the tips below are meant to be suggestions and these tips can be applied to any type of fire or ems vehicle purchase. These are certainly not all the answers, but these tips highlight some common misconceptions or philosophies often recognized and attempts to clarify those.
It is very important to understand that your salesman and the manufacturers are actually there to help you. They are not the enemy, and they are not out to steal your money. It is ok to get their advice, or follow their suggestions. You may very well know how to fight fire, run a fireground, and manage your people, but apparatus is very complex and the manufacturers are the experts, so keep an open mind during the purchase process. Just make sure they know what you need, and let them help you from there.
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photo by Citizens VFC
photo by Craig Long
Tips for purchasing apparatus FAQ's, Do's & Don'ts
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One huge misconception about buying apparatus:
in most cases, your apparatus salesman is paid on commission ONLY when an apparatus is sold. Their expenses prior to an actual order are normally paid out of their pocket including their fuel to come meet with you, and also the cost of printing the drawings and materials for a submitted bid or RFP. Please keep this in mind and do not waste their time and money if you have no intention of purchasing the product they represent.
Fire Truck Bidding and Ordering Process
the fire truck bidding and ordering process may include several steps of communication between fire departments, community representatives, group purchasing organizations and manufacturers. The process starts with a bid specification and ends with a signed contract and/or a purchase order.
NFPA 1901 is the Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. Most manufacturers are very familiar with this standard and build their apparatus to comply with this standard. What you need to know is that no manufacturer is going to build or do something that does not comply with this standard unless you sign a waiver releasing them from any liability. Even if you are willing to do that, most still won't go against this standard on any safety related wording. An example of this would be the seat beat warning alarms that indicate if everyone is properly belted or not. Even if you ask for this to be disabled, any reputable manufacturer would deny your request as it would go against safety and this standard.
very early on, you must determine who is going to be on your committee for this purchase, and most importantly "who is going to be the primary point of contact". Your sales person does not need or want to have contact with your entire committee every time somebody has a question. It is important that the committee members direct any questions or feedback to the committe contact, so only that person contacts the salesman. This will eliminate any confusion.
determine the budget you have to work with. Do NOT be afraid to let your salesman know what the maximum spending budget for this purchase is. The fact is they should know this. Not so they can spend every dime you have, but so they can try and give you what you really need without exceeding your budget. Another reason they should know is so you do not waste each others time. If your budget is $250,000 for a new pumper, then some manufacturers will know instantly they can not sell you their product for that amount, and everybody knows this quickly before you waste each others time.
determine early on what you actually need this new piece of apparatus to do. What we want and what we can actually afford are not always the same thing. Be realistic, know your budget and know your actual needs. Later in the process there may have to be some trade offs to stay within your budget, so understand what are the most important features.
before you even contact your first salesman, there are some things you should already know and agree on as a committee. Including:
type of apparatus (pumper, aerial, tanker, etc) type of chassis - custom or commercial number of cab seating will it include water, if so tank size will it have a pump, if so what size aerial height or ground ladder requirements will it include a generator, if so what size light tower? rescue tools? hose or cord reels? how many feet of supply line will be in hose bed what equipment will be carried on this truck and the most important question - is there a max height or max length restriction
Choosing your Salesman:
First, as a committe discuss what brands you are familiar with, and what brands you like and those that you don't. Do your homework. See who your local dealer is for the brands that your committee has the most interest in and contact only those. Apparatus is an important purchase and you should have faith in the manufacturer to produce a quality product, and in your dealer to provide you with assistance during your purchase and service in the future. Often, you get what you pay for, so never be afraid to buy the best and you will always be happy with it. Choose wisely and do not waste the time of salesman that you have no itent of buying from.
the more your salesman knows about what you actually need, the more they can help make sure you get what you need. If your truck is to be an inner city pumper, then it will probably need less water and a larger hose bed. If your truck rarely uses a hydrant, then you need more water. Expalin the intended role of the apparatus clearly.
your salesman is a training consultant in apparatus building so you need to try and take advantage of their knowledge by allowing them to assist you in designing the apparatus that is best for your needs. In some cases you should be able to rely on your salesman to make some choices for you to ensure safety and performance of your apparatus. Your salesman is backed by an engineering staff, and if they tell you there is a better way of doing something, then you should listen. Do not try and be too technical, just tell them what you need, and let your sales force figure out the technical stuff and report back to you. There are many choices that you as a committee must figure out, but do not overlook the help of your salesman.
it does not matter what brand you choose, at some point something will go wrong with it, period...What matters, is how the dealer and manufacturer handle it for you. Understand your warranties before you purchase. Know your dealer, know their facility and staff, and know if they do road and warranty service at your station. Know if they transport your apparatus for warranty work, or if you have to take it to them. Get ALL of this in writing. Know if other service centers are also available for warranty work. Know if they have road service that will come to your station and do routine maintenence. Do not wait untill a problem happens before you know what is covered and what is not, and who is going to fix it.
