide variety of apparatus are covered by the standard (photo 7).

(7) Aerial apparatus include straight stick aerial ladders, platform apparatus, and water tower apparatus.
(7) Aerial apparatus include straight stick aerial ladders, platform apparatus, and water tower apparatus.

Modern aerial fire apparatus are designed with much more operating capability and more stringent safety requirements than in the past. Some have integrated the use of computers to further enhance the operations and safety of modern aerial fire apparatus.

Aerial fire apparatus can be classified into three basic groups: straight aerials, platform aerials, and water towers. Each of the different types has different capabilities with distinct advantages and disadvantages. The different types can also be mounted on chassis in different configurations such as rear-mounted, midship-mounted, or tiller-mounted. Each of the mounting configurations also has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Choosing the right aerial apparatus for a locality requires some in-depth evaluation of the community. The aerial apparatus has to be right for the application or situation. Although a straight aerial ladder might be perfectly fine to reach upper stories of a fire building, a platform style aerial may be more suitable for the rescue of nonambulatory victims.

When a fire department is purchasing an aerial apparatus, it is imperative that all aspects of the locality be considered in the evaluation. Everything from available funding to fire station apparatus bay length and height and target hazards to be protected will affect the process and outcome. The following is a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the various types and configurations of aerial apparatus. As with any consumer product, you will find that users and operators of the various types of aerial apparatus are very opinionated as to which type is best.

Straight Aerials

Straight “stick” aerial devices are probably the most prevalent style in use today. The primary reasons are cost and versatility. A 100-foot straight style aerial today will most likely cost approximately $700,000 or more. A platform style aerial will generally increase the cost by approximately 20 percent. The following are advantages and disadvantages of straight aerial apparatus:

Advantages:

  • Lower purchase cost than platform-style apparatus.
  • Can generally be kept smaller and more maneuverable than platform devices.
  • Provides a continuous means of egress for firefighters operating on upper floors or the roof of fire buildings.
  • Versatile; can be used as a ladder or elevated stream device.
  • Simple to set up and operate.
  • Available in a multitude of operating lengths (75 to 137 feet in the United States) and operating load capabilities (the NFPA requires 250 pounds minimal in 250-pound increments).
  • Lighter in weight than platform-style apparatus.
  • Allows for flexibility in body and compartment designs.
  • Can be mounted on chassis in various configurations: rear-mounted, mid-mounted, or tiller-mounted.

Disadvantages:

  • Sometimes limited in elevated stream capacity compared with platform apparatus and water tower apparatus.
  • Not as adaptable for rescue of young, old, or infirm victims as platform apparatus.
  • Does not provide protection for personnel operating at the tip of the aerial.
  • Limited space for equipment mounted at the tip of the aerial.
  • Limited load capacity of some aerial devices.
  • Minimal operating room at the tip; no work platform.
  • No flexibility in reach such as up and over capability.

Platform Aerial Apparatus

Platform aerial apparatus have grown in popularity since their inception in the early 1950s. Most major cities incorporate a mix of platform-style apparatus and aerial ladders in their fire department fleets. There are four basic types of platform aerial apparatus in use today: aerial platforms (ladder-towers), telescopic boom platforms, articulating boom platforms, and articulating/telescopic boom platforms. Each of these apparatus has advantages and disadvantages.

Platform aerial apparatus have two mounting configurations on chassis available: rear-mount and mid-mount. The NFPA requires that all platform aerial apparatus have a minimum load capacity of 750 pounds (dry) and 500 pounds while discharging 1,000-gpm flow in any direction. Increased ratings are again in 250-pound increments. The platform is also required to have a minimum of 14 sq. ft. of floor space.

Aerial Platform

The aerial platform, or what is sometimes known as the ladder-tower, is the most popular style of platform aerial apparatus. It is essentially a heavy duty aerial ladder with a platform mounted on the end. It does incorporate some of the advantages of both a platform and a straight aerial. These apparatus range from 85 to 105 feet in elevation with weight capacity ratings from 750 pounds to 1,000 pounds and water flow capacities up to 2,000 gpm. The most common workhorse versions of the aerial platforms are the 85- and 95-foot versions on rear-mounted chassis configurations. Aerial platforms are also available on mid-mounted chassis configurations where travel height or bay door height is limited.

Operational Attributes:

  • Provide a stable work platform for firefighting and rescues.
  • Generally have higher water flow capability than straight aerials.
  • Provide continuous means of egress similar to straight aerial.
  • Have high equipment and personnel load capability at platform.
  • Require more area for setup than standard aerials because of increased outrigger footprint.
  • Rear-mount platforms have increased frontal overhang and blocked frontal visibility as a result of the platform over the cab.
  • Aerial platform apparatus are dimensionally larger (length and height) than straight aerial ladder apparatus.
  • Aerial platform apparatus are generally heavier than straight aerial ladder apparatus, which could present a problem with bridge weights.
  • Hydraulic and electronic systems are more complex than straight aerial ladder apparatus.
  • Aerial platform apparatus are easier and smoother to operate than articulating platform apparatus.

Telescopic Boom Platforms

There are currently two types of telescopic boom platforms available. These apparatus have a platform mounted on the end of a telescopic boom. One device has a full box-beam construction with the main boom constructed of steel and the extension booms of aluminum. The apparatus incorporates a ladder mounted on top of the boom for escape purposes, not necessarily for normal operations.

The other device is an open aircraft design box-beam boom constructed of huck-bolted aluminum. Both of these apparatus are especially well designed for high-capacity water flow operations. A full box-beam style boom is very resilient against loads associated with high-capacity water flow operations.

Both styles are mid-mounted configuration and range in height from 75 to 100 feet.

Operational Attributes:

  • Provides stable work platform for firefighting and rescue operations.
  • Generally provides higher flow elevated water stream capability than other types of aerial apparatus.
  • Escape ladders are not generally designed for normal egress and are not optimal for evacuating building occupants.
  • Box-beam construction of aerial make units more amenable to mid-mounted apparatus to keep overall travel height limited.
  • Higher water flow capabilities require larger outrigger footprint to maintain stability.

Articulating Boom Platforms

The articulating boom platform was the first of the platform devices used in the fire service. These platforms consist of two booms that connect and articulate at a knuckle, allowing a different operating range than any of the other styles of apparatus. The first units were introduced in the 1950s. The “up and over” capability that is characteristic of the articulating boom platform made them popular, particularly in areas that have a number of buildings with parapets.

Original designs were based on equipment previously in use by the utility companies. The primary change made to the rigs was to incorporate the high flow elevated water stream capability. Standard articulating boom platforms range from 65 to 85 feet of elevation.

