Your apparatus committee has just spent the past eight months investigating different manufacturers and models of pumpers for your next new rig. After the bid opening, you find out that only one manufacturer put in a proposal for the pumper and that its bid is within the allocated budget...
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Your apparatus committee has just spent the past eight months investigating different manufacturers and models of pumpers for your next new rig. After the bid opening, you find out that only one manufacturer put in a proposal for the pumper and that its bid is within the allocated budget for the project. Unfortunately, several days later, the committee learns that the city council, under advisement from the solicitor, has ruled that you cannot award the contract for the new pumper when only one bid was received. After several meetings with fire department officials and the city council, the apparatus committee is instructed to revise the specifications to "open them up" for a competitive-bidding process.
This situation is being played out in many communities as chief officers are being asked to not only justify why a new piece of apparatus is needed, but the bidding process is being scrutinized as never before with public funds for capital purchases. Not just on a local level, but several state attorneys general and auditors have been reviewing fire department expenditures and bidding practices.
During 2008, the State Commission on Investigation in New Jersey published a report on fire apparatus purchasing and in part stated: "Given the vital public safety mission associated with this machinery and the size of the public's financial stake in it, taxpayers are entitled to expect that fire trucks are purchased properly and efficiently through a transparent, accountable procurement system grounded in a competitive public process."
Part five of The Apparatus Architect series (Firehouse®, May 2001) discussed the various types of bidding specifications: manufacturers, performance and request for proposals (RFP) specifications. While there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these styles of bidding specifications, it is important to note which type of technical specification will provide your department with needed apparatus at a competitive price without violating local or state regulations.
During apparatus committee meetings conducted with prospective vendors, it is advisable to ask each of the manufacturers being seriously considered to prepare a set of specifications for the proposed apparatus for your review. Based on a bullet-style outline of specifications that your committee had previously prepared and the discussions held during your meeting, the manufacturer's representative should be armed with sufficient information to produce an initial set of specifications. At this point, the apparatus committee can review several sets of specifications, noting components that the members would prefer to have provided on the new apparatus and comparing the extent of descriptions of body compartments with dimensions and other critical areas.
In the past, some departments, either by past practice or custom, would choose one vendor as the preferred apparatus provider, then publish with few changes that manufacturer's specification in its entirety as the bid specifications for the new apparatus. Here is where we can begin to get into trouble. Virtually all apparatus manufacturers employ technical writers and engineers to ensure that some of their proprietary designs are incorporated and described in their specifications. There are two sides to this scenario.
In the first instance, the department wishes to specify a specific brand and style of intake and discharge valves for the fire pump, as it has positive experience with this manufacturer's valves. In addition, the department's maintenance shops routinely stock repair parts and seal kits for these components. The impact here is minimal, as most apparatus builders can supply the different brands of brass goods and hardware that are available to the fire service. Some larger manufacturers may use as standard one brand of valve, but by and large other choices are available and can be supplied with little or no cost impact.