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It has long been my experience that the buying and selling of things is what helps to makes the world go around. If you are a buyer, be an educated consumer. These are people who know exactly what they want and exactly how much they should pay for it. My hope for the fire service is to create a market where educated buyers can come together with educated industry salespeople. This approach may well lead to better interactions and improve the buying experience for fire service people around the world. When next you attend a county, state, regional or national convention or conference where salespeople are clamoring for your attention, I want you to be ready. I am pitching this column to people on both sides of the buyer-seller aisle.
It is my desire to make the fire service a better place to live and work by helping all parties to the buyer-seller equation understand just how they should act and interact. My research indicates that today's consumers are faced with strong competition among traders, a wide range of products and services, and readily available credit.
Two pressures affect each of us who chooses to become an educated consumer. In the first instance, each of us needs to become conversant in the laws governing public-sector purchases. In the second instance, we need to learn about the pitfalls facing each of us in those instances when we are faced with a decision to buy something for our agency.
People who are charged with spending public funds usually find that they are subject to the stringent confines of governmental regulations designed to keep them from squandering the public's largess. To some, these regulations can be confining. However, since they are the law, they must be obeyed.
Like many of you, I have lived a life colored by the curse of the low bid. I have had to use shoddy equipment because the people buying it were unaware of the ways in which bids for equipment should be written. If you are a consumer in this arena, it is critical for you to know the law.
There will be bid thresholds and quotation requirements that vary from state to state. However, if you really know what it is that you wish to buy, then that is what you should write your specifications around. A failure to craft your bids in a way that reflects what you really want to acquire does a disservice to your agency. An agency can never be faulted for writing tough specifications.
If you are going to become an effective consumer of fire and emergency service products, you must spend time learning how to operate within the confines of the law. In our case in New Jersey, we are bound by state law to advertise and solicit public bids when the size of a purchase exceeds a given amount. My agency is in the midst of constructing a new substation, so I am well aware of the process. Further, our agency makes a number of purchases each month. The members of our staff who generate the purchasing requests are aware that for purchases under a certain amount, they have to obtain only three quotations from different vendors so that we can indicate that we are selecting the lowest bidder.
In our state, a mechanism exists for speeding up the process. The state has created a list of pre-qualified bidders. If we choose to purchase something from a state contract, we need only indicate in our records that we are buying from a state-contract vendor. It takes a bit of time to become conversant in the ways of public- sector buying, but it is time well spent.
Now it is time to move to the other side of the coin. Each of us is subject to the nuances of our personalities and our learned behaviors. When it comes to the buying experience, each of us is subject to internal and external pressures. You must learn to control your response to them.