Operational Attributes:

  • Has an “up and over” capability not present in straight aerial platforms and telescopic platforms.
  • Operating height is limited on two-section booms because overall length of apparatus becomes excessive.
  • Operators have to be cognizant of location of the knuckle (pivot point) as well as the platform when operating the device.
  • Apparatus does not have continual means of egress.
  • Operating range is generally much different from aerial platforms and telescopic platforms (low-angle reach is limited).
  • Platform has more movement (bounce) than straight aerial platforms.

Telescopic/Articulating Boom Platforms

The telescoping/articulating boom platform is basically an enhancement of the telescoping boom aerial device. The main booms telescope for height, and an articulating end section of the device allows increased operating range and flexibility. It also makes the unit much more complicated and expensive compared with traditional devices.

Operational Attributes:

  • Some units offered with extended height capability.
  • Combination of articulating boom and telescopic booms adds unique operating range capabilities.
  • Units are exceptionally complex for repairs and operation.
  • Extended height units have large footprint outrigger system.
  • Operators have to be cognizant of location for the platform and the articulating knuckle.
  • Extended height units become very large and very heavy vehicles (may require additional axles for road travel weight limits).

Water Towers

Water tower apparatus were in use by fire departments prior to the existence of aerial ladders. Today’s water towers range from simple units in the 50-foot range to complex units with three or more booms that extend to 130 feet in height.

Water towers are not a major market in the municipal fire service today compared with the platform-style apparatus with water flow capabilities. Water tower apparatus, particularly with high-flow capability, are more common to the industrial fire service.

Operational Attributes:

  • Limited elevated streams can be placed on relatively small pumper chassis without altering pumper design dramatically.
  • Smaller devices do not add excessive weight to the vehicle.
  • Lower costs are associated with basic water tower than aerial ladder or aerial platform apparatus.
  • Extremely high water flows can be accomplished with some water towers.
  • Units with three and more articulating booms offer unique operating ranges.

Rear-Mounted, Mid-Mounted, and Tiller-Mounted Aerial Apparatus

The terms rear-mount, mid-mount, and tiller-mount, when related to aerial apparatus, refer to the mounting location of the aerial turntable. Many of the various types of aerial apparatus can be mounted in any position. The following are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each mounting location.

Rear-Mount Advantages:

  • Reduces overall length of apparatus.
  • Reduces overhang behind the rear axle.
  • Generally has increased body compartment availability.
  • Has greater area for operating at low angles, off each side, and rear.
  • Weight balance on vehicle axles is tolerable, particularly when no pump or water is on the vehicle.

Rear-Mount Disadvantages:

  • Some have excessive frontal overhang.
  • Platform blocks upward frontal visibility.
  • Platforms with pumps and water tanks can have weight problems, particularly on the front axles.
  • More difficult to “spot” the turntable, particularly when other apparatus take prime locations at the front of the fire buildings.
  • Usually higher travel height.

Mid-Mount Advantages:

  • Lower travel height.
  • Good frontal visibility.
  • Weight balance on axles is generally good when a pump and water tank are on the vehicle.
  • Easier to “spot” the turntable than rear-mounts.

Mid-Mount Disadvantages:

  • Can have excessive overhangs behind the rear axle.
  • Longer overall vehicle length.
  • Generally results in less compartment space than rear-mount.
  • Low angle operating area is reduced to each side of vehicle.
  • Vehicle cab blocks low angle operations in the front of the apparatus.
  • Ground ladder storage is sometimes a problem.

Tiller-Mount Advantages:

  • Increases apparatus maneuverability.
  • Increased compartment space on trailer.
  • Lowers the travel height of the vehicle.

Tiller-Mount Disadvantages:

  • Increased overall length of the apparatus (beyond 50 feet).
  • Requires two well-trained operators.
  • Increased cost.
  • Not well suited for large fire pumps and water tanks.

Fire Pump

If the aerial apparatus is equipped with a fire pump that is intended to feed a permanently mounted aerial waterway, the pump must be able to meet the flow requirements of the waterway with a maximum of 20 psi intake gauge pressure.

Water Tank

There is no minimum capacity required if the aerial apparatus is equipped with a water tank.

Compartmentation and Hosebed

A minimum of 40 cu. ft. of compartment space and 2,500 pounds of loose equipment capacity are required on an aerial apparatus, but most far exceed this requirement. A hose storage area is not required except if the aerial apparatus is equipped with a fire pump and tank; two areas of 3.5 cu. ft. must be available for preconnected hoselines.

Ground Ladders

Aerial apparatus are required to carry a minimum of 115 feet of fire department ground ladders including one folding ladder, two roof ladders, and two extension ladders. It is up to the fire department to determine the lengths required. Remember, this is a minimum standard! Many purchasers choose to exceed the quantity and length of ladders required by the standard because of local conditions. In most cases, the only limitation is on the space available to mount the ladders on the apparatus.

QUINT FIRE APPARATUS

The term quint in the fire service refers to an apparatus having five distinct functional features: fire pump, water tank, hosebed, ground ladders, and aerial ladder (photo 8). Many of the requirements are the same as a pumper such as 30 cu. ft. of hosebed space, two 3.5 cu. ft. preconnect areas, and 40 cu. ft. of compartment space and a minimum water tank capacity of 300 gallons.

(8) Quint fire apparatus perform five functions: pump, water tank, hosebed, ground ladders, and aerial device.
(8) Quint fire apparatus perform five functions: pump, water tank, hosebed, ground ladders, and aerial device.

There are a few differences. First, the quint is required to have an aerial device with a fixed waterway. In addition, the ground ladder complement was defined as a minimum of 85 feet of ground ladders, one extension ladder, one roof ladder, and one folding ladder. The minimum size fire pump on a quint is 1,000 gpm, which is sufficient to feed the waterway. Also, a quint is required to provide 2,500 pounds for loose equipment as opposed to a pumper, which is 2,000 pounds.

The most popular quint fire apparatus is built with a 75-foot aerial ladder. Many departments choose the 75-foot aerial ladder with a 300-gallon water tank so they can maintain reasonable axle weights on a two-axle chassis.

SPECIAL SERVICE FIRE APPARATUS

The term special service apparatus was incorporated in NFPA 1901 to cover the many different vehicles that do not fit into the other definitions (photo 9). Special service apparatus generally refer to medium- and heavy-rescue squads, communications apparatus, command apparatus, air units, light units, hazardous materials units, and any other apparatus not fitting the previously mentioned classes. Some of the key areas in the current NFPA 1901 standard that have been improved and upgraded to accommodate these apparatus are the sections on breathing air systems, winches, and line-voltage electrical systems.

(9) Special service apparatus include rescue, hazmat, light and air units, and command vehicles.
(9) Special service apparatus include rescue, hazmat, light and air units, and command vehicles.

