Apparatus & Equipment

WRITING THE specifications for new apparatus has become a major challenge for fire departments. The various requirements placed on the fire service have made the task so complicated for some fire chiefs and administrators that they shy away from it. However, the task is not as daunting as it may seem if you take the time to plan before you write. On the other hand, if you take the first few steps and then panic, you will end up settling for the first specification a sales agent offers or using the specifications from your last purchase. Unfortunately, an old specification probably does not meet current safety standards or your current needs. Also, it is possible that no one can or will build to that specification.

Consider the following incident: A fire chief wondered why he had received only one bid for his new pumper, and why the bid was four times the department’s budget. He had been budgeted for 546,000 — the cost of the department’s previous purchase. He also used the specifications from the old rig. So I advised him to update his 20year-old specifications and revise the budget to $95,000. This time he received five bids, ranging from $89,500 to S 101,000. He took the lowest bid on approval of the commissioners. He is still happy with the rig today and has purchased three more rigs using the procedure outlined below.


Use this procedure whenever you must develop a set of specifications:

1. Determine absolute needs. Needs are requirements placed on you by law, industry standards, the geography of your district, and the specific hazards you face. Needs are not simply the new gadgets you saw at the last trade show.

To determine what your needs are, first contact the local Rating Bureau. It will advise you as to the proper pump capacity and tank size necessary to maintain or improve your department’s ISO rating. If it recommends a 1,500gpm pump, buy it—in the end it will only help your rating. At the same time have your attorney research the equipment that is legally required for your state and local jurisdiction. Finally, consider the special hazards your department faces. These include heavy industries, midand high-rise structures, district topography, and climate.

Now you have enough information to write a capsule statement of your absolute needs, or your initial request for proposal (RFF). Here is an example of an RFP: “The ABC Fire Department requires a 1,500-gpm Class A pumper with a 500-gallon tank, standard hose bed, all-wheel drive, and seating for six people. This vehicle shall meet NFPA 1901 and 1500 and section of the State Motor Vehicle Code.” This statement is the core of the formal RFP that you will be using later.

2. Establish operational needs. To establish functional needs, survey department personnel, other Fire chiefs, salesmen, and, if possible, personnel from a department that operates a rig similar to what you want. You may want to find an apparatus design consultant. Such a consultant can provide you with information regarding who builds what you are looking for, how to get it, and how much it will cost.

Operational needs include type of chassis, cab, engine, and transmission; pump panel placement; compartmentation; ladder placement; type and location of suction ports and outlets; and even color of paint.

Now you can write the formal request for proposal. The RFP should include all the needs from your absolute and operational lists, plus any other special requirements you may have. The format is optional.

3. Prepare the final specifications. First you have to decide what type of specifications to issue. There are three choices: a performance specification, a hardware specification, or a detailed performance specification. The performance spec is the simplest to write—it is your basic RFP with the appropriate legal sections attached. However, it is also the most difficult to interpret. A few salesmen like it because it allows them to create their ideal rig; most dislike it because it does not give them enough information to work with. Also, trying to evaluate the bids is like trying to compare apples and oranges. Very few manufacturers bid on a straight performance specification.

The hardware specification is the most difficult to write because of the amount of detail that is frequently included. Many chiefs who find quality sacrificed by “strictly lowest bid to be accepted” laws in most states use this type of specification to ensure that only top-line manufacturers can compete successfully.

Almost all of us have seen or used a detailed hardware specification: It is the contractor’s specifications included in the bid package. It is also what an apparatus sales agent prepares as a response to the RFP. The salesman’s hope is that you will use his specifications as your final bid spec. The advantage here is that it will be very easy to evaluate the bids—only the one submitted by the sales agent who wrote the original proposal will meet the specifications in the bid.

I have no qualms about using hardware specs as long as you don’t fall into some common traps. First, they can be overly detailed. I have seen specs in which five pages are devoted to the type, quantity, spacing, and finishing of the fasteners used in the assembly of the body. Another trap is underspecifying or overspecifying. For example, don’t ask for a Class A Triple Combination with a 500-gallon tank on a 26,000pound gross vehicle weight (GVW) chassis when at least a 35,000-pound chassis is required. Third, don’t try to tell the manufacturer how to build the rig.

The detailed performance specification combines the best features of the straight performance and straight hardware specifications as well as their traps It allows you to mandate those items that you are certain of (pump size, tank size, and compartments) and also allows you to mandate performance requirements for those items of which you are uncertain.

It is important to know the topography of your district. If you have unusually steep grades and are uncertain of the engine and brake requirements, you would state in the spec, “The apparatus shall be capable of starting, stopping, and parking on a _% grade.” This leaves the engine and brake size up to the manufacturer and allows him to design a mechanically balanced vehicle. Don’t overspecify or underspecify.

4. Write the specifications. The next step is writing the bid document. It should contain the following sections:

• Introduction or intent. Briefly outline what you want and lay any specific ground rules. Say, for example, “It is the intent of these specifications to provide the ABC Fire Department with a Class A pumper equipped as specified. In order to obtain the best results and most modern apparatus, these specifications cover only the general construction standards, tests that shall be applied, and equipment required by the fire department. In cases where no specific technique or piece of equipment is detailed, the manufacturer shall use his discretion as to how to meet the requirement. NFFA Pamphlets 1901 and 1500 are incorporated into this specification and shall prevail except where specified otherwise.”

