By Bob Vaccaro
Published Thursday, January 31, 2008
| From the February 2008 Issue of FireRescue
Numerous articles have been written about the enormous task of tackling apparatus specifications. The word “enormous” is not meant to scare you—just point out the reality of the situation. After all, your fire department is going to spend a great deal of money and, in some cases, the apparatus will work for 20-plus years in frontline service. Basically, you gotta know what you’re doing.
Some larger fire departments may have a 10-year plan that maps out their future apparatus needs. Smaller departments may only need to purchase an apparatus every 15–20 years. Nonetheless, it’s still an important decision that will take some insight into your department’s needs and how you’re going to pay for them.
If you receive a set amount of money each year from taxes or from the city government budget process, then you may have it a little easier than departments that must raise the money themselves. In any case, the thought process must begin a few years in advance to get the best-designed piece of apparatus your department can buy.
Although I could go on and on about how to write correct specs, this article will touch on what I think are the most important aspects of the process. Additionally, read my “Apparatus Ideas” column each month to see how other departments around the country spec their apparatus.
First, develop an apparatus spec or design committee that includes members from each part of your department that will use the vehicle. Solicit input from the chief officers, line officers, engineers and firefighters. Don’t be a micromanager; hear everyone’s ideas and gripes.
Next, determine your community’s present and future needs. Is your community adding schools, shopping centers, hotels and restaurants? Are high-rise office buildings or apartments planned? What’s your manpower during the day and evening hours? How much equipment do you need to carry? How is your hydrant spacing? Are some areas without hydrants? Only after discussing these items and many other concerns can you effectively begin the spec-writing process.
Two publications you should invest in: NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus and, if you’re speccing out a wildland apparatus, NFPA 1906: Standard for Wildland Apparatus. Both are inexpensive resources and reference tools that cover the apparatus building process from A to Z. You may think these tools are unnecessary because the manufacturers know what they’re doing. This is true in most cases, but I still like to keep ahead of the masses so I know what I’m talking about before I meet with a salesperson.
Before you think about choosing a manufacturer for your apparatus, visit local departments in your area that have recently taken delivery of apparatus; they may have what you’re looking for. Ask what they liked and disliked about the manufacturer. Was the manufacturer receptive to their department’s needs, or did they try to get them to spec what was easier for them to build?
Another tip: Figure into your budget the cost of visiting the manufacturer’s factory to do a pre-paint and final inspection visit to ensure you’re getting what you paid for. It also gives the manufacturer time to fix any inaccuracies before you take delivery and it’s too late.
One important aspect of this visit—and I cannot emphasize this enough—is to bring a good-quality tape measure. Measure and remeasure the height and length of the vehicle. And of course, make sure you know the measurements of your fire station, including the height of the bay doors and the length of the bays. I’ve heard too many horror stories about departments purchasing vehicles that were too big to fit in their fire stations.
Depending on the laws in your state, competitive bidding is probably the most common way to purchase an apparatus. You develop your specs, deciding between two options: if you will be generalized or only deal with a sole-source manufacturer.
Requests for Proposals (RFPs) are beginning to gain some headway, giving you the opportunity to be more competitive. Purchasers require that bidders submit pricing separate from their specs. Only after the evaluation of the construction details and specs are the prices opened.
Another decision is whether to purchase the vehicle or lease it. Many manufacturers offer financial help for all of your needs, or you can use an outside bank. Only you can decide what’s best based on your department’s finances.
You have a few choices when selecting the type of material with which you can build an apparatus. Some choices, such as aluminum, stainless steel, galvanneal and poly bodies, are becoming more prevalent because of their cheaper cost, lower weight and newer body styles.
The majority of the big manufacturers build cabs using aluminum, and the body is left to your choice. The exception is Seagrave, which builds its cabs with stainless steel. Some manufacturers will only build with one type of material, while others give you a choice.
Additionally, some manufacturers build the bodies in one piece, while others build compartments as modules and then bolt them together. Look at welding methods, structures, supports and paint—basically, everything you think will make a difference when your vehicle is built. Every manufacturer will tell you that their way of building is the best, but you must make the ultimate decision.
Try to attend some fire service conferences to see the differences between material types. And if you have the finances, visit several manufacturers to see the type and thickness of the material being used, and how the vehicles are constructed. Note: Don’t just look at recent deliveries; look at vehicles that have been in service for 5–10 years. See what’s holding up in terms of strength and what seems to succumb to rust.
Other important factors in the decision-making process include how long your vehicle will be in service and your budget. For instance, if your apparatus service life is 15–20 years, then you might want to choose a stronger material. Also, certain materials are less expensive to build with; however, as far as I’m concerned, finances shouldn’t be a factor when it comes to the safety of your firefighters riding in the vehicle.
The bottom line on materials: There are advantages and disadvantages to all types of construction. Some have higher costs, some are better in the area of corrosion resistance and some have better strength-to-weight ratios. Only you can determine what works best for your department.
