Tom Shand with Emergency Vehicle Response is developing a new engine company operations class. This course will be an eight hour course which will consist of six hours of classroom lecture and two hours of hands on operations. If you are interested in bringing this class to your department, please contact Tom at FOGHOG333@aol.com
Your apparatus committee has just spent the past eight months investigating different manufacturers and models of pumpers for your next new rig. After the bid opening you find out that only one manufacturer put in a proposal for the pumper and that their bid is within the allocated budget for the project. Unfortunately several days later the committee learns that the city council under advisement from the solicitor has ruled that you cannot award the contract for the new pumper when only one bid was received. After several meetings with fire department officials and the city council the apparatus committee is instructed to revise the specifications to “open them up” for a competitive bidding process.
This situation is being played out in many communities as chief officers are being asked to not only justify why a new piece of apparatus is needed, but the bidding process is being scrutinized as never before with public funds for capital purchases. Not just on a local level but several state attorney generals and auditors have been reviewing fire department expenditures and bidding practices. During 2008 the State Commission on Investigation in New Jersey published a report on fire apparatus purchasing and in part stated: “Given the vital public safety mission associated with this machinery and the size of the public’s financial stake in it, taxpayers and entitled to expect that fire trucks are purchased properly and efficiently through a transparent, accountable procurement system grounded in a competitive public process.”
In Part 5 of the Apparatus Architect series (Firehouse, May 2001) we discussed the various types of bidding specifications: manufacturers, performance and requests for proposals (RFP) specifications. While there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these styles of bidding specifications it is important to note which type of technical specification will provide your department with the needed apparatus at a competitive price without violating any local or state regulations.
During the apparatus committee meetings conducted with prospective vendors it is advisable to ask each of the manufacturers being seriously considered to prepare a set of specifications for the proposed apparatus for your review. Based upon a bullet style outline specification that your committee had previously prepared and the discussions held during your meeting the manufacturer’s representative should be armed with sufficient information to produce an initial set of specifications. At this point the apparatus committee can review several sets of specifications noting components that they would prefer to have provided on the new apparatus and comparing the extent of descriptions of body compartments with dimensions and other critical areas.
In the past some departments either by past practice or custom would choose one of the vendors as the preferred apparatus or then publish with few changes the manufacturer’s specification in its entirety as the bid specifications for the new apparatus. Here is where we can begin to get into trouble. Virtually all apparatus manufacturers employ technical writers and engineers to ensure that some of their proprietary designs are incorporated and described in their specifications. There are two sides to this scenario as follows:
In the first instance the departments wishes to specify a specific brand and style of intake and discharge valves for the fire pump as they have previous experience with this manufacturer’s valve and have had positive results with them. In addition their maintenance shops routinely stock repair parts and seal kits for these components. The impact here is minimal as most all apparatus builders can supply the different brands of brass goods and hardware that are available to the fire service. Some of the larger manufacturers may use as standard one brand of valve, but by and large other choices are available and can be supplied with little or no cost impact.
In the second case after the apparatus committee is able to test drive a new demonstrator pumper they determine that the specifications should be written to state:
“The apparatus shall be provided with a windshield with a minimum of 4200 square inches of wrap around tinted safety glass with solar management treatment and supplied with four (4) vertical pantograph wiper blades.” There are several points here to consider. First most all builders of custom chassis fire trucks have a windshield that provides sufficient viewing for the driver and officer. More often than not the frontal viewing area is blocked by other components such as radios and MDT’s that are installed on top of the dash board area. Where there are several thousands of dollars in between reputable bidders it is not wise to attempt to justify the higher priced unit based upon something like the square inch area of the windshield as a critical component on the apparatus. Using a manufacturer’s proprietary specification may get you everything that you desire on your apparatus; however it also guarantees the department that you will also be getting the manufacturers standard components in some areas that may not meet your needs in the long term. It also can put the department in a difficult position when you only receive one bid for the project and have no basis for comparison on the bid price being offered.
