Shorten Your Specifications

Today's fire apparatus specifications are lengthy, hard to read and not easily understood. The specification-writing process has turned into a flamboyant affair with superfluous wording, eloquent sayings and indefinable descriptions by both buyer and...


Today's fire apparatus specifications are lengthy, hard to read and not easily understood. The specification-writing process has turned into a flamboyant affair with superfluous wording, eloquent sayings and indefinable descriptions by both buyer and seller. Apparatus manufacturers and dealers use...


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Today's fire apparatus specifications are lengthy, hard to read and not easily understood. The specification-writing process has turned into a flamboyant affair with superfluous wording, eloquent sayings and indefinable descriptions by both buyer and seller. Apparatus manufacturers and dealers use the written word to make their product and themselves more appealing to the customer. Some pride themselves for having the longest, thickest and most detailed specification in the industry. When describing what they want to buy, some purchasers will emulate a manufacturer's lengthy specification. Professional specification writers and industry consultants can have equally long and detailed methods of writing.

Caution should be exercised. Having sold or purchased a few fire trucks should not be the only qualifications of an industry expert. Being up to date and innovative in ideas, theories and thinking is equally as important as having decades of experience. Think twice if the last rig your consultant sold had an open cab, gasoline engine, four-speed manual transmission, Class B pump and subway loops for the crew riding the back step.

Regardless of the reason, both buyer and seller use an abundance of verbiage. There are too many words and far too many adjectives. Textbooks define an adjective as a word that describes or qualifies another word or subject. You may rest assured that no high school English teacher is going to grade your apparatus specification. It should be written so prospective bidders can easily read and understand it. Looks don't count — content does.

Superfluous wording clouds the bidding process. Superfluous wording includes unnecessary words, descriptions and meaningless phrases used in attempting to enhance the value of an item. They do not always do so in a measurable way because they may have more than one meaning or have no clear meaning at all. There is nothing that is quantifiable; nothing can be accurately defined or measured. They are those extra words with no value that clutter up fire apparatus specifications. And as such, they cannot be priced by a bid estimator. A competitive cost cannot be established for a description that may have different meanings to different people. Get rid of those extra words. This writer predicts the current industry-wide specification format will be shortened and simplified. Abbreviated or bullet-type specifications, predominant in Europe, will soon become commonplace in the domestic market. Advantages to simplified specifications include, but are not limited to:

  • They are easy to write
  • They are precise and to the point
  • There is less chance of misinterpretation
  • They are easily understood by non-scholarly purchasers
  • They lessen the potential for error
  • They are easy to modify
  • They take less time to prepare
  • They take less time to read and understand
  • They will encourage competitive bidding
  • They can be easily integrated into existing specification-writing software

Bidders place a monetary value on every word written into a set of purchasing specifications. They know the exact cost difference between three-16ths-inch aluminum and one-eighth-inch stainless steel compartment shelves. But, they may not be able to estimate what is specified as a heavy-duty shelf because heavy duty has no single meaning. Manufacturers of both 3/16ths-inch aluminum and 1/8th-inch stainless shelves advertise each as heavy duty! A one-eighth-inch shelf with a reinforcing hat section or one constructed of quarter-inch-thick aluminum plate could also be interpreted as heavy duty and be equally as functional. There is no valid description or single cost for heavy duty. There is no doubt what the intent is, but it is nearly impossible to place a monetary value on intent alone. Bidders can price a shelf with a single, double or even triple break on the leading edge, but are hard pressed to estimate the cost of one specified to be manufactured to meet the demands of the fire service. If you want the shelf to hold 500 pounds without permanently deflecting, say so.

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