One of the primary concerns with special service fire apparatus is the relationship of the weight and dimensions of equipment typically carried on these style apparatus compared with the compartment space and chassis weight carrying capacity. A special service fire apparatus is required to have a minimum of 120 cu. ft. of compartment space. The loose equipment weight allowance is based on the GVWR of the chassis.

MOBILE FOAM APPARATUS

Mobile foam apparatus have some of the standard requirements of a pumper apparatus including a minimum 750 gpm fire pump, 30 cu. ft. of hosebed space, two 3.5 cu. ft. preconnect areas, and 40 cu. ft. of compartment space. In addition, a mobile foam apparatus is required to have a 500-gallon foam concentrate tank and a foam proportioning system.

FIRE DEPARTMENT TRAILERS

NFPA 1901 considers trailers transporting equipment or other vehicles under emergency response conditions to be fire apparatus, and any components on the trailer shall meet the applicable requirements of the standard.

Three classifications of trailers are listed in the standard. They are as follows:

  • Type I: Trailers that are designed to remain connected to their tow vehicle throughout the response event and that are dependent on the tow vehicle to provide the required electrical power and conspicuity. The trailer portion of a tractor-drawn aerial is an example of a Type I trailer.
  • Type II: Trailers that are designed to allow separation from their tow vehicle after arrival at the response event and that are not dependent on the tow vehicle to provide the required electrical power and conspicuity.
  • Type III: Open trailers designed to transport other vehicles, equipment, or containers that will be removed from the trailer after arrival at the response event and that will not be blocking the right-of-way during incidents. A “Low-Boy” trailer that transports earth-moving equipment to forest fires is an example of a Type III trailer.

Requirements related to label and instruction plates, braking systems, suspension and wheels, trailer hitch, wheel chocks, low-voltage electrical systems and warning devices, power systems, cable connections, optical warning devices, work lighting, and reflective markings are all outlined in the standard.

THE PROCESS

The purchasing process is dependent on many variables. Time, money, and the physical and tactical requirements of the apparatus are some of the considerations. The following outline covers the numerous steps that may be necessary to turn the initial proposal into a functioning piece of fire apparatus.

THE PURCHASING OUTLINE

1. Determine who will research and formulate the specifications:

a. Fire chief.

b. Staff members.

c. A committee.

2. Establish and define the amount of time that is available from the beginning of the project to the delivery.

3. Consider the financial implications and replacement options available:

a. Purchase.

b. Lease.

c. Refurbishment.

4. Conduct research:

a. Basic types of apparatus.

b. Features and options available.

c. Manufacturer’s reputation.

5. Secure a budget commitment needed for the purchase.

6. Outline preliminary requirements using NFPA standards (Annex B).

7. Determine acceptable manufacturers and request sample specifications and representative drawings.

8. Use information provided in the sample specifications to produce your own preliminary specification.

9. Hold a prebid conference if required or desired; adjust specifications as necessary.

10. Distribute the final specifications for a public bid.

11. Evaluate the bids, and make a recommendation of award of contract based on the best value (not necessarily the lowest bid).

12. Attend a preconstruction conference with the manufacturer to discuss each detail of construction.

13. Conduct other inspections as specified:

a. Completed chassis or in-progress inspection.

b. Final inspection.

14. Receive delivery and perform acceptance testing.

15. Schedule manufacturer’s training classes, if included in the specifications.

16. When all members are proficient and all equipment is installed, the apparatus is placed in service.

WHO SHOULD FORMULATE THE SPECIFICATIONS?

In larger metropolitan fire departments, apparatus specifications and purchasing are usually addressed by an apparatus or maintenance officer, planning department, or support services staff, with final specifications approval by the fire chief. In smaller career departments without extensive staff personnel, usually the chief of department or a deputy handles the duties. Some seek the advice of larger departments that are more familiar with the process or the assistance of consultants. Considering the financial implications of the purchase, using outside help is usually a wise decision.

Volunteer fire companies will usually form a committee to deal with the purchase. The makeup of this committee can be critical to the successful outcome of the project. Although all members of the company should be able to voice their opinions, a select group of knowledgeable individuals should be charged with researching and evaluating the features and options that will ultimately become the finished apparatus.

Regardless of the size or the type of department, the following personnel should be considered for their input and expertise: company officers, drivers/operators/engineers, maintenance personnel, training officers, and safety officers, who should all focus their attention on enhancing the general overall safety of the apparatus.

All of these committee members will have to coordinate and interact with each other to facilitate the purchase. For instance, the safety officer might consider a siren or lighting configuration that would place an undue strain on the electrical system. The maintenance person should evaluate this condition and work with the safety officer to arrive at a compromise that is both adequate and practical.

Prior to the beginning of the committee process, establish ground rules to determine how the final decisions will be made. Will it be by democratic vote of the entire fire company or the apparatus committee, or will the chief make the ultimate decision after considering the other members’ input? Although this is a local decision, it is most important to define the process before embarking on the project, as personalities can easily get involved and burden the entire process.

TIME FRAME

One of the first issues to address is the amount of time that is available until the delivery of the new apparatus is needed. Product research, sales presentations, preparation of specifications, holding a public bid, evaluating the results, and awarding a contract will usually take from six to 12 months.

The period of time from the signing of the contract to delivery will vary according to the manufacturer’s backlog and the intricacies of the specifications. Taking six to 12 additional months to complete the unit is about average. Usually aerial units, special customization, or a fire apparatus chassis that is not manufactured by the apparatus builder will require additional time until final delivery.

Realistically speaking, 18 to 24 months should normally be allocated to complete the purchasing process.

If the apparatus being replaced is out of service because of a mechanical failure or an accident, the time frame requirement may have to be significantly reduced. In this case, it might be wise to contact several manufacturers to see if stock or demonstrator units are available.

Most manufacturers have demonstrator units–sometimes at reduced prices–that have been driven around the country to apparatus shows and displayed for potential customers. These units are usually well maintained and equipped with the latest features. This could be a viable option if time is of the essence.

Before rushing into the purchase of one of these units, the chief must be certain that it has the proper design and performance features to satisfy the department’s requirements.

Remember that this apparatus will probably be in service for 15 to 20 years and it should be fully capable of fulfilling the present mission of the department as well as carrying it into the future. If special requirements cannot be met, perhaps the community should consider borrowing a unit from a neighboring department or purchasing a used piece of equipment to fill the void until the new unit can be properly specified and built.

PURCHASE, LEASE, OR REFURBISHMENT?

