Fire apparatus - Not just the big boys

CarolinaFireJournal - By Willie Wimmer
By Willie Wimmer
01/11/2012 -
Well brothers and sisters, let’s get started, this is the first of a four part series on how to spec a new piece of apparatus. These articles will give you insight and give you a few more things to think about other than what brand and what color. Each article will cover a different aspect of your process. I wanted to write this series because of some recent experiences I have had while in the field regarding some apparatus and items. These are things that should have been caught at the beginning of the spec process. image

See the Demo, Tour the Plant

When beginning the process of writing a truck specification one should look at everything- and when I say everything I mean everything. This goes out to all the under dogs that build remarkable trucks day in and day out but, because they are not the “Big Boys”, they are always overlooked. I would also be willing to bet one dollar versus a doughnut (and this in no way indicates that I am fat and would like a doughnut, it is just a favorite expression of mine) that a lot of you, before even beginning, said “we are getting a Blank or a Blank because the next neighboring department has one and we like it.”

I would also be willing to say that you only talked to one sales person or one manufacturer, or I may be wrong and you did your research, but I would be giving a fair estimate that at least 75 percent of you never looked past one brand.

Every manufacturer usually has a demo of some type, size or color and would like to show them off, so make them bring them to you or you go to them. Most manufacturers will usually encourage you to come tour their plant and see what they have to offer. Look at every one, not just the BIG BOYS.

Research Your Area

The first and foremost thing you need to do is research your area, and I am going to tell you why. The economy is not getting any better and that means tax revenue is getting lower, meaning that a lot of departments are going to have to make this new purchase last and need to think about their area in 20 years and not today.

For an example, look at small town A that has a population of 3000. A major manufacturing company is talking about moving to the area and will be bringing 1,500 jobs. That may not bring in 1,500 people but it will bring in more traffic and some population. Make the purchase count and look to the future. When researching you also need to research equipment and manufacturers. Take everyone’s truck in the world and make it work for you and your jurisdiction. You should have a technical explanation to your department and your county/town municipality of why this is for you — not just because a sales person says so.

Be up to date on changes in the industry, where the apparatus are going in the near future, or where vendors of equipment are going. Apparatus is like a computer, by the time you purchase it will already be out of date with the new technology. There is information provided by every vendor or it can be requested for dimensions, and information from the engine to the emergency lights is all available for you to research and be aware of the pros and the cons of everything involved.

Do your research and do what is best for you, your department and the community in which you are serving.

Now let’s get down to the purpose of this first article — to look at all your options as far as OEM manufacturers apply. There are around 100 fire truck manufacturers throughout the United States ranging from putting out 1,000 trucks to putting out three. They all provide the same service and that is to provide you with the apparatus that you need to perform your daily task of firefighting and life safety. Everyone always looks at the Big Boys, as I will call them, that way no names are used and I don’t have to pay proprietary rights (or make sure the Coke can is turned facing the camera before we talk) to write this article, but you will surely pick up what I throw down.

The Big Boys are kind of like some people — they forget where they come from and what they are producing and what it means to produce it for you. A lot of their slogans say a lot of crap, it is just like a commercial or a Super Bowl ad. They focus on the best spot during the Super Bowl where they pay thousands of dollars on research just to draw you in.

The manufacturers throughout this country have to meet all the same NFPA guidelines and SAE guidelines to produce the apparatus, but yet no one hardly talks to them unless they are in their back door neighborhood. I am sure a lot of you remember, especially the old timers, the names of Grumman, Oren, Howe, Laverne and Quality, but did any one look to see if they still actually existed. These manufacturers produced trucks that are still in service today in some areas and are first out apparatus due to the quality of apparatus that was produced. They produced hand crafted blood sweat and tears apparatus every day with craftsmen that did remarkable things with their two hands, and had pride in the trucks they produced. I would take any of these trucks and put them up against a brand new one coming off the line today and be neck in neck with the end result.

I can sit here and beat this horse to death, but let’s move on. We talked about research and we talked about all the manufacturers. Let’s next talk about what to do and what not to do.

Sometimes people feel obligated to a certain person or a certain brand, and unless you have a signed contract there is no obligation. In fact, sometimes the people you think are looking out for your best interest will in fact get lost in the day to day hustle of being an apparatus representative/salesman.

What I am trying to get across is — always go out for Bid. This means always put it on the market for all manufacturers to look at to build and always write a general spec and not a manufacturer specific spec. This means not using brand specific specs that will not really give anyone else a chance to bid it.

For example, you have been working with a salesman for a little while now and you make the statement that you will take brand X. He goes and finalizes the contract and puts an extra $10,000 in the price on top of his already $25,000 commission. That’s $10,000 worth of equipment that can be put on the apparatus. A spec is really not that difficult to write and that will be in the next issue. Once we discuss this you will really see what I mean.

When putting a truck out to bid it does not mean it has to always go low bid, that is where the research comes back into play by comparing apples to apples. An example of this would be brand X bids $32,500 for a truck and brand Y bids $33,000 for a truck, but brand Y put a performance bond on the truck and allowed for three people for inspection and not two or they found a flaw with the weight that you will be carrying and decided it was better to go with a 28,000 rear axle instead of a 24,000 axle. These are just a few things and they are sometimes overlooked.

A bid makes everyone fight for your business or hard earned fundraising money from all the chicken dinners or bingo nights. A good salesman/apparatus representative will be glad to work for the sale. That’s how you weed out the boys from the mice, or the ones who care versus the ones who don’t.

This next paragraph will be the only time a truck should not be sent out for bid and is something that should be looked at from time to time. It’s something a lot of people overlook. That is tagging on to an already existing contract, but this also needs to be looked at closely because if it does not fit you to a T, and you start changing certain items, it may actually raise the price higher than if it would be sent out for bid.

The reason this sometimes works is some people have already put a lot of leg work into a contract and it has already been bidded out so it was a low bid that the manufacturers fought over so you already have a lower price. The con to this is that there is very little that is allowed to be changed, and when the changes start, the price starts going up.

By now a lot of sales people probably want to beat me. Ask them about the article and see what they say. If they become defensive they are hiding the truth. If they back it up then you have a good salesman that wants you to know the truth.

I am going to make this a little more interesting and challenge all of you do a little research. Find out how many people in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina build fire apparatus and send the answer in to Gwen at The Journal ([email protected]). The winner will receive a prize pack of firefighter goodies. If there is a tie, we’ll let Gwen pick a winner.

The next challenge is for you to follow each step of my guidelines I am helping you with and I will go and do a final apparatus inspection with you for free to your department — which is the last of the four part series.

Well hell, the list is as follows:

  1. Not Just the Big Boys (this issue)
  2. The Spec and How to Write It
  3. Building the Apparatus
  4. The Final Inspection

All of these articles will have important information and will help guide you through your next truck or apparatus purchase. Stay tuned to this channel and we will see you next time, same time, same place.

Willie Wimmer (owner/head mechanic) started working for KME in 1996 while in school and continued to work there until 2007 when he relocated to the Outer Banks. He started with KME building trucks, moved into repairs and finished by traveling across country repairing trucks, selling and training on the apparatus. He has been an active volunteer firefighter since 1996.
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