the tips below are meant to be suggestions and these tips can be applied to any type of fire or ems vehicle purchase. These are certainly not all the answers, but these tips highlight some common misconceptions or philosophies often recognized and attempts to clarify those.
It is very important to understand that your salesman and the manufacturers are actually there to help you. They are not the enemy, and they are not out to steal your money. It is ok to get their advice, or follow their suggestions. You may very well know how to fight fire, run a fireground, and manage your people, but apparatus is very complex and the manufacturers are the experts, so keep an open mind during the purchase process. Just make sure they know what you need, and let them help you from there.
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photo by Bill Friedrich
photo by Joliet Fire Department
Tips for purchasing apparatus FAQ's, Do's & Don'ts
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(2) Huge misconceptions about buying apparatus:
in most cases, your apparatus salesman is paid on commission ONLY when an apparatus is sold. Their expenses prior to an actual order are normally paid out of their pocket including their fuel to come meet with you, and also the cost of printing the drawings and materials for a submitted bid or RFP. Please keep this in mind and do not waste their time and money if you have no intention of purchasing the product they represent.
a fire truck or ambulance is a complex piece of equipment to build, and an even more complex item to estimate the cost. Salesman normally use software and build the truck using that data, next this data is normally sent to the factory so that any special features can be engineered and cost estimated. Then a design engineer will create drawings of what your apparatus will look like. This all takes time, and if your request for RFP or bid is the first time your salesman has seen your spec, then 30 days might not be enough time. Be fair to this process and try to allow 45 or even 60 days for the deadline to submit the proposal.
NFPA 1901 is the Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. Most manufacturers are very familiar with this standard and build their apparatus to comply with this standard. What you need to know is that no manufacturer is going to build or do something that does not comply with this standard unless you sign a waiver releasing them from any liability. Even if you are willing to do that, most still won't go against this standard on any safety related wording. An example of this would be the seat beat warning alarms that indicate if everyone is properly belted or not. Even if you ask for this to be disabled, any reputable manufacturer would deny your request as it would go against this standard.
very early on, you must determine who is going to be on your committee for this purchase, and most importantly "who is going to be the primary point of contact". Your sales person does not need or want to have contact with your entire committee every time somebody has a question. It is important that the committee members direct any questions or feedback to the committe contact, so only that person contacts the salesman. This will eliminate any confusion.
determine the budget you have to work with. Do NOT be afraid to let your salesman know what the maximum spending budget for this purchase is. The fact is they should know this. Not so they can spend every dime you have, but so they can try and give you what you really need without exceeding your budget. Another reason they should know is so you do not waste each others time. If your budget is $250,000 for a new pumper, then some manufacturers will know instantly they can not sell you their product for that amount, and everybody knows this quickly before you waste each others time.
determine early on what you actually need this new piece of apparatus to do. What we want and what we can actually afford are not always the same thing. Be realistic, know your budget and know your actual needs. Later in the process there may have to be some trade offs to stay within your budget, so understand what are the most important features.
before you even contact your first salesman, there are some things you should already know and agree on as a committee. Including:
type of apparatus (pumper, aerial, tanker, etc) type of chassis - custom or commercial number of cab seating will it include water, if so tank size will it have a pump, if so what size aerial height or ground ladder requirements will it include a generator, if so what size light tower? rescue tools? hose or cord reels? how many feet of supply line will be in hose bed what equipment will be carried on this truck and the most important question - is there a max height or max length restriction
Choosing your Salesman:
First, as a committe discuss what brands you are familiar with, and what brands you like and those that you don't. Do your homework. See who your local dealer is for the brands that your committee has the most interest in and contact only those. Apparatus is an important purchase and you should have faith in the manufacturer to produce a quality product, and in your dealer to provide you with assistance during your purchase and service in the future. Often, you get what you pay for, so never be afraid to buy the best and you will always be happy with it. Choose wisely and do not waste the time of salesman that you have no itent of buying from.
the more your salesman knows about what you actually need, the more they can help make sure you get what you need. If your truck is to be an inner city pumper, then it will probably need less water and a larger hose bed. If your truck rarely uses a hydrant, then you need more water. Expalin the intended role of the apparatus clearly.
your salesman is a training consultant in apparatus building so you need to try and take advantage of their knowledge by allowing them to assist you in designing the apparatus that is best for your needs. In some cases you should be able to rely on your salesman to make some choices for you to ensure safety and performance of your apparatus. Your salesman is backed by an engineering staff, and if they tell you there is a better way of doing something, then you should listen. Do not try and be too technical, just tell them what you need, and let your sales force figure out the technical stuff and report back to you. There are many choices that you as a committee must figure out, but do not overlook the help of your salesman.