Just as the time frame will have a direct impact on the replacement of the apparatus, so will the financial arrangements. In most cases where the municipal government is responsible for maintaining fire protection, outright purchasing using the capital improvements budget is normal. Funds for these major projects are borrowed and paid back over a period of time by selling municipal bonds. Bond purchasers receive a favorable return on their investment, and because in many cases it is tax free, the municipality enjoys a lower interest rate than the business community.

In many locations, the amount of bonded indebtedness that a municipality can carry at any one time is limited. Therefore, if the city can only borrow a certain amount, the fire department will be competing with other city agencies for their piece of the “capital budget pie.” In addition to providing fire protection, the governing body also must consider roads, schools, libraries, parks, recreational facilities, and public buildings that require improvement. Obviously, each agency considers its projects to be of top priority. This is why considering the needs analysis and justification for replacement is critically important.

When capital funding is unavailable, another viable alternative might be a lease/purchase plan. Most manufacturers either provide leasing or can make the necessary arrangements for the purchaser. Similar to financing the family automobile, the apparatus is delivered and annual payments for seven to 10 years are made to pay for the vehicle.

When the last payment is made, title to the apparatus is turned over to the municipality. Obviously, an interest charge is included so the total cost of the apparatus will be more than a straight purchase; but when funding is deficient, this is one method of maintaining proper fire protection at an affordable rate.

Many independent volunteer fire companies have found that while attempting to save the necessary funds for a purchase, inflation and routine price increases keep moving the project further into the future. With proper documentation, they too can qualify for a lease plan and enjoy the benefits of a reliable replacement while making the annual payments.

When discussing the funding for replacement, inevitably the question of refurbishing the present unit will be raised. It is wise for the fire department to possess a thorough understanding of the refurbishment process and the costs involved to intelligently answer questions that will arise. Refurbishment is considerably more involved than just surface body work and a coat of new paint. With the proper research, there might be more reasons why refurbishment is not a viable alternative as opposed to why it is.

Explore the following points before considering refurbishment:

  • What is the condition of the vehicle’s engine, transmission, driveline, and differential? Does it need to be replaced, rebuilt, upgraded, or converted from gas to diesel or standard transmission to automatic?
  • What is the condition of the functional units of the apparatus? Is the pump of adequate capacity to meet your present and future operational objectives? Will it easily pass the annual pump test? Can the aerial device meet the extensive requirements of the annual inspection and load test as well as the five-year nondestructive test?
  • Is the manufacturer still in business? Can repair parts be easily obtained now, and will they be available in the future?
  • In addition to obvious body work and painting, what unseen conditions might be encountered in the substructure or chassis that would require additional work?
  • Is the apparatus able to conform to modern, more efficient firefighting procedures, such as preconnected attack lines, LDH equipment, larger water tanks, prepiped deck gun, or class A and B foam systems?
  • Is the aerial device long and strong enough to accomplish the tasks that it encounters? Are taller buildings out of reach of the aerial, or are housing “setbacks” causing older light-duty aerials to be used at dangerously low angles?
  • Most importantly, is the fire department willing to delay the extensive safety upgrades of the current standards for another five to seven years?

Seriously evaluate all of these questions before making a decision to refurbish. If you answer no to one or more of the questions, it strengthens the justification for replacement rather than refurbishment.

CONDUCTING RESEARCH

Whether you decide to purchase or lease, the chief or committee should plan on conducting extensive research into the basic types of apparatus; the features and options available; and the manufacturers’ reputations for quality, service, and warranty. There are several ways that this can be accomplished.

Advertisements

All manufacturers advertise. They use this avenue to unveil new products, innovations, and special promotions. Fire service publications that contain their advertising also contain articles about the latest apparatus and equipment trends, maintenance procedures, and problem-solving ideas. Much can be learned from the research that goes into preparing these articles.

Trade Shows

Another excellent way to conduct research is to attend trade shows such as the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC), which has acres of fire apparatus and equipment on display for the customers’ perusal (photo 10). Many regional conferences are also held by local chiefs’ organizations, apparatus maintenance groups, and instructor associations.

(10) Trade shows like the FDIC provide an excellent opportunity to research available apparatus designs. (Photo by author.)
(10) Trade shows like the FDIC provide an excellent opportunity to research available apparatus designs. (Photo by author.)

Apparatus manufacturers are well represented at these events and display their latest designs, innovations, and features. This provides the committee with the convenience of access to many manufacturers all in one location and knowledgeable factory personnel, who can answer most questions about their products. It also provides an opportunity to closely examine the workmanship and quality of the apparatus under consideration.

With the vast array of vehicles on hand, it is wise to take notes, photograph, or video the units and collect manufacturers’ brochures and business cards. There is such an overwhelming amount of information available that it would be foolish to trust it all to memory.

Visit Manufacturing Facilities

Another way to gain insight into how a particular piece of fire apparatus is built is to visit the manufacturer’s facility. Most welcome an inspection of their facility by potential customers. Examining apparatus that are in various stages of the building process is a very enlightening experience. It is not often that you can see the important subassemblies that make up the apparatus before they are hidden under sheet metal and numerous coats of shiny paint.

Inspecting apparatus that are finished and awaiting delivery can often stimulate new ideas or highlight different methods of accomplishing certain goals. As with the apparatus shows, be sure to record items of interest for future reference.

Visit Other Departments

Visiting neighboring departments that have had a recent delivery of a certain piece of apparatus is another way of networking information. Most manufacturers would be happy to supply the names of the customers who have placed their apparatus in service. You could call for an appointment yourself or ask the apparatus dealer to set up the visit.

When calling for the appointment, ask if a copy of the bidding specifications and possibly a shop drawing are available for you to have. They will be valuable when researching products and making comparisons.

DECISIONS

Before moving on to the final research phase–sales presentations–several decisions will have to be made regarding the basic requirements of the unit. Developing an outline will provide the manufacturer with the necessary information about the department’s wishes and will help expedite the presentation and estimated pricing. This will also serve as a foundation on which to build and develop a complete set of bidding specifications. Some suggestions of what to include in your basic requirements follow:

  • Basic type of unit. Pumper, aerial, platform, quint, special service, mobile water supply, initial attack, or combination vehicle.
  • Chassis. Custom or commercial; maximum number of firefighters to be seated; type and size of diesel engine; cab construction material (if there is a preference); cab type–split tilt, full tilt; special chassis requirements such as tight turning radius or short wheelbase.
  • Body. Standard or extra-large compartmentation; high side compartments; type of compartment doors–hinged or roll-up;, body material (if there is a preference); hoseload.
  • Aerial device. Aerial ladder, platform, telescoping or articulating boom, length, waterway output, outrigger spread, tip load requirements if they exceed the standard.
  • Pump. Rated gpm output, single or multistage, pressure control by relief valve or pressure governor, special requirements for suctions or discharges.
  • Tank. Size, special requirements such as tank to pump flow rate, direct filling capabilities, tank dump systems, or foam capabilities.
  • Special options and features. Scene lighting, generator, booster reel, trash line, ladder rack, or prepiped deckgun.