Single Source Manufacturers:
A single source manufacturer is one that builds the entire truck. This includes the chassis, cab, body, pump house, and or aerial ladder. This is important so that you are dealing with one manufacturer when there is a problem with any part of the truck and there is no blame on another. One stop service is normally provided by a single source manufacturer also. There have been many instances where a problem surfaced and one manufacturer pointed fingers at another, and this kept going back and forth and the problem did was not corrected in a timely fashion. There are plenty of single source manufacturers out there, so do yourself a favor and choose one of them and save a lot of aggrivation in the future.
A consortium offers procurement conducted by or on behalf of public organizations, businesses or entities. A consortium or group purchasing organization provides a faster and easier way for purchasing entities to get the items they need. In some circumstances, cooperative purchasing is a solution to the lengthy and sometimes political bidding in the fire apparatus purchasing process.
5 Benefits of Purchasing With a Consortium
You can satisfy the bidding process. Consortiums have access to specifications and costs for apparatus from a variety of manufacturers and will use this information to match a fire department with the best product options available.
The department can choose from the best options available. Depending on the consortium, the department will be provided with the top five or ten products that meet their requirements. They will then have the opportunity to choose the best fit.
You can modify the selection as needed. Once you select the best apparatus fit, the department can work with their dealer to modify the apparatus as needed.
Save time and money. Using a buying consortium, your community can save time, resources and money by jumping right to the fire apparatus selection process.
Ideal for single purchases. Consortiums are especially helpful for departments seeking to purchase only one or two trucks. Initiating the buying process immediately is invaluable for smaller fleets.
There are several National consortiums such as HGAC Buy, FireRescue GPO, NASPO ValuePoint, and Sourcewell. There are also state-level consortiums such as PA-Costars, FL-Florida Sheriffs, LA-LaMAS, TX-BuyBoard, and OH-Ohio State.
The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) is the largest of 24 Councils of Government (COG) in Texas, and is a political subdivision of the State of Texas. It has been serving local governments for more than 40 years. H-GAC has established Interlocal Contracts with thousands of End Users throughout Texas and across the United States. Talk to your salesman about HGAC, then you can register your non-profit agency for free at HGACbuy.org
one of the most common finacing options is often called a lease-purchase agreement. This type of financing is used to purchase a huge majority of the fire trucks being purchased. This is very similar to a loan, as you make payments to own the truck after completing the payment schedule. There are no buyout fees or payments at the end, and the truck is normally titled in the department's name from the beginning.
This type of agreement qualifies for low, tax-exempt interest rates and terms are usually three to 15 years. Payments can be made monthly, quarterly, twice a year or once a year. Most departments place a down payment to lower their cost, but a down payment is usually not necessary.
There are countless different financing options for a department looking to purchase a new piece of apparatus, and some options are even offered specific to the manufacturer that you choose. Talk to your salesman and see if they offer financing options for you, or if they have certain lenders that they often work with.
Even if a department has the cash to pay for the truck in full, it might make better sense to explore other options. Some but not all manufacturers may offer a discount if partial payments are made or if the truck is paid in full prior to delivery. Once again, do your homework and ask questions so you know the facts.
NEVER, EVER buy apparatus without a Performance Bond:
A performance bond (100 percent) guarantees the fire department will get an apparatus to its specifications and in the time specified. If the successful bidder fails to comply, then the bonding company is obligated to find an acceptable alternate manufacturer to build the unit. The bonding company will then have to pay the difference between the original bid and the price the second builder wants to complete the apparatus. If a sales rep and manufacturer is not willing to provide you with a performance bond, then run away as fast as you can.
"The successful bidder will furnish a Performance bond (Bond) equal to 100% of the total contract amount within 30 days of the contract."
RFD or Bid Request:
in the boiler plate section you should request a history of the manufacturer including some details about their quality and workmanship. To demonstrate the quality of their products, ask them to provide you a list of no less than 10 current customers that use their apparatus within 100 miles of your station. This area is also where they explain local service centers or trucks that come to your station for repairs.
