Why We Have to Standardize
The fire chief today is faced with many problems his predecessors never thought could occur.
Today in the larger cities, the fire service is faced with economic problems. If the fire chief is to use his management training, the time is now, when each dollar counts. Each dollar saved may in turn keep another very much needed fire fighter on the roster.
The problem with us, the fire chiefs, is that we say we believe in management principles but we do not expend the energy to develope management principles in an orderly manner. As a matter of fact, what we actually do in some cases is allow our egos to run rampant with the citizens’ tax dollars. One has but to pick up a trade journal to see that City X has received a new piece of fire equipment which cost approximately twice as much as it did five years ago.
Each fire chief has his own little pet likes and dislikes which are reflected in specifications for the purchase of the fire equipment. The local newspaper will praise the chief for spending a great number of city dollars which, in all probability, should not have been spent in the first place.
Apportioning the blame
Another facet of the problem is that we fire chiefs are blaming manufacturers for the problem. We report to our superiors that inflation is causing the price rise. True, inflation is causing prices to rise to some extent. However, if the problem is really faced, you and I are causing a great many of the price increases. Why? Each and every one of us draws separate specifications. Each and every one of us incorporates his own ideas. Thus, every piece of fire equipment is custom made. There are no standard models. There are no assembly lines where the manufacturers can produce on a bulk basis.
Every fire chief has to have his gingerbread and the citizens pay the tab. Have you seen a standard body on fire apparatus?
We in the fire service can learn considerably from the automobile manufacturers. For example, Volkswagon tends to keep the same style body for particular models for a number of years. From the manufacturers’ standpoint, the assembly lines increase efficiency, and costs are reduced by not having to purchase additional dies and machinery.
Learn from experience
We can also learn from experience. Whereas my time as a professional approaches 30 years, my family has been in the fire service since 1911. I can remember that the prime manufacturers made few changes on models from year to year. It was only when a big improvement occurred that models changed. If pictures were available, you would probably find that the 1923 model could not be discerned from the 1924 model. The manufacturers were thus providing proven equipment at prices the fire service could afford.
One of our antiques is a 1922 Seagrave water tower. It was purchased in 1922 at the cost of $22,000. Remembering this was a special piece of equipment, thus the greater the cost, you will find the driver’s area to the front bumper similar to the Seagrave pumpers for that year.
Conversations with various manufacturers’ representatives indicate that many of their employees would prefer to manufacture standard fire equipment. If standard fire equipment is manufactured, various items can be added to meet most conditions faced in the fire service.
It is realized there will always be, for certain situations, a necessity for manufacturing special equipment. Special equipment in the form of brush trucks, water carriers, combination foam pumpers, and special designs for unusual conditions will have to be provided on a custom manufactured basis.
A discussion of standardization of fire apparatus should definately be a project of the newly formed National Fire Academy program, but in the meantime, the International Association of Fire Chiefs should appoint committees on state and regional levels to attempt to standardize apparatus. These groups should report to the IAFC, which could negotiate a national decision.
National Fire Protection Association Standard 19, “Automotive Fire Apparatus,” was a long time in the making and has served as a guide to all fire chiefs. It has proven its worth. If a set of specifications which are deemed standard by the IAFC could be incorporated in Standard 19, I feel many fire chiefs would certainly use such material. Many fire chiefs, because of their backgrounds, have little knowledge about the mechanical aspects of automotive equipment. In some larger cities, apparatus is not under the control of the fire chief for repair or purchase but under a central system which has control of all municipal automotive equipment, including fire apparatus.
The opposite of the above situation is due to the lack of automotive knowledge. The fire chief is at the mercy of the salesperson. In this instance, the fire chief will not allow his associates to know of his deficiencies. Thus, his ego takes over and he purchases by price rather than evaluation of this apparatus needs.
Pump size considered
When we speak of standardization, we should also think in terms of pump size. There are municipalities which purchase 750-gpm pumpers. Tradition is hard to cope with and hard to overturn. A 750-gpm pumper is purchased because this particular municipality has always purchased 750-gpm pumpers. The fire chief should realize that for about $300 more, he can buy a 1000-gpm pumper. Thus, his pumping power will be increased and the fire department probably would be able to eliminate a few deficiency points when graded by the Insurance Services Office.
As one sales representative stated to me recently, “We advertise a standard pumper but we really don’t have one.” The reason for the statement is that when the standard model is ordered, which is so seldom, it is actually a custom-made vehicle.
One of the things that fire chiefs should be aware of is that ISO engineers grade the fire defenses of a city on what is present, not what is in the future. You may relate to the engineer that you are on a 20-year replacement program and that the two pumpers are on order and will be delivered in 18 to 24 months. What the fire chief has said may be true, but many things can happen to prevent the pumpers from being delivered. The engineers can give you credit only for what is in your city or town. Therefore, when we fire chiefs say we are on a 20-year replacement program, what we actually mean is that we are on a 22 to 23-year replacement program.
Seldom will the budget department relent and let you go to a 17 or 18-year program. However, if standard models were available, in all probability we could replace the older apparatus a few months after the contracts were awarded.
How costs mount
We fire chiefs in larger cities should take a close look at this suggestion in order to reduce the financial strain on the city coffers. Let’s take a look at the last pumper purchased. After the bid, no doubt the representative called on you to make sure of what was ordered. The contract was sent to the factory. Immediately, additional costs were incurred because the engineering department had to design each piece of your custom-made apparatus. Assuming all the shop drawings were finally gathered and sent to the assembly line, each employee now has to acquaint himself with every drawing for which he was responsible in order to supply exactly what you ordered. Again, cost to the manufacturer was rising. If it had been a standard model, the shop people probably would have had few problems after the first assembly job.
Another profitable result to the municipality will be the ability of the fire department mechanics to obtain parts quickly in the event of accidents or other mechanical problems. How many fire chiefs have had apparatus in the shop for unusually long periods due to the inability to obtain parts? Sometimes the part needed was automotive, but on other occasions, it was a body part.
To accomplish this suggested change, we fire chiefs have to give and take. We have to give up pet likes and dislikes. Turn back the clock 25 or 30 years. Remember the equipment you first learned to drive? Compare this 25 or 30-year old truck with what you have today. The question is, “Do you really need what is being purchased?” Granted, many of the innovations are not only desirable but essential. An example of an essential would be a gage for each discharge outlet. On the other hand, are a lot of the gadgets on the apparatus essential? We have electrical mechanisms with manual overrides. In some instances, the mechanical control would suffice and would reduce both original cost and maintenance.
Budgets being watched
Fire chiefs must remember that in larger cities with monetary problems, the budget bureaus are looking over their shoulders. Two-piece companies are now becoming a rarity. Fully manned companies, as required by ISO, are a goal that few departments are allowed to achieve by their administration. As a manager, you, the fire chief, must attempt to provide the very best service at the lowest dollar cost. Are you attempting to attain this objective?
Remember, the manufacturer has to stay in business, so he provides you with what you order. However, fire chiefs should and must band together to reduce the basic cost of fire equipment and delivery time. If the efficiency of our departments is to be maintained, we must start now – before budget bureaus start to reduce our appropriations.
For a great number of cities, the time for accomplishment is short. In other cities, there may remain additional time, but in the end, if the fire service is to survive with the efficiency it has today, we must reduce the cost of our apparatus.
We must standardize.