SALES PRESENTATIONS

Based on your previous research, you should contact several acceptable manufacturers for a sales presentation. Provide the basic outline you developed in advance and request ballpark pricing. Most dealers would be happy to provide brochures, sales information, and possibly recent shop drawings for your consideration. This material is a good starting point for developing your own specifications.

Remember that the estimated price of the apparatus might not include all of your requirements such as bonding, inspection trips, delivery expense, equipment, and training. You will have to address all of these items before arriving at a specific dollar amount of funding to request.

FUNDING COMMITMENT

After establishing approximate prices and delivery times, the committee should report back to the governing body for the approval of necessary funding. When seeking funding, provide an honest estimate, but be careful not to cut yourself short. In the apparatus industry, there are frequent price fluctuations and several variables to consider when preparing the final bid. Also, ideas that were not originally addressed might be included in the final specifications. With the amount of work that is required, and the life expectancy of the apparatus, it is better to err on the high side rather than having to settle for less than needed or having to go back to the city officials to ask for more money, which could seriously jeopardize funding for the entire procurement project.

APPARATUS REQUIREMENTS

Once funding is committed, the fire department must begin the process of developing the bidding specifications. The first step in this process is to determine which sections of the NFPA 1901 standard apply to the purchase. Determine this by the primary function of the apparatus. For instance, a 1,500-gpm pumper equipped with a water tower should comply with the basic provisions of NFPA 1901 Chapter 5, “Pumper Fire Apparatus.” An aerial apparatus, equipped with the same 1,500-gpm pump, should be constructed in accordance with the provisions in NFPA 1901 Chapter 8, “Aerial Fire Apparatus.”

The general requirements section of each apparatus standard contains the following statement:

Responsibility of Purchaser: It shall be the responsibility of the purchaser to specify the following details of the apparatus:
  • Its required performance, including where operations at elevation above 2,000 ft. or on grades greater than 6 percent, are required.
  • The maximum number of firefighters to ride within the apparatus.
  • Specific electrical loads that are to be part of the minimum continuous electrical load.
  • Any hose, ground ladders, or equipment it will be required to carry that exceeds the minimum requirements of this standard.
  • If a trailer for the purpose of transporting fire rescue response equipment, whether it is a Type I, II or III configuration.

This effectively places the burden of specifying everything that is needed to perform the duties that are defined on the purchaser. To assist in this awesome task, the NFPA 1901 standard contains a section entitled Annex B. Using the annex is not a requirement of the standard; it is included for informational purposes only. Annex B is divided into subject headings that follow the order of the standard. It is written in a question and answer format, with an easy fill-in-the-blanks style. Properly using Annex B will help reduce the apprehension that can be present from concerns about missing critical specification requirements for the apparatus. Then give the completed Annex B along with all options and features that are required to several qualified apparatus manufacturers, and request sample specifications that comply with your requirements.

USING SAMPLE SPECIFICATIONS

It is safe to say that most apparatus purchasers are not automotive engineers, nor do they possess the qualifications to tell a manufacturer what dimensions the frame rails must be or how many cross-members are needed to provide the strength and stability necessary for the apparatus. For this reason, we must rely on sample specifications developed by people who do posses the necessary knowledge.

It is extremely important that the method of taking exceptions or explaining clarifications be provided. This fairly allows other bidders to present their version of compliance with the intent of the specifications. A bidder’s exception will often exceed the minimum requirements of the specifications.

There are several reasons you should not use a manufacturer’s sample specifications as your bid document. Certain “proprietary” items will undoubtedly be contained in the language that other bidders will either have a difficult or impossible time meeting. Because of computer generation of the specifications, there are likely to be confusing or conflicting requirements. It is better to describe the features correctly the first time in your own language.

Most manufacturers’ specifications contain large areas of language (from several paragraphs to several pages) describing sections of the apparatus. This makes bid evaluation extremely difficult, as the other bidders will probably take an exception to the entire section and address the components of their assembly in the same manner.

Finally it could raise ethical questions by the other bidders. Although perhaps there is nothing wrong with using a manufacturer’s specifications as a sample or guide to the way you expect the apparatus to be constructed, imagine the embarrassment at a bid hearing if you had to admit that the successful bidder actually provided the bid document! Remember, the NFPA standards place the burden of specifying all of the details of the apparatus and its performance on the purchaser. Take the information contained in the sample specifications provided by reputable builders, and modify it to meet your department’s needs.

I have found that the best way to use a manufacturer’s spec is to read through each section and underline or highlight important requirements. Rewrite those points in your own language, leaving out the overly descriptive, design-oriented language.

TYPES OF SPECIFICATIONS

Specifications can generally fall into three categories: design; performance; and a combination of the two, design-performance.

Design specifications contain a preconceived arrangement of detail and form in which all of the details of construction are spelled out. Most specifications obtained from the manufacturers could be categorized as being heavily design-oriented. Often, the design features of components are described down to the last nut and bolt.

Performance specifications are written around the required functional criteria of the apparatus. In this type of specification, all of the details of performance are outlined along with the associated testing necessary to quantify the results. Basically, it tells the bidder what the apparatus must do but not necessarily how to accomplish it.

Design/performance specifications couple both the necessary conceptual details (design features) with the preconceived functional criteria (performance) to arrive at a specification that will provide an apparatus that is designed to fit your needs and will perform as desired. The design elements of this type of specification should detail the important features while allowing each manufacturer to meet the nonessential requirements in their own manner. For instance, some specifications are so descriptive about the components that make up the cab that they actually specify the diameter of the steering wheel and the number of spokes it will have! This unnecessarily causes other bidders to take an exception and explain their steering wheel. If the steering wheel has a specific performance requirement, such as the ability to adjust (tilt/telescope), that should be included; however, the rest of its design should not be unnecessarily restrictive.

There are many advantages to using this type of combination specification. Because it is adaptable, there are actually no disadvantages. Some of the advantages follow:

  • Practical. By combining the correct number of important design features with the necessary performance, a practical specification is developed.
  • Competitive. This type of specification allows for more competition among the bidders.
  • Cost. Increased competition will help reduce the cost of the apparatus.
  • Identifiable. Key components that are design in nature are identifiable and comparable for bid evaluation.
  • Uniformity of certain components. For example, the fire pump can be maintained by outlining it as a design rather than a performance feature.
  • Adds credibility. Rather than using a manufacturer’s specification word for word, the combination specification is really your specification.