There are several alternatives to consider including the development of an open specification which clearly outlines the mission of the apparatus together with a listing of all of the major components on the apparatus indentifying which ones are considered to be “No Exceptions”. Major components such as axles, tires, fire pumps and emergency lighting are available to all builders. However, engines, front axle suspensions and body compartment dimensions can be specific on just one manufacturer and can eliminate some vendors from bidding on the apparatus. It may be more beneficial to list all of the equipment that is going to be carried on the apparatus and determine the minimum cubic foot storage area needed to accommodate this gear, rather than attempt to specify the precise dimensions of each body compartment. In this way you will not only put the bidder on notice as to the anticipated hose, tool and equipment payload, but you will not inadvertently eliminate any bidder.
Whether your department chooses to use a manufacturer’s specification or develop their own for use in the bidding process you should clearly define which components or design criteria where you will allow for alternatives to be proposed. In this case every area or component where the bidder’s proposal may be at variance with the department’s specification an “Exception” should be noted in the bidder’s proposal detailing what is being offered with a description as to why the requested component cannot be supplied. Where necessary supporting technical information should be supplied for evaluation by the apparatus committee. The number of exceptions that a vendor may have to take with respect to the department’s specification should be of lesser concern, with emphasis placed on the quality of the technical explanation as to why a component or design cannot be supplied.
The industry term for when bidding against another manufacturer’s specification is called “chasing the spec”. Even with modern computer programs a manufacturer’s
representative can spend four to five days of effort to put together a well developed proposal in response to a departments bid specifications. In some cases a minimum number of exceptions are noted in the proposal for the department to review, leaving the apparatus committee to read each and every page of the proposal to determine exactly what the vendor is proposing to supply. At the point when the contact is awarded to a vendor understand that the department is agreeing to have the apparatus constructed in accordance with the vendor’s proposal and not necessarily the department’s specification. If any item within the vendors bid is not in full compliance with the department’s original specification and no exception has been noted, the onus is on the department to identify these items and correct them prior to entering into a formal contract.
After the bid proposals have been opened the apparatus committee should develop a comprehensive spreadsheet to identify the major components and features on the apparatus and then go through each bidder’s proposal to see exactly what is being offered. In these tight economic times there can be great differences between the lower and upper bid prices for a single unit. At times it can be difficult to initially determine how there could be a spread of up to $60,000 dollars between bidders. Well, unless you read all of the details in each of the vendors proposals you may easily be mislead into thinking that each of the bidders were supplying exactly what your specifications requested.
At this point if your department has not obtained any outside assistance from an experienced apparatus consultant now is the time to get some help in reviewing each of the bidder’s proposals in detail to provide a written report for the department to review. Formal requirements for supplying bid bonds and performance bonds can generally be easily determined for compliance. Evaluating the differences in warranty terms and body construction techniques may require some expertise that is beyond the capabilities of your local resources.
Following some of these concepts will insure that your department will obtain several competitive bids for your new apparatus and will make the entire specification and bidding process go smoothly. Time spent during the initial phases of work with your apparatus committee will pay dividends in the end.
Technical rescue teams are being placed into service with many departments to expand the capabilities of fire-rescue and medical response to include confined space rescue, high angle rescue, trench rescue, swift water rescue, structural collapse, damage assessment, as well as weapons of mass destruction preparedness. Each of these areas requires specialized expertise gained through extensive training in different scenarios as well as through knowledge of the tools and equipment required to safely and effectively carry out these missions. The scope of technical rescue operations is ever changing and as a result new equipment and technologies are being rapidly developed to keep pace with the increased demands on this service.
In the Apparatus Architect series we have previously discussed several aspects relating to Rescue Squad apparatus design in Part 23 through Part 26 where one of the overriding principles is to determine the overall mission of the vehicle before setting out to specify a new rescue vehicle. There are some parallels going back into history with the development of rescue company apparatus and the present day expansion into technical rescue services. At the outset many larger departments including the New York City Fire Department placed rescue company units into service with older apparatus that were rebuilt to meet their needs. Rescue Company 1 in New York was organized in March, 1915 first operated with a 1914 Cadillac touring car that was modified by the department shops. Three different versions of these open bodied apparatus were utilized until the first custom built fully enclosed walk in rescue was placed into service with Rescue Company 1 during 1939. So what is the parallel here with respect to technical rescue apparatus?
