Purchasing fire apparatus for the community
City managers and town councils often try to find various ways to heed the requests of fire chiefs who argue about the need for new fire equipment in order to keep up with the demands of growing and dramatically changing communities. Floating bond issues in order to raise the money required may be one answer, but this opens the door to a number of questions.
Should the money be turned over to a department head who has little or no knowledge as to how to proceed with the actual purchase? Do the city manager and the city council simply stand back and watch the proceedings – the bid specification preparations, the bid itself and its evaluation, the awarding of the contact and then its subsequent delivery?
If so, the manager and the council as an oversight committee may be guilty of gross negligence.
Once funding is obtained for its apparatus, the average fire department will form a “truck committee” to determine exactly what its needs are and what type of design it would like for its new vehicle.
One problem is that, traditionally, the committee will select one particular apparatus manufacturer and will proceed to build the specifications around that company’s vehicle. Often, the specification that is used for the bid offering is, in fact, prepared by the manufacturer instead of the department.
Despite that, to the average citizen, all fire trucks look alike, they are quite different, depending on who builds them. Virtually every manufacturer has some components of its vehicle that are specific to that type of vehicle construction.
Some difference in design, materials used, finish, etc., are proprietary simply because no other manufacturer uses that particular method to finish a vehicle.
It is that idiosyncrasy that sets all manufacturers apart from their competitors. And, sometimes a bid may appear to be based upon “generic” specifications, when, in fact, only one manufacturer can realistically meet the specification exactly.
Consequently, a manufacturer may be deemed “non-compliant” despite offering a better price.
For example, until recently, certain fire pump manufacturers would sell their pumps to only certain truck manufacturers. This placed limitations on the amount of actual choice the manufacturer could offer the customer.
If, for example, a department wanted a pumper manufactured by a particular company, all it had to do to limit the competition was to designate, in the truck specification, the brand of fire pump required. This shrank the number of eligible bidders to less than half those that were capable of meeting the rest of the specification.
This was a standard method of limiting the amount of bids in order to favor a particular manufacturer.
While manufactures would still offer a bid, using another brand of fire pump, the fire department would simply state that the brand offered was not up to the standards of the department as specified, and the bidder would be disqualified.
The end result of this maneuvering would be that the department would get what it really desired, but at a cost to the community of many thousands of dollars over what was actually required to obtain a functioning vehicle for firefighting. This does not mean the department was corrupt or unscrupulous in handling the bid process.
More often that not, departments purchase apparatus so infrequently that there is no history of knowledge within the ranks to make a sensible determination of needs, forcing dependence on the sales representative of the company called in for consultation. It is typically the first salesman with whom the department strikes up a relationship who determines which manufacturer will receive the truck award.
Or, the committee will visit surrounding communities that have purchased apparatus recently and list the features of all of those that it likes best, ultimately incorporating these into a specification.
Then, because these features will typically come from a variety of manufacturers, no one manufacturer and no single bidder will be able to meet the written specification exactly.
If the department does not have the foresight to request from the community money to hire someone to assist in obtaining the best apparatus that can be had within the confines of the budget allowed, it should be incumbent upon the city manager to offer that funding and insist that a consultant be hired.
The money saved through this kind of professional assistance could easily be enough to fund the extra equipment that is typically ordered with a new fire vehicle. A 1 percent or 2 percent fee for the “architect,” typically what is required, can save the community considerable money initially and, if the vehicle is properly specified, can save money throughout the vehicle’s life due to decreased maintenance costs.