Each type of specification can be modified as to the degree of difficulty that will be encountered in meeting it. The term tight is often applied to a highly restrictive, design type specification and loose to one that is more relaxed. Often, the degree of this variable will be controlled by the purchasing department or the community’s administration. Some have very specific rules that must be followed about how restrictive a specification can be.

GENERAL REQUIREMENTS

Specifications can be written in many shapes and forms. One of the biggest pitfalls in specification writing is a weak or poorly written set of general requirements. Sometimes referred to as the boilerplate, this section outlines the bidding instructions and defines the “ground rules” that apply to using the specifications. The general requirements are sometimes more important than the construction specifications in relation to determining the validity and evaluation of a manufacturer’s bid.

Following are some of the important issues that should be completely explained in the general portion of the specifications. Remember, a manufacturer’s sample specifications might not contain all of the items that the fire department considers important and certainly will not contain anything that would be difficult or impossible to meet.

Intent statement–a general statement that describes the apparatus and the requirement to comply with the appropriate NFPA standard as well as federal, state, and local motor vehicle laws.

Bid submission requirements–the method and form of submitting a bid including the acceptable way of outlining deviations and exceptions (in bid order) and if contractor specifications and drawings are required. It is also wise to include–in very direct language–that the fire department’s specifications will prevail over any proposal submitted, unless a properly defined exception was granted. This will help avoid a problem that sometimes surfaces when a bidder does not take exception but proposes to build according to his own standards regardless of the specifications.

Performance requirements–performance requirements, including road and operational functions. It can simply indicate the appropriate NFPA paragraphs or might outline your own special requirements.

Delivery and payment terms–the location of acceptance and location of delivery, whether at the factory or in your community. Payment terms should also be clearly defined. Some manufacturers offer a discount for prepayment of components or progressive payments as the apparatus is being built. As a word of caution, require that the component being paid for, such as the chassis, be invoiced and a certificate of ownership be issued. Some fire departments have lost chassis that were prepaid when the manufacturer suddenly went into bankruptcy.

Special construction requirements–items such as whether a custom or commercial chassis is acceptable, the type of material to be used in the construction of the cab and body, and if one manufacturer is to build the entire apparatus. The latter is a very restrictive requirement that is sometimes used to help prevent the possibility of divided responsibility for warranty work. You must also realize that it will restrict the number of bidders on the project.

Approval drawings–if approval drawings are required, the time when they will be delivered, as well as whether they or the written specification take precedence. It is wise to state that the fire department will make every effort to correct the approval drawings, but the written specifications, along with any corrections, will prevail.

Manufacturer’s experience and reliability–requirements that outline the criteria to establish a manufacturer’s reliability and reputation. Items can include the number of years in business, a list of customers who can be contacted, and possibly a financial statement from a nationally recognized financial rating service. It might also be wise to include a statement if you are not willing to accept a “prototype” or first-of-a-kind apparatus built by the manufacturer. This will establish whether it has built apparatus similar to the one described in your specifications.

Bonding and insurance–bonds are a form of insurance that the bidder will comply with certain requirements of the bid. A bid bond ensures that the bidder is responsible and will execute a contract if awarded the bid. This provides recourse if, for instance, the bidder submitted an inaccurate price or later decided that he did not wish to proceed with the contract. A performance bond is issued after the contract is awarded and indicates that the bidder will perform according to the provisions of the contract. If the contractor does not perform up to requirements, the bonding company is only responsible to provide a suitable replacement apparatus at the bid price. This does not mean that the department will receive a free fire truck, only that the bonding company will pay any difference between the bid price and the actual cost of the apparatus provided. Understand that while bonding provides an element of protection, it also increases the price of the apparatus. Liability insurance is another item that is sometimes required. Multimillion-dollar policies are maintained by the larger manufacturers; however, this might be difficult for some of the smaller ones. Some departments only include a phrase, such as: “The manufacturer will be responsible to defend any and all lawsuits resulting from the use of the apparatus.”

Factory inspection trips–factory trips are an essential part of the apparatus construction and inspection process. The number of trips, number of participants, and what associated costs will be borne by the bidder should all be included. Some departments require a set dollar amount for the trips to be included by all bidders and others pay for the trips themselves to eliminate any unfair advantage that a bidder who is geographically closer to the department might have.

Warranty and follow-up service–a requirement for a factory authorized service center within easy travel distance of the purchaser is sometimes specified. Requiring the bidders to supply information on the size of the facility, number of employees, number of mobile units, and capabilities of the facility can help determine if the service center meets the requirements of the purchaser. The location of where warranty service will be performed (at the fire station or at the repair facility) can also be specified.

Build time–especially important if time is of the essence. The specifications should require the number of calendar days from the signing of the contract until delivery. Bidders should be warned that stating a time from the receipt of the chassis or other major component until delivery is unacceptable. Some purchasers include a penalty clause or liquidated damages for late delivery. If this is included, it is more likely that you will get a fair appraisal of the actual anticipated delivery date. The penalty should also cover apparatus that are delivered incomplete or not up to specifications.

Special requirements–such as specific size, weight, or turning radius should be outlined (photo 11).

(11) Special requirements such as maximum height, width, or length dimensions should be clearly stated in the specifications.
(11) Special requirements such as maximum height, width, or length dimensions should be clearly stated in the specifications.

Training–if training by a representative of the manufacturer is desired or expected, it should be clearly outlined in the specifications. The number of days or special hours, including evenings and weekends for volunteer departments, should all be considered. Some departments require a program curriculum to be submitted in advance for the approval of the training officer. This could eliminate any conflict that might occur when the manufacturer’s training program is not consistent with fire department standard operating procedures. Videos or handouts should also be included if desired. Some departments also include a training program for the maintenance mechanics who will maintain the apparatus. This could be particularly important, especially if it is the department’s first piece of apparatus produced by a particular manufacturer.

Warranty requirements–the requirements as to the length of warranty and method of requesting warranty service on the apparatus. Individual components such as the engine, transmission, and pump will be covered by their respective manufacturer’s warranties. Some purchaser’s specifications require that the dealer act as the warranty agent, coordinating claims with the component builders.

When the purchaser has specific warranty requirements, it is advisable that the bidders be warned that any difference between the warranty requirements stated in the specifications and the warranty offered by the bidder must be taken as an exception. Many times a bid will contain a page of warranty coverage and a phrase that the bidder’s “stated” warranty applies. It is important that they cite the differences as exceptions.

CONTROLLING “FRILLS”

With the high cost of apparatus, and cities and towns struggling with a limited tax base, the specifier should limit the number of nonessential options that might be considered “frills.” There is nothing that will halt a purchasing proposal faster than the governing body deciding that the fire department is oblivious to their serious budget concerns. Unnecessary options such as a chrome fire bell, fancy murals and logos painted on the rig, and an excessive number of inspection trips all give the appearance of extravagance.

