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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In the second case, after the apparatus committee test drives a new demonstrator pumper, the members determine that the specifications should be written to state: "The apparatus shall be provided with a windshield with a minimum of 4,200 square inches of wraparound tinted safety glass with solar management treatment and supplied with four (4) vertical pantograph wiper blades."
There are several points here to consider. First, most builders of custom-chassis fire trucks have a windshield that provides sufficient viewing for the driver and officer. More often than not, the frontal viewing area is blocked by other components such as radios and mobile data terminals (MDTs) that are installed on the dashboard. While several thousand dollars may separate reputable bidders, it is not wise to attempt to justify the higher-priced unit based on something like the square-inch area of the windshield as a critical component on the apparatus. Using a manufacturer's proprietary specification may get you everything that you desire on your apparatus; however, it also guarantees that you will also get the manufacturer's standard components, which may not meet your needs in the long term. It also can put the department in a difficult position when you receive only one bid for the project and have no basis for comparison on the bid price being offered.
There are several alternatives to consider, including the development of an open specification, which clearly outlines the mission of the apparatus together with a listing of all of the major components on the apparatus identifying those considered to be "No Exceptions." Major components such as axles, tires, fire pumps and emergency lighting are available to all builders. However, engines, front-axle suspensions and body-compartment dimensions can be specific on just one manufacturer and can eliminate some vendors from bidding on the apparatus. It may be more beneficial to list all of the equipment that is going to be carried on the apparatus and determine the minimum cubic-foot storage area needed to accommodate this gear, rather than attempt to specify the precise dimensions of each body compartment. In this way, you will not only put the bidder on notice as to the anticipated hose, tool and equipment payload, but you will not inadvertently eliminate any bidder.
Whether your department chooses to use a manufacturer's specification or develop its own for use in the bidding process, you should clearly define those components or design criteria for which will allow alternatives to be proposed. In this case, every area or component where the bidder's proposal may be at variance with the department's specification should be noted as an "Exception" in the bidder's proposal, detailing what is being offered with a description as to why the requested component cannot be supplied. Where necessary, supporting technical information should be supplied for evaluation by the apparatus committee. The number of exceptions that a vendor may have to take with respect to the department's specification should be of lesser concern, with emphasis placed on the quality of the technical explanation as to why a component or design cannot be supplied.
The industry term for bidding against another manufacturer's specification is called "chasing the spec." Even with modern computer programs, a manufacturer's representative can spend four to five days putting together a well-developed proposal in response to a department's bid specifications. In some cases, a minimum number of exceptions are noted in the proposal for the department to review, leaving the apparatus committee to read each and every page of the proposal to determine exactly what the vendor is proposing to supply. At the point when the contract is awarded to a vendor, understand that the department is agreeing to have the apparatus constructed in accordance with the vendor's proposal and not necessarily with the department's specification. If any item within the vendor's bid is not in full compliance with the department's original specification and no exception has been noted, the onus is on the department to identify these items and correct them prior to entering into a formal contract.