Even prior to the current economic downturn with our country’s economy fire departments were being called upon to provide more services to their community with stagnant or reduced funding levels. Placing a technical rescue team into service requires a good amount of funding to provide the necessary staffing, training and equipment to support the mission of the team and to meet the needs of the department. The type, size and quality of the vehicle utilized to transport personnel and equipment can vary widely based upon the financial resources available and the internal resources of the department.
Technical rescue units falls under the category of Special Service Fire Apparatus in the NFPA 1901 Automotive Fire Apparatus Standard. Depending upon the gross vehicle weight rating the minimum equipment allowance could be a little as 2000 pounds for units up to 15,000 pound GVRW up to 10,000 pounds for trucks with a GVWR over 60,001 pounds. Determining the needed size of your technical rescue apparatus is dependant upon many factors such as:
1. Will the apparatus be staffed on a daily basis and respond to routine emergencies as well as incidents requiring technical rescue expertise?
2. What is the anticipated equipment inventory including the size and weight of each piece of equipment?
3. Will this vehicle be a stand alone unit or will it operate with other support apparatus and companies when needed?
4. Considering the assessment of these questions will the overall needs of the vehicle best met by using a commercial Class 7 or 8 chassis or a custom built fire chassis?
5. Given the equipment payload and staffing levels will a walk in style rescue body or walk around fully compartmented body best meet the needs of the team?
These are just some of the areas that need to be explored prior to setting out to develop a set of specifications for a new piece of apparatus. In Part 26 of the Apparatus Architect (Firehouse-April 2006) we compared some of the differences in chassis components and available options between commercial and custom fire chassis. Commercial chassis offer a wide range of options for wheelbase and axle capacities and can save significant monies over their custom chassis counterparts particularly if the technical rescue unit is going to be primarily used as a support vehicle and the need to carry personnel inside of the cab is limited to four personnel or less. Custom chassis can generally provide a wider range of cab options including extended cabs with different seating arrangements to accommodate just about any configuration. Other safety related equipment such as electronic stability controls, vehicle data recorders and air bags will be more readily available on custom chassis. All of these components and options come at a price, so your department’s apparatus committee needs to be sensitive to meeting the needs and objectives of the apparatus while paying attention to the overall budget for the project.
One of the most important tasks is to clearly not only define the mission of the apparatus but to develop a comprehensive list of each piece of equipment that the technical rescue vehicle will carry. Each piece of equipment should be noted with its principal dimensions and weight. While some equipment such as tripods and repelling gear do not weight a great deal, the size of these pieces can be critical when determining appropriate compartment dimensions and modules to hold this gear within the body. Likewise, pieces of timber and shoring material can add significant weight to the equipment payload. Fixed body components such as generators, air compressors, light towers and breathing air systems must be considered when determining an appropriate size chassis and components to safely handle the anticipated payload.
Once the initial body dimensional design is completed there should be sufficient room in the body and axle capacity on the chassis to accommodate future growth as new equipment is acquired. It is not surprising that with rescue squad apparatus the majority of these units are replaced when there is insufficient compartment space to carry the needed equipment and at times, smaller units can easily become overloaded as heavier equipment is needed. As many technical rescue teams started with a hand me down vehicle or one that was modified to meet their initial needs the deficiencies of these units are generally quickly identified with improvements made in subsequent newer apparatus. A common mistake is to design the new vehicle to meet the current requirements without looking far enough into the future to anticipate changes in equipment and technological advances which can impact procedures and operations. As a minimum approximately 15 to 20 percent of the cube of the body should be left open and available for future equipment expansion and changes.
As with many specialized vehicles there can be a lot of opinions as to how the apparatus should be set up, deployed and utilized to its best advantage. Again, history can guide us here as very few departments were able to get everything right the very first time that they set out to design from scratch a complex rescue apparatus. At times one of the other downfalls of larger rescue vehicles is that the committee will set out to acquire the largest piece of apparatus that will either fit the firehouse or what the budget will allow, figuring that the details of equipment placement, side to side weight balance and component compatibility will all just magically work themselves out. Simply put, your committee should expect a few hurdles during the initial discussions and design of the vehicle. Seek out the advice of departments that are operating in a similar fashion to gain from there experience as well as from apparatus builders who specialize in constructing these types of vehicles.