Accessories such as a pressure governor, electrical driveline retarder, hydraulic generator, and scene lighting can be fully justified in the name of safety or efficiency. By comparing the cost of the feature to potential maintenance costs or a liability claim that might be paid if a preventable accident occurs, the accessory can often be justified. For example, a reduction in brake maintenance costs by the use of a retarder could demonstrate the efficiency of the investment in the option.

Dividing the cost of a safety-related option by the life expectancy of the apparatus points out that the feature adds minimally to the overall averaged annual cost of the apparatus and can help justify the purchase. However, it is difficult to justify the cost of options that do not enhance efficiency or operational safety in the same manner. For instance, it is doubtful that expensive gold leaf can be justified when reflective lettering that adds to night visibility will not only identify the fire company but do it more safely.

THE BID PROCESS

When the fire department’s committee is satisfied that the specifications have been refined and are complete, they are ready to be advertised for public bid. Some jurisdictions require an intermediate step known as a prebid conference. The conference is announced along with the availability of the preliminary bidding specifications. Some purchasing departments require that a manufacturer who intends to bid on the project be present at the prebid meeting to avoid contradictions or misunderstandings that might surface later.

At the meeting, the participants read and discuss each item of the specification. Minor changes and adjustments might be made at the conference; however, if a major change is proposed, the bid might have to be delayed while the fire department investigates the viability of allowing a change or substitution. An amendment containing all changes, clarifications, and corrections must be sent to all vendors who received the bid specifications. Although some consider this step an unnecessary inconvenience, at times it might save the fire department embarrassment or help to expedite the bid process by uncovering an error, an inconsistency, or a misunderstanding.

When the final bidding specifications are distributed, the date, time, and location of the bid opening, as well as the method of submitting a bid, must be clearly stated. In most cases, the community’s purchasing authority or governing body will handle the bid opening process. The fire department, however, will most likely participate in the bid evaluation and recommendation phase of the procedure. It is a good idea to require that two copies of the bid be submitted–one marked “original” and one marked “copy” to allow the fire department to examine a working copy.

Bid evaluation can sometimes be a very difficult task. Closely evaluate the proposals to determine the lowest responsible bidder. Do not confuse this with a low bidder who does not meet the specifications or proposes a substandard product hoping to get the award of contract based on price alone.

The first thing to confirm is that the bid contains the required documentation for bonding, insurance, financial report, customer list, construction specifications, example drawings, and the general form of the bid proposal. Lacking important items such as a bid bond or insurance coverage should immediately disqualify the bid.

When evaluating apparatus bids, compare each item in the bidder’s proposal to the fire department’s specifications for compliance. If the bidder submitted his exceptions and corrections as instructed (in bid order), the process will go much more smoothly.

A bid evaluation report should be organized, and each exception or deviation should be listed. In some cases, the bidder’s exception might be equal to or actually exceed the requirements of the fire department’s specifications. In this case, it should be noted that the exception is granted.

Another important part of the bid evaluation process is to use the customer list provided by the bidder. Take the time to make some telephone calls and network among other fire departments using the same apparatus. If they are discontent, you will usually find out quickly.

When all of the information is evaluated, the committee should prepare a written recommendation for the award of the contract. It should be based on the bidder that best meets the intent of the specifications, with the least number of exceptions and deviations.

If the governing body agrees with the fire department’s recommendations, a contract will be awarded to the successful bidder and the apparatus construction process will begin.

Unfortunately, at times, a difference of opinion will develop, usually based on a low bid that does not meet the specifications. If this occurs, the apparatus committee should detail every discrepancy between the requirements of the specifications and the manufacturer’s bid. If the purchasing authority decides that it wants to accept less than was specified, the specifications should be rewritten and a new bid held.

FACTORY INSPECTIONS

Traveling to a manufacturer’s facility for the purpose of inspecting the apparatus that is being built is an integral and necessary part of the purchasing process. Sometimes justifying these trips to the city’s governing body might be harder than doing the inspections! When discussing trips with officials, explain that they are not new or unusual. The NFPA standards indicate that interim trips to the manufacturer’s facility might be necessary to ensure compliance with the specifications, and the Annex B questionnaire provides an area to indicate the number of trips and participants as well as who will pay for the trips.

Another point is that some manufacturers require an inspection of the finished apparatus before shipping so that corrections or adjustments can easily be made. With the large investment that is being made in the apparatus, and the enormous number of variables involved, it is foolish not to comply with this requirement.

Preconstruction Conference. Often the first trip will be the preconstruction or prebuild conference. The purpose of this session is to meet with the manufacturer’s product specialist or engineer to discuss variations and to establish your needs. Many times there are several ways to meet the intent of the specifications, and often their suggestions make for a better overall finished product.

Before embarking on this journey, it is most important that the fire chief or designated representative have a full understanding of the purchasing rules and regulations regarding change orders. Change orders are official changes or clarifications to the specifications, and some might require an adjustment in price. Extensive changes that have a major impact on the bid price might not be allowed by law, as it could be construed as tainting the bid process.

It is equally important to document all clarifications and changes, whether there is a financial impact or not, and make them an addendum to the specifications. One member of the committee should be charged with maintaining accurate notes on the agreed changes so that a change letter can be composed after the meeting.

At the prebuild or preconstruction conference, there will be many decisions to be made, from where certain equipment will be mounted to the shape and design of the lettering. If a committee is handling the purchase and inspections, it should determine in advance how these decisions will be made. Some rely on the ranking officer’s opinion, while others use the democratic method of majority rule. In either case, it should be clearly understood before you are at the manufacturer’s facility. Internal conflicts should also be resolved before leaving on the trip. It is totally unprofessional to be arguing and bickering at the meeting or trying to have company personnel side with one opinion or the other. Approach the meeting as one customer purchasing one piece of apparatus.

Do not conduct the preconstruction conference at your firehouse with only the salesperson present. He will not have the necessary expertise to answer all of your questions. Oftentimes, when the conference is held at the factory, department heads of sections such as electrical or plumbing will be summoned to the meeting to answer a question or help decide on a method of accomplishing your goals. In addition, quite often there are apparatus in production that you can examine for reference.

If after the meeting an adjustment or clarification is requested, don’t rely on verbal communications to accomplish the change. Follow up any telephone discussions with a letter, fax, or e-mail that should also become part of the specifications addendum.

In-Progress or Chassis Inspection. Often, there are two other inspection trips specified: a chassis or in-progress inspection and the final inspection. The intermediate inspection, depending on the fire department’s wishes, can be held either when the chassis is complete and before the body is installed or after the body is installed but before the finish work has begun. Each has its own advantages.

