Writing basic bid specifications for fire apparatus

CarolinaFireJournal - Willie Wimmer
Willie Wimmer
04/23/2012 -

Writing a set of specifications for apparatus can seem overwhelming, but a basic bid spec can be written very plainly to suit the needs of your department.


“Where do I start?” is often the question most people on a truck committee ask themselves. A good idea is to start at the front of the truck and go all the way to the back. That means start with the bumper, the grill, the siren speakers, the air horns, the front intake or front discharge — those items at the front of the truck that are important to each department’s needs. Yes, I said needs, not wants. This can be a big problem with a truck committee if they go off a list of wants and not the needs of the department.

Wants and Needs

An example is thinking “Well, Joe’s Fire Department down the street has a front bumper lay with 250 feet of 1.75 inch hose and also a front intake, so we definitely need that.” I can understand people wanting to have things like that. It is a new truck and you want the new stuff. But the important thing to remember when writing specifications for an apparatus is to differentiate between wants and needs.

Once you have finished with the front of the truck, go to the drive train. The motor size (arrr arr as Tim Allen would say) — why do you need a 500 horsepower motor for a small engine with 500 gallon tank and 1000 gallon pump? I know, so you can keep the fuel companies in business. Spec the engine size that is necessary for your terrain and weight load. This is where it gets into a little research for the committee. You can access all this information from the engine manufacturers’ websites to assist you in what you need.

The transmission request needs to be based on what you will be running off of the transmission. This means generators, rescue tools, pump, PTO for screw compressor for fill station or for cafs. Those items should be considered when specifying transmission model. All of this information is available on the Internet at the transmission websites.

I have attended many fire shows and very rarely are there tons of people lined up to speak with the engine reps or the transmission reps. Most attendees just want to see the pretty shiny trucks.

Do your research. Speak with truck drivers in the area that drive daily. Ask them the weight they carry versus the horsepower of their truck. It is your job to research these items as a truck committee and make the decisions necessary for your department. For the rest of the drive train, like rear end and braking components, you will need more input from the manufacturer.

The Pump

The pump is where I would go next. Look at the three major manufacturers of pumps and also look at the pump history in your department. If you have always had brand X and everyone knows brand X then it will usually be better to keep brand X.

The exception for this would be that you have researched and found that brand Y’s torque curve and pump components will better assist your department now than in the past due to increased call volume or maintenance issues. Every pump manufacturer has information online and every manufacturer has pump demos that they will be glad to demonstrate for you.

Pump components include such decisions as valve style, size, number of discharges, governor make and style and pump panel layout, as well as your intake valves, if needed. When deciding on pump components, remember that with more items the pump area will probably be larger. Remember top mount will add some length to the rig as well as some cost, but again, research what you need, not what you want. This is also an area where you can spend money fairly quickly. These are all machined or electronic parts so they do cost quite a bit.

The Cab

At this point I have seen way too many trucks with eight- or 10-man cabs that have an average of two firefighters on it, What the duck chuck? Look at your department needs. You might think, “Well we are looking to the future.” I will give you that one, but also remember that you have other trucks that require people to respond on them as well. If you can put eight or 10 in the cab each time, that is awesome and I commend you, but for everyone else take a reality check. Remember the more stuff you place in the cab the less room and the more unsafe it becomes for each firefighter.

To write the specifications for the rest of the cab look at seat style and manufacturers’ interior and stuff like that. If you can avoid plastic, select some type of covered metal product for the life span aspect. Figure out your controls and include that in the specifications. When I say this I am talking about radio access for driver and officer or just officer or siren controls. Switches, extra power outlets and items that may be specific to your department just under the cab line items — individualize the items you are requesting so they will be included in the bid and are not an added cost at the end.

Body Configuration

Consider what you carry now and how much has been added in just the last few years and plan ahead. I take my hat off to the departments that build a wooden mockup of their cab to see where stuff will fit, and then measure and plan and add that information to their spec. Remember to also research the body material type that will best suit you in your department. Are you looking at poly, aluminum, stainless, galvanized or standard steel? What is the weight-to-cost in comparison to life span? Include this in all of your findings for your department.

Roll up versus standard doors are another preference. Remember your area and the cost difference and if it is beneficial to you. When writing the specifications for the out body and compartments, include special mounts or trays that will be needed in each compartment. This will save you a lot of headaches at the end. If the manufacturer is not mounting the equipment remember to add some extra money in there for this and any other odds and ends. It can get pretty pricy when done correctly to optimize your storage space. This goes back to trying to fit 100 pounds of crap in a 50 pound hole — it just don’t work.

Hose Storage

Hose storage is another item that needs to be addressed. Consider the type of hose you will carry as well as where it will be carried and also the amount in the specifications. The manufacturer may be able to optimize your hose lay bay with a few design changes.

Ladder Storage

Manufacturers can do so much these days with the poly tanks that it leaves you with a lot of storage. But also remember when this is done the height will increase over all most of the time. Ladder racks and side mounts are still a department preference, but just look at all the options.


Lighting is another issue that needs to be researched and I fully recommend and mandate all lighting be LED style due to voltage draw and viewing ability. Include locations if above and beyond NFPA and also research the new style of lighting that is coming out, including scene lighting and emergency and running lights.

The next part of your specifications will include any specific types of equipment that you want on the apparatus like generator style, size or location, special requested mounts and other specific requests.

I may have missed a few items like tires and other components that may be on the engine, but this article gave you the general gist of what you need to look at when writing your specifications. It is not a hard task and a regular specification with generalized information will not be that long.

Make sure that when writing the spec you include your needs and you can include the wants at the end in a separate itemized bid. If you have money at the end you can pick and choose the extra options. Make sure to include inspection trips, how many people for the inspection trips and travel accommodations. This will need to be in the specificiations also.

When the committee is formed, select people with general knowledge, some with mechanical knowledge and some with financial knowledge. This way all bases are covered. Think about a committee like running a fire scene through NIMS — it is the same principal. Each person will bring the info back to command and decisions will be made with all the information.

This is supposed to be a piece of equipment for your department to fight fire and save lives not out light or out bling neighboring departments. I am still waiting for a department to request spinners, haven’t seen it yet but sure it is coming!

In conclusion, I cannot stress research enough. A good committee should begin two to three years prior to purchase, so all information is gathered, filtered and put in place. Visit other departments and look at what they have, but don’t copy them. Make it yours for your department to fit your needs and future needs.

Hope this was informative and any questions can be directed to me at any time.

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.
Comments & Ratings

  9/21/2013 3:34:22 PM

Technical Writer Division chief/ Mechanic  
To many departments adopt the cut and paste, magazine shopping approach when attempting to write a technical specification and end up dragging the process on for up to a year trying to decide on who to award the contract to. Departments need to understand that a person who is skilled in the process of technical writing is the only logical course to follow. you just touched the surface.

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