Most manufacturers have the capability to take your tool and equipment inventory and with the use of CAD drawings can develop a blueprint which will depict equipment locations showing all of the principal dimensions, including areas that would be available for expansion. If your team started operations with an older vehicle the experience gained from using this unit can assist in providing information as to what worked well and more importantly what did not. There should be no shame in making mistakes so long as the learning curve is lessened in the future. The safety of our operating personnel should always be at the forefront of any discussions with respect to the apparatus as well as the placement and utilization of the equipment carried. Training, experience and review of lessons learned will improve the skills and safety for everyone operating with these specialized tools and equipment.
Photos included for use in AA Part 46: All photos by Tom W. Shand
The fire chief and his deputies had just returned back to the station after attending a budget hearing meeting with the town council. The chief was very discouraged as he learned for the third year in a row that his request for funding to replace a twenty four year old pumper had been denied. While the chief thought that this year the department would finally receive council approval for the $450,000 dollar expenditure for the new engine he came away disheartened and upset with the budget approval process. The chief compared the fire department’s plight to the police and highway departments by stating: “Surely the police patrolman are not riding around in cars that are twenty four years old and I know that the highway department just received two new snow plows last year. You councilmen are playing with public safety here and you should approve the departments request for this new pumper”. Unfortunately the fire chief did not succeed with his case and the department was told to resubmit their request during next year’s budget cycle for consideration. This account is playing out in many communities across the country and we as fire service managers need to be prepared to state and sell our program to those politicians and outsiders who control the financial resources in our municipality.
The past few years have presented some of the most difficult economic challenges for our country since the Great Depression. Municipal governments are struggling to provide services in all areas as their income has decreased. A combination of lower real estate transfer tax, sales tax receipts and other funding streams have all decreased to the point where for the first time in years many municipalities are having to consider reducing the level of services including closing of libraries, schools and lay offs of some municipal employees. It should come as no surprise that the fire service would be included in an analysis of government services that would come under review for possible budget reductions, particularly with respect to capital purchases for fire apparatus. In many communities the cost of a new engine apparatus or ladder truck would most likely be the most expensive piece of rolling stock that would be acquired by the municipality. Simply stating that “we need a new pumper right now” will not satisfy those in charge of approving large capital cost equipment especially when the total amount of the purchase will impact the budget in a single year.
Any fire department regardless of the size of their apparatus fleet should have a well developed fleet replacement plan for all units. This plan should include encompass a number of aspects including initial vehicle cost, maintenance, fuel and insurance costs, vehicle usage, mileage, age and condition as well as compatibility with recent safety enhancements. Using this data the department should be able to develop a profile of actual vehicle cost per run or per mile to determine the cost effectiveness of each unit in the fleet. There are several fleet management software packages that provide different modules that can produce the information needed to assist department personnel with quantifying vehicle performance and life cycle costing. This data can then be utilized to determine the appropriate time frame for apparatus replacement for each unit in the fleet. This program then needs to be reviewed and approved by whoever controls the financial resources in your community. In this manner there should be no surprises when requested funding for new or replacement apparatus during the budget process.
The National Fire Protection Association in the 1901 Automotive Fire Apparatus Standard provides some excellent information in Annex D with respect to replacement cycle recommendations for apparatus. In part it states: “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”. Since 1991 the NFPA 1901 standard has been revised six different times including the current edition which was adopted in January, 2009. Apparatus which is older than a 1991 model lacks a number of significant safety enhancements including four door cabs, non slip step surfaces, slow close pump intake and discharge valves, improved emergency warning lighting and many more items.
Perhaps your community in the past has historically acquired new apparatus through an outright purchase and has encumbered the entire cost of the new unit upon delivery and acceptance. While this has been the traditional method for many jurisdictions, one alternative is to investigate the use of a municipal lease where the cost of the new apparatus can be spread over several years with a smaller annual impact to the overall budget. Utilization of a lease purchase or other alternative funding strategies might allow the department to acquire the apparatus when called for in the fleet replacement program as opposed to going to bat for a larger single capital expense. As many communities are investigating methods of providing services to their residents without increasing the tax rate we in the fire service must begin to think “outside of the box” for alternative methods to provide the needed apparatus and equipment resources to insure the safety of our personnel and those that we serve.