Ask them to list insurance provided by the bidder including coverages. NFPA compliancy, road testing, UL testing, pump testing, and ladder testing should all be listed here and also that they will provide you certification that all required testing has been completed.
Finally, the boiler plate is a good place for the dealer to list company history, and also provide you with a copy of their state required sales license for the sales rep AND the dealer.
make it mandatory that drawings of the apparatus be included with the RFP or bid. Keep in mind these will be preliminary drawings and might not be exact as your final drawings will be done after pre-con or print approval meetings. The drawings at this point should include views of both sides and the front and rear of the apparatus.
You should also request a turning performance report, and an electrical analysis report that shows there is proper supply for the electrical demand.
know these terms as you will see them in your proposal and you need to understand what they mean:
Angle of Approach - Approach angle is the maximum angle of a ramp onto which a vehicle can climb from a horizontal plane without interference. It is defined as the angle between the ground and the line drawn between the front tire and the lowest-hanging part of the vehicle at the front overhang.
Angle of Departure - The angle of departure of any vehicle is the angle between the ground and a line running from a rear tire to the lowest-hanging component directly behind it, usually the rear bumper.
Cramp Angle - a term, seemingly used only by US fire departments, for the maximum wheel angle. By increasing the cramp angle, you allow the truck to turn sharper.
Scrub Area - the scrub area is the vertical surface area of a building wall that can be touched with the platform of an aerial tower or tower ladder or the tip of an aerial ladder.
GVW - gross vehicle weight rating. NFPA 1901 requires that apparatus with a GVWR of more than 50,000 pounds or water/foam tanks greater than 1,250 gallons are limited to a maximum road speed of 60 mph.
Wheelbase - a measurement of the distance between the center of the front axle to the center of the rear axle, or in the case of tandems then center between the rear tandems.
when you send out your RFP or bid request, try and include a list of the expected equipment to be carried on the truck. The reason for this is to help determine the weight of the equipment, which will also help determine the overall weight of the truck. This is very important so the truck can be engineered with proper axles and balanced weight.
once again, without repeating the provebial dead horse, try not to be over specific. It is ok to stand your ground on materials used for construction, just be careful not to fall into the proprietary forms of construction. Safety should always be your biggest concern, so commen sense tells you that a truck constructed with stronger materials is probably a safer truck. Again, do your homework before you write the RFP or bid request and get an idea what features of constuction will best fit your needs. An example would be to specify a minimum tip load weight for an aerial, or a weather proof coating must be applied to the frame components and under carrige.
Specific paint colors or brand of paint to be used is fine. Most manufacturers use the same brands of pumps so it might be ok to say "must include a Waterous single stage 1500gpm", but adding the words "or equilalent" would be better.
if you want something special on your truck, then it needs to be described completely and properly in your RFP or bid request. If needed include measurements or a drawing of the feature. Special features require time, and engineering eith at a simple or complex level so it is crucial that everyone fully understands exactlty what you want. If you insist on a certain bracket or item, then include the complete brand name and part number. An example of this would be "must include a Federal Q2B mechanical siren". This is also a good place to mention AGAIN any height, width, or length restrictions of the truck such as "vehicle may NOT exceed 9 feet 7 inches in height".
If any equipment is to also be included with this vehicle purchase, then you MUST specify that clearly with brand and part number. Example would be "must include a Stryker Power Load System with cot and show the exact part# that you want".
if you want tools and equipment to be mounted on your truck, then you need to say so and specify exactly what and where. No room for error here as this needs to be fully understood by all. So in your RFP or bid request, be very clear with brands, part numbers, sizes, and what get mounted in what compartment. Most tool mounting is done at your dealer once they receive the truck from the manufacturer rather than at the factory. This is perfectly acceptable on most cases and does not void any factory warranties. It is however, very important for the factory to know what will go where on the truck during pre-construction so that compartments can be constructed of proper size and include proper wiring or plumbing.
Tools and equipment can be sent to the dealer for mounting when the truck nears completion at the factory.
when you write your RFP or bid requests, dont be naive and remember nothing is free. Everything about this truck comes with a cost, including those factory trips that we love so much where you tend to eat and drink good. That travel is necessary, but it is also expensive and although you might not specifically see it shown in your cost, it's in there....believe.
