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The Rig: Ambiguous Purchasing Specs

By Bill Adams

My two previous pieces on specifications noted unclear purchasing specifications may contain imprecise terminology with multiple meanings or verbiage that is vague or specifies unmeasurable requirements. There are also instances when spec writers have not erroneously described a feature. No mistake was made—they just didn’t give enough information. Unfortunately, the results of even honest oversights can still make life miserable on the fireground.

In the ideal world when prospective bidders need clarification of specification verbiage, they bring it to the attention of the purchaser. Usually a prompt addendum to the specifications is published putting all parties on the same page. It doesn’t always happen like that.

Lack of time and occasionally narcissism by both parties can impede the bidding process. Thirty days is not enough time for bidders to prepare proposals, but that’s a story for later. A purchaser boisterously claiming “If they really want our business, they’ll find the time,” is sanctimonious and probably has already chosen a favorite vendor. Bidders who wait until the last minute to prepare a bid are jeopardizing their own potential income. They have no recourse. 

Some purchasers will purposely not respond in a timely fashion to non-preferred bidders’ questions. Some manufacturers’ bid estimators mistakenly believe that what they call a particular part or piece and how they build it is the same throughout the entire fire truck world. They’re mistaken. A jump line may not necessarily be interpreted as a Mattydale, a crosslay, a speedlay, or a cartridge load. If a location for an item is not given, the manufacturer has a free reign. The below terminology in italics are from actual fire department purchasing specifications. Fictitious bidders met the specs 100 percent, although the fire department did not get what it wanted. The comments are mine.

  • “CIRCUIT BREAKER PANEL: The circuit breaker panel shall be located in the driver’s side front compartment.” Too bad a location wasn’t specified. It was mounted on the lower section of the back wall of the compartment. Half of the heavy equipment on the floor has to be removed to access it.
  • “PUMP PANEL CONFIGURATION: The pump panel shall be arranged and installed in an organized manner that shall provide user-friendly operation. The individual pressure gauges shall be installed as close to the outlet control as practical.” The fire department thought the individual pressure gauges would be immediately above the discharge controllers just like the rest of their rigs. Being “as close as practical” does not mean located directly above.
  • “SOFT SUCTION HOSE ALUMINUM TREADBRITE COVER: An aluminum treadbrite cover shall be provided to secure the hose in the left side hosewell. The cover shall be capable of supporting 300 lbs.” The fire department expected the cover hinged on the side closest to the pump panel. They also expected a pull-to-open paddle type latch and gas-operated stay arms to hold the cover in the raised position. Too bad their expectations were not in writing.
  • “RADIO COMPARTMENT: A radio compartment shall be provided and located in the vertical front compartment face on the left side. The compartment shall be cast aluminum with brushed cast aluminum door. The inside dimensions of the compartment shall be 13½” high x 7½” wide x 6″ depth.” All their other pumpers have similarly located radio compartments and all are between five and five and a half feet off the ground. When delivered, this compartment was 48 inches off the ground. The pump operator has to bend over to look inside every time the volume must be adjusted or the channel has to be changed. Oops.
  • “DELUXE CAB ACCESS STEPS: The cab access steps (on a two-door commercial chassis) shall be provided by the apparatus manufacturer. The steps shall be a two (2) step design fabricated from bright aluminum treadplate. The chassis supplied cab steps will be removed and replaced with the steps provided by the apparatus builder.” The bottom step was full width and the upper step was only half as wide. That’s the manufacturer’s standard configuration. The department wanted them both full width but didn’t say so.
  • HOSE TRAY: “Two (2) hose trays shall be recessed, one (1) in each side running board. Capacity of the tray shall be 100′ of 1.50″ hose. Rubber matting shall be installed on the floor of the tray to provide proper ventilation.” Ribbed rubber matting similar to a floor mat was what they got. They really wanted the ¾-inch-thick recycled PVC interlocking style tiles like Turtle Tile or Mateflex. They should have spec’d it by name.
  • “REAR VERTICAL HANDRAILS: The handrails shall be 1.25″ diameter anodized aluminum extrusion, with a ribbed design, to provide a positive gripping surface. Chrome-plated end stanchions shall support the handrail. Plastic gaskets shall be used between end stanchions and any painted surfaces. Drain holes shall be provided in the bottom of all vertically mounted handrails. Handrails shall be provided to meet NFPA 1901 section 15.8 requirements. The handrails shall be installed as noted on the sales drawing.” The new rig’s handrails were NFPA-compliant and were mounted on the rig as noted by arrows on the sales drawing. Too bad they were only two feet long. Their other pumpers’ handrails ran from the tailboard to the top of the hosebed. Section 15.8 does not address quantity, lengths, or locations. Neither did the fire department.
  • “FRONT BUMPER COMPARTMENT CENTER One (1) storage well, constructed of 1/8” aluminum shall be installed in the gravel shield. This storage well shall be center-mounted between the chassis frame rails. The bottom of the storage well shall have a minimum of 2 drain holes. One (1) hinged, latched, aluminum tread plate cover shall be installed on this storage well located in the center of the bumper extension. Latch shall be ¼ turn with no recesses. This compartment shall house Hurst S700 E2 cutter and SP310 E2 spreader.” When delivered, the compartment was more than large enough to accommodate the specified tools. Too bad the fire department didn’t specify mounting brackets for the tools. They were an expensive “extra.”
  • “ZIAMATIC SAC-44 ALUMINUM WHEEL CHOCKS: One set of two Zico model SAC-44 folding wheel chocks shall be provided. Two “underbody” horizontal brackets (SQCH-44-H) shall be provided and installed under the body compartments.” Both brackets were mounted behind the rear wheels. Every other rig in the fleet have one mounted ahead of and one mounted behind the rear wheels. Oh well.
  • “OVERALL WIDTH: The main apparatus body structure shall have an approximate width of 100 inches in order to maximize the enclosed compartment space of the apparatus. The 100 inches wide measurement represents the main body structure measured from the bottom, outermost rear corners of the apparatus body structure. Components affixed or fastened to the apparatus will increase the body width proportionately.” There’s nothing wrong with this statement. I like it. Seldom do you see exactly where the overall width measurement is taken. I would take it a step further and have bidders specify the actual width with the affixed components—rubrails, mirrors, etc. Your 10-foot-wide doors might be narrower than you think.

If ambiguous verbiage is not clarified, the true losers will be the firefighters who have to live with something they didn’t want when the rig is delivered, or expect, or is inconvenient to use. Spec writers often forget firefighters are the most expensive “part” on a fire truck. Making their job easier gets the work done faster and safer. 

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

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