it does not matter what brand you choose, at some point something will go wrong with it, period...What matters, is how the dealer and manufacturer handle it for you. Understand your warranties before you purchase. Know your dealer, know their facility and staff, and know if they do road and warranty service at your station. Know if they transport your apparatus for warranty work, or if you have to take it to them. Get ALL of this in writing. Know if other service centers are also available for warranty work. Know if they have road service that will come to your station and do routine maintenence. Do not wait untill a problem happens before you know what is covered and what is not, and who is going to fix it.
A consortium offers procurement conducted by or on behalf of public organizations, businesses or entities. A consortium or group purchasing organization provides a faster and easier way for purchasing entities to get the items they need. In some circumstances, cooperative purchasing is a solution to the lengthy and sometimes political bidding in the fire apparatus purchasing process.
5 Benefits of Purchasing With a Consortium
You can satisfy the bidding process. Consortiums have access to specifications and costs for apparatus from a variety of manufacturers and will use this information to match a fire department with the best product options available.
The department can choose from the best options available. Depending on the consortium, the department will be provided with the top five or ten products that meet their requirements. They will then have the opportunity to choose the best fit.
You can modify the selection as needed. Once you select the best apparatus fit, the department can work with their dealer to modify the apparatus as needed.
Save time and money. Using a buying consortium, your community can save time, resources and money by jumping right to the fire apparatus selection process.
Ideal for single purchases. Consortiums are especially helpful for departments seeking to purchase only one or two trucks. Initiating the buying process immediately is invaluable for smaller fleets.
There are several National consortiums such as HGAC Buy, FireRescue GPO, NASPO ValuePoint, and Sourcewell. There are also state-level consortiums such as PA-Costars, FL-Florida Sheriffs, LA-LaMAS, TX-BuyBoard, and OH-Ohio State.
The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) is the largest of 24 Councils of Government (COG) in Texas, and is a political subdivision of the State of Texas. It has been serving local governments for more than 40 years. H-GAC has established Interlocal Contracts with thousands of End Users throughout Texas and across the United States. Talk to your salesman about HGAC, then you can register your non-profit agency for free at HGACbuy.org
one of the most common finacing options is often called a lease-purchase agreement. This type of financing is used to purchase a huge majority of the fire trucks being purchased. This is very similar to a loan, as you make payments to own the truck after completing the payment schedule. There are no buyout fees or payments at the end, and the truck is normally titled in the department's name from the beginning.
This type of agreement qualifies for low, tax-exempt interest rates and terms are usually three to 15 years. Payments can be made monthly, quarterly, twice a year or once a year. Most departments place a down payment to lower their cost, but a down payment is usually not necessary.
There are countless different financing options for a department looking to purchase a new piece of apparatus, and some options are even offered specific to the manufacturer that you choose. Talk to your salesman and see if they offer financing options for you, or if they have certain lenders that they often work with.
Even if a department has the cash to pay for the truck in full, it might make better sense to explore other options. Some but not all manufacturers may offer a discount if partial payments are made or if the truck is paid in full prior to delivery. This could be useful if grant money has been awarded for the apparatus purchase. Once again, do your homework and ask questions so you know the facts.
RFD or Bid Request:
when you send out your RFP or bid request, try and include a list of the expected equipment to be carried on the truck. The reason for this is to help determine the weight of the equipment, which will also help determine the overall weight of the truck. This is very important so the truck can be engineered with proper axles and balanced weight.
when you create your RFP or bid request, do NOT include proprietary items or features. If you do, then you will most likely get a response only from the salesman that offers that item or feature. Proprietary wording will immediately send a red flag to all other potential manufacturers that you are only seeking a particular brand, and that you have no intent of purchasing anything else. "or equivalant" is a much better phrase to use.
It is perfectly fine to say "cab and body must be constructed of stainless-steel or equivalent for corrosion resistance" or to say "must include an all steel aerial" if these are traits important to your department.
once again, without repeating the provebial dead horse, try not to be over specific. It is ok to stand your ground on materials used for construction, just be careful not to fall into the proprietary forms of construction. Safety should always be your biggest concern, so commen sense tells you that a truck constructed with stronger materials is probably a safer truck. Again, do your homework before you write the RFP or bid request and get an idea what features of constuction will best fit your needs. An example would be to specify a minimum tip load weight for an aerial, or a weather proof coating must be applied to the frame components and under carrige.