It is unfortunate that at the same time that we are called upon to do more with less that the overall cost of fire apparatus has increased dramatically over the past four years. The impact of two major changes in diesel engine technology as a result of the EPA regulations which took effect during 2007 and 2010 caused all builders of both commercial and custom fire chassis to make major engineering investments to redesign their cabs and electrical systems to accept the new engines. Also during the past two years there was a dramatic spike in the increase of metals and raw materials which also impact the entire fire apparatus industry. Both of these situations together with more moderate cost increases due to the most recent NFPA 1901 requirements have all had an impact on the cost of new apparatus. All of this has been beyond the control of local fire departments which now must increase their budget requests to account for these technological advances.
Some departments may be in a position where although they require a new, replacement apparatus that there is simply no available source of funding to meet their need. For departments in this situation there are several alternatives to consider including the rebuilding of a newer apparatus in order to extend its life cycle. The NFPA 1912 Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishing contains some valuable information and a specification guide in Annex B of the standard to assist a department through the rebuilding process. In addition, the department may wish to gain the advice and experience of an Apparatus Architect to properly assess the apparatus to insure that the needs of the department are being met with a rebuilding project. Apparatus which was built after 1991 that have a four door cab, a mechanically solid drive train, fire pump and bodywork may be a candidate to be rebuilt. However if the Apparatus has been substantially rehabbed before, or if a full frame up rehab will cost fifty percent of the cost of a new Apparatus or the manufacturer that built the apparatus is no longer in business the apparatus is probably not a good candidate for a rebuilt. This is where maintenance and testing reports are vitally important to properly assess the apparatus for a rebuilding project.
Another alternative may be to look to acquire a newer, used apparatus that is in good condition, or could be rebuilt to enhance safety components while extending its useful life cycle. With the cost of a new aerial apparatus approaching one million dollars with some devices, the acquisition of used aerial ladder or platform may provide the needed apparatus for a smaller community at a fraction of the cost of a new unit. It is important to review the maintenance and testing records of any used piece of apparatus including pumper service testing and a current aerial testing certification to insure the basic condition and safety of the vehicle. Once again a department may wish to consider gaining the expertise of an independent outside consultant to evaluate the prospective apparatus prior to making any financial commitment to acquire the unit.
While the current financial conditions may be with us for some time to come there are some practical things that we can do to insure that we have the appropriate tools and documentation to justify our apparatus and equipment needs. Following the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” is appropriate when planning for major capital expenditures in any area and especially where public safety is concerned.
In the last installment of the Apparatus Architect we covered some of the considerations for the use of ground ladders on the fire ground together with some reasons why your department should carrying additional ground ladders on your ladder company units. Each year there are several stories which highlight the importance of good truck company operations and ground ladder use at the scene of seemingly routine fires. Carrying the proper ground ladders and equipment together with adequate training and unit staffing will go a long way to making the fire ground a safer place for our personnel.
One of the first considerations to determine when evaluating ground ladders is the appropriate length of ladder to carry and style of ladder to be carried. While we recognize that a number of departments operate with wooden ground ladders either commercially built or supplied by their department shops, for purposes of this article we are going to concentrate on aluminum ground ladders for comparison purposes.
First, let’s look at a two section twenty eight foot extension ladder and the differences in construction and dimensional sizes. From one manufacturer of aluminum ladders their pumper style ladder with a solid beam is 22 inches wide, 16 feet 7 inches in length when closed with a banking thickness of just under 6 inches. This ladder weights 114 pounds and can easily be thrown with two personnel. The same ladder with a truss style design is 22.25 inches wide, 16 feet 6 inches in length when closed with a banking thickness of 6 7/16 inches. The weight of this ladder is 118 pounds, not significantly heavier than the solid beam extension ladder.
Compare these two section ladders to their three section counterparts and while the overall closed length shrinks to 13 feet four inches, the width increases to 25 inches, banking thickness increases to 8.25 inches and the weight dramatically increases to 145 pounds for the solid beam, pumper style ladder. So why are all of these dimensions and weights important?