Be smart, and be realistic. How many people are really necessary to pre-con or inspect a typical pumper? Do we really need a 3rd or post paint trip 2 or 3 weeks before the truck is finished? Only you know the answers to those questions, but remember that it all costs, and if you are on a tight buget then it is certainly something to consider. Would you rather have a $5000 item added to your truck to use for the next 20 years, or would you rather send 5 people to a post paint trip 2 weeks before final inspection trip. Think about it, a good rule of thumb for many manufacturer visits that include airfare would be about $1200 per person per trip. So you can see how that can add up quick, so be smart about how many will go, and how many visits. A final inspection should always be done by at least some of your committee, and most do a pre-con trip soon after the order is placed but not everyone does. The biggest waste of money is the 3rd and often called a post paint trip. A better option is to specify that the factory sends frequent or weekly photo updates of your unit as it progresses through the manufacturing process.
request that all warranties be included in the RFP or bid, and make sure specific warranties are mentioned for each major part of the apparatus. This includes warranties for the engine, chassis, frame rails, transmission, electrical, paint, aerial, pump, generator, doors, tank, foam system, structural integrity, axles, corrosion, camera systems, steering, brake systems, hydraulic systems, waterway, and material and workmanship.
now that you have your RFP or bid request written, it is time to send it out to your salesman. Make sure it clearly states who the primary contact person is for any questions, and make sure it includes a phone number where that person can easily be reached. Now is not the time for any confusion. Be very clear about your deadline for return of the RFP or bid request and state what happens after that. An example wording would be something like this:
All proposals must be submitted by no later than 6pm on 11-1-2019, and the return address mailbox (include address) will checked by 5pm on this date. No proposals will be excepted after 6pm on 11-1-2019 unless dictated by an extreme emergency or weather condition. The proposals will be opened at our station (include address) at 6:15pm on 11-1-19 and the final proposed cost will be read alound for each submitted. Afterward, all vendors that submitted a proposal will be given a maximum of 30 minutes to meet with the committee to answer any questions or further explain any details of the proposal they submitted.
The committee has the option to accept or reject any proposal or bid at their discretion, and the winner will be determined within 7 days of the opening of the proposals. The winner will be chosen will all things considered and not just the price. Considerations that will determine the winner will include the final price, the ability for the dealer to provide service, trust in the brand or manufacturer, warranties, attitude and demeanor of the salesman, and the adherence to the requested spec. The winners will be notified as soon as the decision has been made.
Finally, once you determine a winner, at least give each salesman the common courtesy of a phone call or email to let them know that another brand was chosen by the committee. You don't have to get into to detailed specifics as to why, but it's ok to say which manufacturer was the winner as the committie felt it was the overall best choice at this time. That's all you need to say, but these people probably worked hard to submit your proposal, so at least give them that.
Ordering the Apparatus:
now that all RFP or bid requests have been returned and you have met with each salesman to ask any questions, it is time for your committee to meet in private and decide on a winner. Once you do that, the next step will be for your salesman to bring to you a contract to sign for the purchase. Read this document carefully and ask any questions before you sign. Once the contract is signed then your truck is officially ordered.
When received, the order is reviewed and an approval drawing is created to give a visual representation of the truck configuration priced. The approval drawing is then passed to several engineering groups for review in the event they need clarification on specific build requests. The engineering team may offer suggestions or recommendations to the dealer and customer on layout, component or system selection.
In this phase, the engineering teams will ensure the truck configuration is buildable. The engineering teams will also review and confirm all critical content, including overall height and length, and approach and departure angles.
This review process is beneficial to customers because they will receive multiple drawings and truck layouts, including a finished truck configuration with included dashboard layouts, equipment rack layouts, electrical load charts and weight summaries. Moreover, it is an opportunity to ask questions, give feedback on changes needed and ensures the overall design of the truck configuration.
Once the order review is completed, an approval package is created and a pre-construction visit is planned. During this visit, the customer and dealer meet with the manufacturer team to review the more detailed fire truck order.
soon after the contract is signed for your purchase, your salesman will contact you to schedule a pre-construction meeting. This is often done at the apparatus factory but in many cases it can be done at the fire station or even online via Go To Meeting or Zoom. That choice will have already been made in the RFP or bid request. At the pre-con meeting you can expect to discuss most aspects of your truck line by line, and there is still time to make some changes or add some additional features. Beware, that any additions or changes at this point going forward could and often is an added cost. The drawings of your apparatus will be there for you to see, and you might also get a factory tour and see many other trucks in progress that might give you some ideas. This will be the time to ask further questions, and normally someone from the factory will be with you along with your salesman to ensure things go smoothly and all questions can be answered.