Specific paint colors or brand of paint to be used is fine, or if you are in the snow belt specify the use of stainless steel in cab or fender well construction. Most manufacturers use the same brands of pumps so it might be ok to say "must include a Waterous single stage 1500gpm", but adding the words "or equilalent" would be better.
if you want something special on your truck, then it needs to be described completely and properly in your RFP or bid request.If needed include measurements or a drawing of the feature. Special features require time, and engineering eith at a simple or complex level so it is crucial that everyone fully understands exactlty what you want. If you insist on a certain bracket or item, then include the complete brand name and part number. An example of this would be "must include a Federal Q2B mechanical siren". This is also a good place to mention AGAIN any height, width, or length restrictions of the truck such as "vehicle may NOT exceed 9 feet 7 inches in height".
If any equipment is to also be included with this vehicle purchase, then you MUST specify that clearly with brand and part number. Example would be "must include a Stryker Power Load System with cot and show the exact part# that you want".
if you want tools and equipment to be mounted on your truck, then you need to say so and specify exactly what and where. No room for error here as this needs to be fully understood by all. So in your RFP or bid request, be very clear with brands, part numbers, sizes, and what get mounted in what compartment. Most tool mounting is done at your dealer once they receive the truck from the manufacturer rather than at the factory. This is perfectly acceptable on most cases and does not void any factory warranties. It is however, very important for the factory to know what will go where on the truck during pre-construction so that compartments can be constructed of proper size and include proper wiring or plumbing.
Tools and equipment can be sent to the dealer for mounting when the truck nears completion at the factory.
when you write your RFP or bid requests, dont be naive and remember nothing is free. Everything about this truck comes with a cost, including those factory trips that we love so much where you tend to eat and drink good. That travel is necessary, but it is also expensive and although you might not specifically see it shown in your cost, it's in there....believe.
Be smart, and be realistic. How many people are really necessary to pre-con or inspect a typical pumper? Do we really need a 3rd or post paint trip 2 or 3 weeks before the truck is finished? Only you know the answers to those questions, but remember that it all costs, and if you are on a tight buget then it is certainly something to consider. Would you rather have a $5000 item added to your truck to use for the next 20 years, or would you rather send 5 people to a post paint trip 2 weeks before final inspection trip. Think about it, a good rule of thumb for many manufacturer visits that include airfare would be about $1000 per person per trip. So you can see how that can add up quick, so be smart about how many will go, and how many visits. A final inspection should always be done by at least some of your committee, and most do a pre-con trip soon after the order is placed but not everyone does. The biggest waste of money is the 3rd and often called a post paint trip. A better option is to specify that the factory sends frequent or weekly photo updates of your unit as it progresses through the manufacturing process.
now that you have your RFP or bid request written, it is time to send it out to your salesman. Make sure it clearly states who the primary contact person is for any questions, and make sure it includes a phone number where that person can easily be reached. Now is not the time for any confusion. Be very clear about your deadline for return of the RFP or bid request and state what happens after that. An example wording would be something like this:
All proposals must be submitted by no later than 6pm on 11-1-2019, and the return address mailbox (include address) will checked by 5pm on this date. No proposals will be excepted after 6pm on 11-1-2019 unless dictated by an extreme emergency or weather condition. The proposals will be opened at our station (include address) at 6:15pm on 11-1-19 and the final proposed cost will be read alound for each submitted. Afterward, all vendors that submitted a proposal will be given a maximum of 30 minutes to meet with the committee to answer any questions or further explain any details of the proposal they submitted.
The committee has the option to accept or reject any proposal or bid at their discretion, and the winner will be determined within 7 days of the opening of the proposals. The winner will be chosen will all things considered and not just the price. Considerations that will determine the winner will include the final price, the ability for the dealer to provide service, trust in the brand or manufacturer, warranties, attitude and demeanor of the salesman, and the adherence to the requested spec. The winners will be notified as soon as the decision has been made.
An important thing to remember when you send out your RFP or bid request as stated earlier is to allow the vendors enough time. There should be no reason that you cannot give them 45-60 days to return the proposal before the deadline. Remember todays fire or ambulance apparatus includes countless hours of engineering for safety and efficiency so be fair and give them time to figure all this out. Finally, once you determine a winner, at least give each salesman the common courtesy of a phone call or email to let them know that another brand was chosen by the committee. You don't have to get into to detailed specifics as to why, but it's ok to say which manufacturer was the winner as the committie felt it was the overall best choice at this time. That's all you need to say, but these people probably worked hard to submit your proposal, so at least give them that.