This section also includes submission of bidder to local laws and jurisdiction, required items to be submitted with the bid, bidder qualifications, warranty requirements, delivery details, performance tests and requirements and what happens if the apparatus fails the tests, liability requirements, bid format and exceptions statement, bond requirements, and inspection trips. You may also wish to list the applicable state laws that will be cited in the balance of the document.

• Chassis. Describe in detail the type of chassis you want your rig built on. Say, for example, “Chassis provided shall be a new, fully enclosed, cabforward custom fire apparatus with four-wheel drive. The chassis shall be designed and constructed for heavyduty service and shall have adequate strength and capacity for the intended loads and service. Design and construction shall be to Society of Automotive Engineers standards. The GVW shall be not less than 39,000 pounds.”

While I have nothing against commercial chassis, to comply with NFPA 1500 it is safest to spec a custom chassis if you plan on carrying more than a twoman crew.

In this section you will also detail requirements for the frame, suspension, axles, brakes, engine, transmission, radiator, fuel capacity, type of steering, wheels and tires, and the cab. You may also wish to include special bumpers, seat types, cab instrumentation, auxiliary lighting, electrical requirements, warning devices, and special lighting requirements. Ask for two parts manuals and two service manuals.

• Fire pump. Detail pump capacity, type, and mounting. If you have no preference as to pump manufacturer, simply state that you require a 1,500gpm Class A pump. If you have a preference, you can describe the construction and features of the pump in detail or specifically name the pump you want. I suggest naming the specific pump and using a qualifier phrase. For example, “The pump shall be an XYZ Manufacturer 1,500-gpm Intracab or an approved equal.” The “approval equal” phrase allows you to name a specific major component within an open, competitive specification. This technique is permitted in most jurisdictions as long as you define in the introduction what the rules for showing equality are.

Include details on pump controls, pump panel placement and gauges. plumbing, inlet and outlet type and locations, hose reel(s), foam systems, and an electronic pressure governor— one of the best safety features to come along in years.

• Water tank. Specify capacity, material, size of fill and supply lines, location of fill tower, and desired guarantees. For example, “Tank shall be of 500-gallon capacity and constructed of marinegrade aluminum properly cleaned and coated to prevent corrosion. There shall be a 4″ tank-to-pump line with a clapper valve to prevent accidental backflow to tank. An adequately sized fill tower shall be located at the front of the tank with a combination overflow and vent line routed to the ground behind the rear axle. Tank fill line shall be not less than I ” inside diameter (I.D).). Tank shall he unconditionally guaranteed for not less than 10 years barring accident or abuse.”

• Fire body. This will be the longest and most detailed section because in it you will individualize the rig to meet your operational needs. Be sure to cover the items listed below.

Construction—State the material with which to construct the body. There are companies that will build the body out of plain steel, galvanized steel, stainless steel, aluminum, or plastic. Steel is strong hut heavy and all except stainless are subject to rust. Aluminum is light, strong, easy to work with, and slow to corrode but subject to stress failure. Fiberglass reinforced plastic has the obvious advantage of being lightweight. However, plastic bodies may be limited in compartment sizes and locations, may not prove to be as durable as metal, and will burn under certain conditions (as will aluminum bodies, but the risk in both cases is minimal).

Hose bed—State how much of what types of hose you want to carry in the main bed and how many dividers you want. Also establish types and capacities of crosslay beds.

Compartments—Describe the minimum acceptable sizes, locations, and numbers required. Specify the location of the compartment door hinges if desired. Two suggestions: If you have any special equipment, list it and have a compartment designed to accommodate it. For example, have your largest compartments installed on the left side of the pumper. Ladders mounted on the right side usually will not restrict the use of the most needed compartments.

Running and tailboards—Require that the tailboard be eliminated in favor of a 10”or 12″-deep step. This requirement will eliminate the possibility of firefighters riding the tailboard since it isn’t there.

Handrails—State how many, where you want them located, and what kind of finish you want.

Equipment —List all miscellaneous equipment you want included such as portable extinguishers, pike poles, ladders. wheel blocks, tools, and brass.

Electrical—List all lighting requirements for compartments, work lights, and any electrically operated accessories. Include generator requirements in this section if desired.

Warning equipment —List all warning devices such as air horns, and require strobe intersection lights; a high-intensity, low-mounted (bumper pan) flashing or Mars 888 light; and some type of lowmounted rear warning light. For audible warning I prefer the mechanical siren, since almost all emergency responders are using electronic units. Some departments are specifying bells and getting good results. Whatever you order, keep in mind you want to be heard.

Paint—Specify the type and color of paint and any special multitone schemes you want.


A common complaint about performance specs is that they cannot be tailored enough to ensure compatibility with current fleet or choice of manufacturer. For argument’s sake, consider this example. Say there are only two manufacturers that build a pumper with a certain pump. One is located in New York and the other is in Oregon. Since I live and work in Washington, I can eliminate the New York company by requiring that the apparatus be built within 500 miles of the city where the apparatus is to be delivered. This escape clause is one way to limit the successful bidders.

You can use several other escape clauses, depending on local laws. A common one is a variation of the follow -ing: “The ABC Fire Department reserves the right to reject any and all bids and to waive any informalities in the award of this contract.” This clearly says you are going to buy w hatever you want. Another common escape clause is the experience requirement: “Bidder shall not have less than 20 years of experience building the type of apparatus bid.” There are many ways to ensure getting the builder you want.

If you are certain which manufacturer’s vehicle you w ant, get in touch with its local representative early on in the spec-writing process and have him or her lay out the detail requirements. This helps to solve problems before they escalate.

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