The meeting typically includes reviewing the sales drawings and layout to finalize the features, paint codes, major components, system requirements, and most importantly, to answer any customer questions. The final approval drawings are marked with changes if required, and the finalized order details are confirmed by all parties involved.
In addition to finalizing the truck components and features, the pre-construction visit is also focused on determining the fire truck graphics. From color choices to image selection, the group reviews the graphic options for every inch of the fire truck, including the front of the truck, side of the truck, inside cab doors, rear of the truck and stabilizers. Customers also learn about materials selection, like vinyl and gold-leaf, and review additional graphic elements, including cab lettering, reflective striping, body lettering, roof numbers, aerial boom graphics and optional special plates. Customers are encouraged to bring along photos or vector artwork to help guide the graphics discussion.
When you travel to the factory there are some things to remember and often your salesman will discuss this with you prior to travel. You must be on time, the plane will not wait for you. Sometimes your salesman will take you to the airport, but often they will either meet you at the airport, or meet up with you when you connect to your final flight. This depends or where your salesman lives and where you live. Next is to remember to act professionally as you are representing your department. You should have a good time, and you will, but remember who you are and why you are going. Normally travel is done the day or evening before your pre-con meeting, so enjoy the evening after you arrive, have a nice dinner but try and be rested and alert the next morning. Pre-con cannot be done if you feel too bad becuase of too much drinking the night before. Be prepared to wear safety glasses, a safety vest, and perhaps even a hard hat during some factory tours. Some manufactures will also require steel toe protection so either wear your NFPA station boots, or be prepared to wear clamp on toe protection when you get there, ask your salesman prior to the trip.
this goes ithout saying, but remember to document anything that is changed after the signed contract for your purchase. Get it in writting, especially during pre-con. This protects both you and your salesman. If you are at pre-com and you change a lens color from red to yellow, get that in writting and keep a copy of that or any other changes. If later on in the process the factory calls your salesman and says they discovered something that won't work and needs to be moved 2 inches, then after your salesman relays that info to you, make sure somebody documents that change and that you receive a copy of that. There is lots of money at stake here by you, the manufacturer, and even the dealer, so make sure everything is documented along the way.
you should request a series of production photo reports be provided to you during the manufacturing phase of the apparatus. This will keep your committee informed as the apparatus is being built.
about 2 or 3 weeks prior to your truck being completed, the factory will reach out to your salesman with a planned date for your final inspection. They will then reach out to you to confirm the date and start planning your travel. The same travel tips apply that were mention for the pre-con above so if you did not read those, please do.
During the final inspection you will see your compeleted truck for the first time. This can be very exciting, but there are some things to remember here also. You might, and probably will find some things that need to be addressed on your truck, regardless of the manufacturer. This is why we do final inspections, and things will be made right. Remember to keep your cool, discuss any issues, and give them an oppertunnity to correct them. If you treat the sales team with respect, then you will be treated the same and everybody will be happy as the corrections are made. If you come unglued and belligerent then the process will not move smootly or not move at all. Your manufacturer is used to final inspections, and they want you to point out anything that you are not happy with, just do it in a respectable manner and everything will work out fine.
Most factories have a special area that is reserved for final inspections. Usually there is some sort of table and chairs for you to have your spec and drawings on display. They may have a tape measure for you to use, as well as a creeper, scaffolding, rags, and whatever else you might need. Now is the time to make sure the truck is the proper height, length, and that doors and windows function properly, generators work, the pump is tested and so forth. When you find an issue, write it down and let the sales team know. Please let your salesman know ahead of time if you want the apparatus raised in the air for your inspection as that usually needs planning ahead of time. Once you complete your final inspection, often you will return home and any issues will be corrected at the factory. Some may be done while you are still there, some may be done after you leave but prior to your apparatus being shipped to your dealer.
at this point your apparatus has been shipped from the factory and arrived at your dealer. This is when everything is once again checked and the vehicle is serviced as needed. Tool mounting might need to be done at this point and everything is fully checked. In most instances you will go to your dealer and see the truck again prior to delivery of the apparatus to your station by your salesman.
Your salesman will then schedule with you (if they have not already done so) a date(s) for the required training on your new apparatus. Pumpers, Rescues, Ambulances, and small apparatus training is normally done by your salesman or someone from the dealership. Aerial training on the other hand is done by a factory rep. Training on your new apparatus will be done either at your station or a place designated by you. It will be your reponsibility to train and of those unable to be present during the training scheduled by your dealer.