The Apparatus Architects Purchasing Guidelines-Part II

In the last installment of the Apparatus Architect we began to discuss the merits of applying a number of guidelines when setting out to develop specifications for new fire apparatus. For our discerning readers if you studied these carefully you may have thought, “Hey, these are just common sense” and moved on to read another article within Firehouse Magazine. I can assure you that Mike and Tom during our careers have encountered a number of departments where common sense was not so common and the results were somewhat predictable.

Recently we received an inquiry from a department that had placed a new mini-rescue truck into service and after outfitting the unit had several members complain of poor handling and braking performance. After some investigation it was decided to have the vehicle weighted and the result was that the truck was overloaded on the rear axle by a wide margin. Further review found a weight analysis calculation submitted as a part of the successful bidder’s proposal which indicated that there would sufficient payload capacity on the rescue truck in accordance with Table 12.1.2 of the NFPA 1901 Standard.

While the mini-rescue truck had been placed into service for some time because the Fire department requested a weight study with their specifications this provided the needed legal recourse to show that the manufacturer’s original weight study was inaccurate and in fact the rescue truck could never have been able to carry the departments equipment inventory, even though it was less than the minimum payload called for within the NFPA 1901 Standard.

Many apparatus issues and deficiencies that are identified after delivery and payment has been made for the unit do not have pleasant endings, or require a great deal of effort to resolve them in a satisfactory manner. Specification development is a technical skill and together with boilerplate requirements that are legal and written to favor the interests of the fire department and purchasing authority are important factors in the overall process.

Guideline Eight: Match the design capabilities of the apparatus to your staffing and deployment practices. Many departments are attempting to solve staffing problems by buying combination units. Many combination units that we have seen are too high, too long, over weight and too large to safely maneuver around the first due response area. We are designing apparatus that have a little bit of everything but when they get to the fire ground they are not very good at anything.

A common theme is cited by some departments that combined a heavy rescue with an engine apparatus into a single rescue engine. After the unit is placed into service while everyone will admit that the manufacturer built exactly what the department asked for it turns out that the rig is neither a good engine nor a good rescue. The result is that we are trying to provide more services with less staffing and it’s easy to specify a combination apparatus thinking that we’ll bring all the tools in one box and hope for the best.

If you have a staffing problem then work on solving the staffing problem do not try to design a one size fits all fire truck to solve the problem as it never really works.

Guideline Nine: Be wary of manufacturers that require down payments or deposits on apparatus at the time of contract signing. Let’s be frank, building fire apparatus is a material and labor intensive process that requires manufacturer’s to front an considerable expense to engineer and build a single truck while waiting for delivery and acceptance before recouping any monies. Major builders have to maintain large lines of credit with financial institutions in order to produce apparatus on a regular basis. If your department can secure a financial incentive to lower the cost of the vehicle, then certainly this needs to be investigated but with due caution.

At the time of the bid request a Dunn and Bradstreet financial report from each bidder to assess the financial stability of the company. Do not make any monetary payments without having the security of a performance bond and being able to take ownership of chassis or other major components which clearly can be tracked and identified for use on your new vehicle.

This concept coincides with Guideline Seven where the fire department and the successful bidder should clearly understand the testing and acceptance criteria that will lead to payment for the apparatus once it is delivered to the fire station.

Guideline Ten: Be mindful of the overall vehicle size including wheelbase, turning radius, overall length and height.

This one sounds almost too simple, however one that is frequently overlooked. Make sure that the vehicle will fit into your station and any other one where is could be housed even as a transfer company, a relocation company or a standby company. Before starting out to specify vehicle components, measure the apparatus bay in all configurations, tour the response district and confirm bridge clearances and other impediments which could impact apparatus placement.

Several departments in an effort to gain compartment space determined that a hydraulic ladder rack would move the ladders to an upper position on the body and allow space for full height compartments on the right side of the unit. While they gained the desired compartment space the ladder rack proved to not work on streets with parked cars on both sides as well as in private apartment complexes.

Request that each bidder submit a turning radius report with their proposal to show the left and right cramp angles, curb to curb and wall to wall turning radius. This documentation will provide the information needed to determine if the vehicle will maneuver within areas of your response district. Along the way the apparatus committee should have a similar apparatus brought for inspection and be permitted to drive the unit in all areas of concern to confirm that the apparatus will perform as expected.


Guideline Eleven: Get help if you are unsure, stuck or otherwise confused. There are numerous outlets for the apparatus committee to secure guidance and technical information including trade shows, manufactures web sites, reading other departments procurement documents and sales personnel. Each of these resources should be investigated to provide valuable knowledge through the specification development process.

Many departments have either their own mechanic or utilize outside vendors which can provide specific recommendations of components that have good track records and increase the reliability and in service time for the apparatus. A visit to any fire apparatus repair shop can provide invaluable information on what works and is practical to improve the operational safety and efficiency of our apparatus fleet.

Following each of these eleven guidelines should provide a basis for a positive apparatus specification and procurement process. Unlike a buffet meal you cannot pick and choose which one of these guidelines you would like to follow and disregard the rest. Our experience in assisting fire departments with all sizes of apparatus fleets has proven that once you set out to acquire a new vehicle the process needs to be planned out to address many of the simple and difficult questions that will arise during the process. Time spent in the initial stages of the specification development will pay dividends in the end with a well-designed apparatus that meets everyone’s expectations.


Photos for use with Apparatus Architect-December-2015:


Photo #1: Rescue engine apparatus equipment placement should be determined during the specification process to determine compartment configurations and vehicle weight balance. Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania did an excellent job on their Seagrave rescue engine to package their equipment.

AA January 2015 #1


Photo #2: The Ulster Fire District #5 in New York spend considerable time working with Seagrave Fire Apparatus to lay out their pump panel and controls. Note the position of the deck gun and smooth bore tips.

AA January 2015 #2

Photo #3. The right side pump panel on the Ulster, New York Seagrave pumper provided for low crosslays, electric cable reel and hand tools. Note the placement of the tools on the cab and running board along with color coded LDH adapters.

AA January 2015 #3

Photo #4: The West Lanham Hills Fire Department in Prince George’s County, Maryland placed their ground ladder and standpipe packs low on the right side of their twin Emergency One pumpers assigned to Stations 828 and 848.

AA January 2015 #4

All photos by Tom W. Shand


Firehouse Magazine Apparatus Architect

January, 2015

By Tom W. Shand and Michael Wilbur