Part 46: How Do You Justify a New Apparatus During These Tight Economic Times? The fire chief and his deputies had just returned to the station after attending a budget hearing with the town council. The chief was discouraged, as he learned for the third year in a row that his request for...
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Part 46: How Do You Justify a New Apparatus During These Tight Economic Times?
The fire chief and his deputies had just returned to the station after attending a budget hearing with the town council. The chief was discouraged, as he learned for the third year in a row that his request for funding to replace a 24-year-old pumper had been denied. While the chief thought that this year the department would finally receive council approval for the $450,000 expenditure for the new engine, he came away disheartened and upset with the budget-approval process.
The chief compared the fire department's plight to the police and highway departments by stating, "Surely, police officers are not riding around in cars that are 24 years old and I know that the highway department just received two new snowplows last year. You councilmen are playing with public safety here and you should approve the department's request for this new pumper."
Unfortunately, the fire chief did not succeed with his case and the department was told to resubmit its request during next year's budget cycle. This account is playing out in many communities across the country and we as fire service managers need to be prepared to state and sell our program to the politicians and outsiders who control the financial resources in our municipalities.
The past few years have presented some of the most difficult economic challenges for the country since the Great Depression. Municipal governments are struggling to provide services in all areas as their income has decreased. Real estate transfer taxes, sales tax receipts and other funding streams have decreased to the point where for the first time in years, many municipalities must consider reducing the level of services, including closing libraries and schools and laying off some municipal employees.
Looking at the Numbers
It should come as no surprise that fire departments would be included in an analysis of government services that would come under review for possible budget reductions, particularly with respect to capital purchases for fire apparatus. In many places, the cost of a new engine apparatus or ladder truck would most likely be the most expensive piece of rolling stock that would be acquired by a municipality. Simply stating that "we need a new pumper right now" will not satisfy those in charge of approving large capital cost equipment, especially when the total amount of the purchase will impact the budget in a single year.
Any fire department, regardless of the size of its apparatus fleet, should have a well-developed fleet replacement plan for all units. This plan should encompass a number of aspects, including initial vehicle cost, maintenance, fuel and insurance costs, vehicle usage, mileage, age and condition as well as compatibility with recent safety enhancements. Using this data, the department should be able to develop a profile of actual vehicle cost per run or per mile to determine the cost effectiveness of each unit in the fleet.
There are several fleet-management software packages that provide different modules that can produce the information needed to assist department personnel with quantifying vehicle performance and life-cycle costing. This data can then be used to determine the appropriate time frame for apparatus replacement for each unit in the fleet. This program then needs to be reviewed and approved by whoever controls the financial resources in the community. In this manner, there should be no surprises when funding is requested for new or replacement apparatus during the budget process.