Ordering the Apparatus:
now that all RFP or bid requests have been returned and you have met with each salesman to ask any questions, it is time for your committee to meet in private and decide on a winner. Once you do that, the next step will be for your salesman to bring to you a contract to sign for the purchase. Read this document carefully and ask any questions before you sign. Once the contract is signed then your truck is officially ordered.
soon after the contract is signed for your purchase, your salesman will contact you to schedule a pre-construction meeting. This is often done at the apparatus factory but in many cases it can be done at the dealership conference room. That choice will have already been made in the RFP or bid request. At the pre-con meeting you can expect to discuss most aspects of your truck, and there is still time to make some changes or add some additional feature. Beware, that any additions or changes at this point going forward could and often is an added cost. The drawings of your apparatus will be there for you to see, and you will also get a factory tour and see many other trucks in progress that might give you some ideas. This will be the time to ask further questions, and normally someone from the factory will be with you along with your salesman to ensure things go smoothly and all questions can be answered.
When you travel to the factory there are some things to remember and often your salesman will discuss this with you prior to travel. You must be on time, the plane will not wait for you. Sometimes your salesman will take you to the airport, but often they will either meet you at the airport, or meet up with you when you connect to your final flight. This depends or where your salesman lives and where you live. Next is to remember to act professionally as you are representing your department. You should have a good time, and you will, but remember who you are and why you are going. Normally travel is done the day or evening before your pre-con meeting, so enjoy the evening after you arrive, have a nice dinner but try and be rested and alert the next morning. Pre-con cannot be done if you feel too bad becuase of too much drinking the night before. Be prepared to wear safety glasses, a safety vest, and perhaps a hard hat during the factory tour. Many of the manufactures will also require steel toe protection so either wear your NFPA station boots, or be prepared to wear clamp on toe protection when you get there.
this goes ithout saying, but remember to document anything that is changed after the signed contract for your purchase. Get it in writting, especially during pre-con. This protects both you and your salesman. If you are at pre-com and you change a lens color from red to yellow, get that in writting and keep a copy of that or any other changes. If later on in the process the factory calls your salesman and says they discovered something that won't work and needs to be moved 2 inches, then after your salesman relays that info to you, make sure somebody documents that change and that you receive a copy of that. There is lots of money at stake here by you, the manufacturer, and even the dealer, so make sure everything is documented along the way.
about 2 or 3 weeks prior to your truck being completed, the factory will reach out to your salesman with a planned date for your final inspection. They will then reach out to you to confirm the date and start planning your travel. The same travel tips apply that were mention for the pre-con above so if you did not read those, please do.
During the final inspection you will see your compeleted truck for the first time. This can be very exciting, but there are some things to remember here also. You might, and probably will find some things that need to be addressed on your truck, regardless of the manufacturer. This is why we do final inspections, and things will be made right. Remember to keep your cool, discuss any issues, and give them an oppertunnity to correct them. If you treat the sales team with respect, then you will be treated the same and everybody will be happy as the corrections are made. If you come unglued and belligerent then the process will not move smootly or not move at all. Your manufacturer is used to final inspections, and they want you to point out anything that you are not happy with, just do it in a respectable manner and everything will work out fine.
Most factories have a special area that is reserved for final inspections. Usually there is some sort of table and chairs for you to have your spec and drawings on display. They may have a tape measure for you to use, as well as a creeper, scaffolding, rags, and whatever else you might need. Now is the time to make sure the truck is the proper height, length, and that doors and windows function properly, generators work, the pump is tested and so forth. When you find an issue, write it down and let the sales team know. Once you complete your final inspection, often you will return home and any issues will be corrected at the factory. Some may be done while you are still there, some may be done after you leave but prior to your apparatus being shipped to your dealer.
at this point your apparatus has been shipped from the factory and arrived at your dealer. This is when everything is once again checked and the vehicle is serviced as needed. Tool mounting might need to be done at this point and everything is fully checked. In most instances you will go to your dealer and see the truck again prior to delivery of the apparatus to your station by your salesman.
Your salesman will then schedule with you (if they have not already done so) a date(s) for the required training on your new apparatus. Pumpers, Rescues, Ambulances, and small apparatus training is normally done by your salesman or someone from the dealership. Aerial training on the other hand is done by a factory rep. Training on your new apparatus will be done either at your station or a place designated by you. It will be your reponsibility to train and of those unable to be present during the training scheduled by your dealer.