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The Rig: Purchasing Committee Priorities and Supervision

By Bill Adams

Purchasing a new piece of fire apparatus can be a rewarding and educational experience in both career and volunteer fire departments. Ideally, the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) dictates the authority’s objectives and priorities to the apparatus purchasing committee (APC), which in turn, develops the purchasing specifications. In a near picture-perfect world, said priorities are in writing and are discussed in depth with the committee to insure the apparatus will adequately fulfill the needs of the fire department for the rig’s life expectancy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen as planned. When a less-than-wished-for purchase occurs, it may be the result of a lack of oversight by the AHJ. There could be an absence of communication between the AHJ and the APC. At the committee level, it could be not prioritizing individual committee members’ whims, wishes and desires. Some AHJ’s will form a committee then fade into the sunset until the specifications are finished and the rig is put to bid. The initial charging of an APC to develop purchasing specifications is the AHJ’s first obligation in the purchasing process. It shouldn’t be its last.

Most purchasing committees fulfill their duty admirably. Some don’t. Saying committee members have personal whims, wishes and desires is controversial although commonplace. A conscientious APC chairperson must keep members in check. The chairperson should ride herd on alpha personalities and establish committee level priorities. That in itself may be more challenging than agreeing on a make and model number of a particular widget to specify on the rig. As work progresses, internal committee priorities may need modification and restructuring.

Using a custom cab’s interior layout as an example, consider the wants of fictitious committee members Tom, Dick, Harry, and Fred. In this scenario, the cab layout directions given the APC were to specify a “safe custom cab to carry x number of firefighters.” Tom, the department’s most outspoken line officer, wants beaucoup room in the cab for his officer stuff—computer station, cell phone, map books, accountability board, reference books, portable radio(s), binoculars, and perhaps a camera. He says he’s the one in charge when the rig responds and it should be set up to his liking.

Dick, the most seasoned and outspoken firefighter of the lot, wants a large crew cab. He demands plenty of room to easily don his SCBA. He wants commonly used hand tools mounted in the cab. He also wants a high raised roof so he can stand up—not that he’ll be doing it en route or that he’ll be wearing a helmet inside the cab. He wants his helmet accessible so he can don it prior to egressing the cab. Dick claims he is the one who actually puts out the fires, so his convenience should have preference.

Harry, an experienced and opinionated chauffeur in the department, claims drivers deserve the most room and preference in the cab layout. He says the cab layout should benefit drivers because if they don’t safely get the rig to the scene, everything else is a moot point. Fred, the committee’s most senior and contentious member, is the resident safety guru and a general pain in the neck. He demands helmets be stored outside of the cab to prevent firefighters like Dick from wearing them in the cab. He says individual traffic-safety vests must be easily accessible at each seating position to enable firefighters to don them before exiting into traffic lines. Pointing out numerous standards, safety, and injury studies and possibilities, he claims no loose equipment should be stored in the cab because it’s dangerous. He says firefighters must maintain a three-point contact when egressing and that’s hard to do when carrying tools. He wants every safety feature known to mankind and those not yet invented.

Kumbaya is an optimistic belief that everyone will get along, agree, and live happily ever after. Occasionally common sense does not prevail, and committee members can’t agree or compromise. Pet peeves and stubbornness can overwhelm a committee’s effectiveness. Who gets priority consideration—the driver, the officer, the seasoned firefighter, or the safety guru? Is it the ranking member, the loudest person, the better salesman, or the alpha personality? If the committee can’t coalesce, or the chairman becomes ineffectual, the AHJ should be consulted at the least or step in at the most. There is merit in having an AHJ representative actively serve on the committee. The AHJ authorizes signing the check. Let it supervise. It can act as referee if one is needed. After all, the AHJ is ultimately accountable.

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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