Weight & Compartment Storage
I know we’re all trying to do more with less in an attempt to design a “do-all” vehicle, but use some restraint; don’t overload an apparatus with too much hose and equipment.
Weight is a key factor not only with equipment carried but also with hose and size of water tank carried. Also, don’t build an apparatus that meets all the current standards for weight, then overload it with extra equipment that makes it exceed the gross vehicle weight. You’re playing a dangerous game that could have dire consequences.
A great tool to use is included in NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, and also on the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association Web site at www.fama.org/resourcelibrary/weightcube.cfm. It’s an equipment list of every conceivable tool, hose and nozzle and its weight. You can actually plan each compartment and what tool you would likely carry in that compartment so you can determine the weight.
Another area of concern is hose storage. Look into some of the ergonomic hosebed arrangements that some manufacturers have engineered especially for large-diameter hose (LDH). If this proves too costly, then build a lower hosebed in the rear of the apparatus; this makes for a less back-breaking job when deploying and repacking hose. Also, see my article, “Roll Out the Hose” (December issue, p. 40) for tips on how to design a hosebed that fits your community’s needs.
Pumps & Ladders
While we’re seeing most departments select 2,000-gpm pumps without batting an eye, you have to ask yourself some questions: Do I have a water supply that can handle the flow? How many lines will I use off the pumper or quint? Will it change the cost significantly if I go with a bigger pump?
As for ladders, ask yourself what size your community really needs. Again, research whether there are ISO® requirements for having a certain-size ladder, or if you can use automatic mutual aid to solve the problem.
I’ve always been a big proponent of having a 75' quint built on a pumper chassis. Not only is it small and more maneuverable, but it’s also cost effective and can probably handle most fires in a small community. But that’s just my opinion. You may have a large number of commercial buildings, high-rise apartments or office buildings that may require a 100' mid-mount or platform. I’ll leave the argument of deciding if you need a mid-mount, rear-mount, platform or straight-stick for another time.
I’m beginning to see a downsizing of cabs from 10-man behemoths to more manageable 6–8 person cabs. Let’s face it, not many departments enjoy the luxury of 10 people responding in a single apparatus. If you do, my hat’s off to you.
Tip: When mounting tools and equipment in the cab, mount them low. And try to keep it to a bare minimum. We don’t want tools to become missiles in an accident. See NFPA 1901 for more on this topic.
Engines & Transmissions
Work with the apparatus engineers to determine the engine that’s best for your vehicle. You’ll need to consider engine horsepower, a matching transmission and a secondary braking system that NFPA 1901 requires for all vehicles weighing more than 36,000 lbs. and recommends for those weighing more than 31,000 lbs.
Remember, when speccing apparatus horsepower, you only need enough to handle the weight of the vehicle. In other words, don’t overpower the vehicle.
What do I mean by “extra needs”? Just that—the extra items you may or may not need to add to your apparatus. These include and may not be limited to hydraulic generators, light towers, front-mounted rescue tools, booster lines, roll-up doors (opposed to standard hinged doors) and electrical equipment (compartment-mounted electrical reels, quartz lights, scene lighting, fans, etc.) Note: All these electrical features require a bigger alternator, battery, battery conditioners and a charging system while the apparatus sits idle in your station.
Compartment layout and design is another concern. There are numerous types of shelves and storage devices out there to meet your needs for all types of equipment. I suggest you plan out ahead of time what types of tools you will carry in each compartment and request that the local dealer or, in some cases, manufacturer, mount the tools for you before you take delivery. This will help with space management and maybe even save you space for added equipment.
Finally, don’t be awe-struck by chrome wheels, a lot of lights and sirens, and other cosmetic features (although I must admit that I’m probably one of the biggest fire apparatus buffs out there, and I gawk at these items myself). Add these things only after you design the truck to be functional for your needs, because they add a great deal of cost to any apparatus.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of apparatus safety. Although NFPA 1901 covers the most important aspects of safety such as striping, emergency lighting, audible devices, braking, steps, surfaces, handrails, etc., you still must ensure that all these areas will meet your needs and that you can add items, such as different-color chevron striping in the rear of the apparatus. Be careful when including additional lighting and audible devices, as they could burden the electrical system and cause more of a problem than they’re worth.
Service After Delivery
Service after a delivery is also an important factor in every apparatus purchase. Determine whether the manufacturer you’re choosing has a local service center within a reasonable distance (i.e., you don’t have to travel to a different state to have your apparatus serviced or fixed). And ask if they have a mobile repair vehicle that can service the vehicle in your station.
I hope I’ve helped open your eyes to the myriad factors involved in speccing an apparatus. This is by no means everything you need to know, but it’s a good starting point. There are many books and other information on the Web for you to peruse, and if you’re squeamish, you can even hire an apparatus consultant to walk you through the process.
Note: If you think that copying another department’s specs will speed things up for you, that’s great, but look at the big picture and make sure they meet all of your department’s needs before you build. A well-thought-out plan that’s specific to your department is best. Finally, don’t rush into anything. If you know you’re in the market for a new piece of apparatus, start at least 1 year in advance.
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