When competing for space inside of the apparatus body the available area for ground ladder banking is largely determined by the other components that share this area such as transverse compartments, water tank and hose bed storage. The critical dimension that limits ground ladder banking is the available length inside of the body. For this reason many apparatus manufacturers prefer to use three section ladders for 28 foot and 35 foot extension ladders. While the retracted length of the three section ladder affords some benefits the banking thickness requires more space and the weight increases as well.
In addition there are some significant differences in each of these critical dimensions and weight of these ladders between the two major producers of aluminum ground ladders that supply their products for fire service use. For this reason it is very important that the apparatus committee carefully study the characteristics and dimensional differences in each product to determine which model and style of ladder will best meet their needs. Most manufacturers possess the capability to produce detailed ground ladder banking drawings prior to contract to enable the department to visualize exactly how the ground ladders will fit within the available space on the apparatus.
Ground ladders can be stored in a number of locations on the apparatus including inside of the body under the turntable on rear mount devices, on top of the body compartments where the ladders would be exposed and can be deployed without consideration to apparatus placement and on the ladder or aerial device itself. There are advantages to each of these mounting locations which need to be considered when designing new apparatus. When all ladders are enclosed within the apparatus body they are generally protected from road debris, salt and other hazards which can increase ground ladder maintenance. While this may be the preferred method for ground ladder storage there are practical limitations as to the maximum number and size of ladders which can fit into this space as well as the fire ground considerations where apparatus placement can dictate how easily the ground ladders can be removed from the unit and deployed at the incident.
Ground ladders located at the rear of the apparatus can be banked in either a horizontal plane or on beam where the ladders are mounted on the beam. Depending upon the required overall travel height of the apparatus it may be necessary to bank all of the ladders horizontally to allow ladders to nest within one another thereby increasing the number of ladders that can be carried. The trade off here is that the often less used heavier ladders must be positioned at the bottom of the ladder bed and often requires that one ladder must be removed to gain access to another ladder.
The College Park, Maryland Fire Department operates a rear mount aerial that employees both styles of ladder banking where the three section 45 foot bangor ladder is nested at the bottom of the ladder bay with a roof ladder banked inside of this ladder. The available space of Truck 812 was utilized to locate a 28 foot two section ladder together with a 16 foot extension ladder mounted on beam at the right side of the ladder bay. Truck 812 also carries a pair of 35 foot two section extension ladders together with several roof ladders totaling 201 feet of ladders mounted inside of the apparatus body.
When overall height of the apparatus is less of a consideration ground ladders can be individually mounted on beam which provides for easier and more rapid access to each ladder. The Rockland, Maine Fire Department operates a well designed mid mount tower ladder that carries 162 feet of enclosed ground ladders including a 16, 18 and 20 foot roof ladders in addition to ten pike poles and roof hooks of various configurations. The department marked the foot spur of each ladder to clearly identify the length of each for ease of identification on the fire ground.
For departments that operate on narrow streets or where access to the rear of the unit is limited it may be preferable to mount the ladders on the exterior of the body for ease of deployment. This style of ladder banking is typically only limited by the length of the apparatus body and the available height on each side to individually mount the ladders within the ladder storage rack. The Syracuse, New York Fire Department operates a fleet of Sutphen aerial towers as their ladder companies and are equipped with ten ladders of various lengths totaling 216 feet. This method of ground ladder banking permits the heavier two section ladders to be positioned lower to the ground with the lighter roof ladders carried above the extension ladders.
Roof ladders can also be carried on the aerial devices mounted alongside of the base section of the ladder or within the fly section on some units. Care should be exercised to locate ladders on the side opposite of the turntable pedestal when mounting these on the base section to eliminate blind spots for the operator when viewing up the ladder when positioning the aerial device.
Ground ladder placement on any type of aerial device is critical to the overall mission of the apparatus. Careful consideration to the type, size, banking thickness and weight of the ground ladder are all items to evaluate when determining the proper number and placement of the ladders on your new apparatus. Take the time to review the buildings and geographic hazards in your first due area before heading to the truck committee meeting with the apparatus manufacturer. This is one area where you are only going to get one shot at making the right decision which can impact your department’s ladder company operations for many years to come.