If you specify the chassis inspection, it is easier to examine the components of the chassis such as the pump, transmission, driveline, hoses, and wiring before they are covered by the body. The main advantage of the in-progress inspection is that any corrections to the body that might be necessary are more easily accomplished since the apparatus is not finished and complete.

If a purchased chassis is being used by your manufacturer, it might be a good time to look over the chassis to be sure that it meets all of your specifications before the build continues.

Final Inspection. The final inspection is the most important trip of the three (photo 12). Although every manufacturer maintains a degree of quality control, it is your inspection that will determine the condition of the apparatus when it is delivered. It is extremely important that you check every item of the specifications thoroughly and systematically for compliance, operation, and finish.

(12) Performing a thorough final inspection at the manufacturer's facility is essential. (Photo by author.)
(12) Performing a thorough final inspection at the manufacturer’s facility is essential. (Photo by author.)

If you attempt to follow the order of the specifications to accomplish this, you’ll quickly get exhausted jumping from one location to another. A better way is to prepare a checklist before departing on the inspection. Each item in the specifications is grouped by its physical location on the apparatus. For instance, the dashboard, cab controls, seats, interior finish, and so on are grouped in the cab section. The inspecting party can then check all items pertaining to the cab before moving on to another part of the apparatus. Using this system will save a great deal of time while ensuring that you don’t overlook important items in the specifications.

The final portion of this inspection should include road and operational tests. While the apparatus is being driven on the road, observe if any unusual noise or vibration exists. This should not be confused with the road test for acceptance, as outlined in the NFPA standards. That should be conducted after the delivery, with a full tank of water and all equipment installed. Operating the aerial device or witnessing the pump being operated should also be part of the final inspection.

DELIVERY

You will also have to specify the method of delivery and location of acceptance of the completed apparatus. Delivery by road, “under its own power,” is the preferred method since it allows a break-in period for the vehicle. Many specify a predelivery service at the apparatus dealer prior to delivery. This is similar to a new car “dealer prep,” where the oil is changed, the chassis lubricated, all systems are checked, and the unit is cleaned. Any difficulties that the transport driver had can be addressed at this time.

Some purchasers opt to take delivery at the factory and drive the apparatus to their community. If you are considering this, prior arrangements for payment, licensing, and proper insurance documentation will all be necessary.

Most specify that the delivery will take place at the purchaser’s location. Although this will add somewhat to the cost of the apparatus, there are several good reasons this is the better method. When the delivery takes place at the purchaser’s location, the manufacturer maintains responsibility for the apparatus until it safely arrives at your fire station. Incidents such as an accident, mechanical malfunction, or unforeseen occurrences such as tire damage or broken glass will not be the responsibility of the purchaser. In addition, most manufacturers use the services of a “drive-away” company that employs drivers with the proper licenses and maintains insurance on the vehicle until it is delivered. Most states have waived the requirement for a commercial driver’s license for firefighters in the performance of their duties within their state; however, there has been much debate as to whether transporting a piece of apparatus across state lines is considered part of a firefighter’s duties. It is unknown if the waiver applies to drivers from outside the state, as this is a local decision. It would be very unfortunate if an apparatus being transported from the factory were involved in an accident and it was determined that the driver was not properly licensed to operate that class of vehicle in the state.

ACCEPTANCE

The term acceptance is defined as when the purchasing authority agrees with the contractor that the terms and conditions of the contract have been met. Acceptance tests are those tests performed at the time of delivery to determine compliance with the specifications. In most cases, the apparatus is conditionally accepted at the factory, pending the results of the acceptance tests at the purchaser’s location.

The degree of acceptance testing is up to the purchaser and must be included in the specifications. At a minimum, it should include the road performance tests outlined in the NFPA standards and the operational and capacity testing of the various apparatus systems. The road tests should be performed with a full water tank and full complement of equipment and personnel.

Tests for acceptance will vary according to the purchaser’s specifications. Often an abbreviated version of the annual pump test will be required to be performed on delivery. At other times, extensive testing going far beyond the normal operations will be required.

INSTRUCTION

Prior to the new apparatus being placed on duty, the firefighters who will use it must be thoroughly instructed on its proper use. If the bidder is expected to provide this training, it too must be included in the specifications. Scheduling, number of days, and course content should all be outlined.

The scheduling and number of days will usually differ between career and volunteer departments. Career departments will most likely have to schedule the instruction to cover each shift. The number of days that the delivery engineer is required to spend with the department will vary depending on the work schedule. Volunteer departments might prefer to have the instructions in the evening or on the weekend when most of their members are available. Determining the number of days will depend on the class size and how much instruction is necessary to make the members proficient in the use of the apparatus.

In most cases, the training period for aerial apparatus will be somewhat longer, since much of the instruction is centered on the individual operators mastering the techniques of the operation. Pumpers are usually easier to learn, since most of the functions of the operating controls are similar to those of the previous apparatus. Previously trained pump operators can usually grasp the differences easily.

Sometimes, driver training might also be included in the specifications. This is an expensive, time-consuming process, especially when a fire company consists of numerous members. As a suggestion, two or three members could receive a “train the trainer” course of instruction and then go on to practice and qualify the other members of the fire company.

Some fire departments require that the course outline be submitted to the fire chief or training officer prior to the beginning of the training. Review it for potential conflicts with the department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) and to confirm it covers all areas of training. In addition, following the instructional outline will ensure that all members receive the same training and that nothing is inadvertently overlooked.

When considering the course outline material, operator preventative maintenance is a very important subject. All members should have a full understanding of how to properly perform daily or post-run apparatus maintenance. Some departments also include a block of training in shop preventive maintenance for their municipal or fire mechanics. This too could be a worthwhile investment, especially if the apparatus is different from the department’s current inventory.

Once the initial instructional period is over, encourage the members to continuously practice and drill with the apparatus to hone their driving and operating skills. Training in apparatus operations must be an ongoing process.

•••

Preparing specifications and purchasing fire apparatus are major responsibilities that represent a sizable, long-term investment of community funds. To approach this complex project in an orderly fashion, establish and follow an outline of tasks, arranged in sequential order. Allowing sufficient time to thoroughly complete all phases is also an important consideration in satisfactorily reaching the goal. Intelligent decisions based on investigation, research, and evaluation of available products will result in the needed purchasing justification.

WILLIAM C. PETERS retired after 28 years with the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department, having served the last 17 years as battalion chief/apparatus supervisor. He served as a voting member of the NFPA 1901 apparatus committee for several years and is the author of the Fire Apparatus Purchasing Handbook (Fire Engineering) and numerous apparatus-related articles. He is on the editorial advisory boards of FDIC, FireEngineering, and Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.

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