The Apparatus Architect - VI

In the last article in the Apparatus Architect series we discussed the different aspects of the various types of fire apparatus specifications. Each type of specification offers some benefits that may not be present in another form. One of the challenges for the apparatus committee is to properly identify which style of specification will provide the greatest benefit to the department, providing them with the apparatus that is designed and manufactured to meet their needs.

Up to this point in the process, things should be moving along smoothly with committee members in general agreement as to the overall mission, design and features of the proposed new apparatus. If the committee is not in agreement at this point in time stop and re-evaluate the whole process. If you do not have an Apparatus Architect yet now is the time to bring one on board. However it has been our experience that some committees do not stop to re-evaluate their positions nor do they employ the services of an Apparatus Architect. Rather the committee moves on without vision or focus. This is where the Apparatus Architect can keep the committee on track and assist in the development of the technical specifications. Where specific manufacturers component makes and models have been referenced in the specification, this provides a standard by which the bidders proposals can be measured. A problem arises when a bidder chooses not to offer a specified component or design and offers an alternative in their proposal. This may be considered to be a "Clarification" or "Exception" to the proposal and how the committee interprets this alternative may have a large impact on the overall analysis of one bidder's proposal.

Let's suppose for example that after the bid opening, while reviewing the bid proposals the committee discovers that the apparent low bidder has taken five "Clarifications" to your published specifications, the bidder in the middle has noted seven "Exceptions" to the specifications and the highest bidder has not made any comments and appears to be in full compliance with all aspects of your requirements. What do you do now? This is the position that many departments find themselves in and what has been a logical process up to this point, now is in complete chaos.

One of the most important parts of your specifications is the requirements of bidders or boilerplate section of the document. In this area you may describe the general terms and conditions of the biding process for your municipality, contract terms, inspection and testing requirements, delivery and training period, warranty provisions and other specific details regarding the rights and responsibilities for both the manufacturer and the fire department. It may be advisable to develop a short list of terms with definitions applied to them from the department's perspective. This provides all prospective bidders with the necessary information for each of them to provide a qualified response to the department's specifications.

In this area of the document it would be appropriate for the department to clearly define what constitutes an exception or clarification to the published specification. One definition for an exception could be: "An exception is any deviation to what the bidder is proposing, with respect to dimension, size or capacity, make, model or manufacturer of the specified components. All exceptions shall be listed on s separate page titled Exceptions to the Specifications and shall be numbered in accordance with the fire departments specifications noting the page, section and paragraph number of each item. Failure to list and define the bidders exceptions shall be grounds for rejection of the proposal." Simply put, an exception is a deviation to the technical specification in which the bidder either cannot, will not, or does not have the capability to supply precisely what has been specified.

A definition for a clarification could include the following: "A clarification is an improved or more definitive explanation of what the bidder is proposing to supply to meet the requirements of the published specification. A proposal that offers clarifications for excluded items that were required in the specifications may be immediately rejected as being informal and not in compliance with the requirements of the fire department."

Using this language will put all bidders on an even playing field and reduces the opportunity for manufacturers or sales personnel to develop proposals that do not meet the intent of your specifications. Spelling out the rules of engagement will simplify and streamline the bid evaluation process and potentially reduce or eliminate the ambiguities that frequently cloud the bidding process. Nothing can be more frustrating when evaluating a bidder's proposal to note that they have checked the bid complies column in your specifications, only to find in their proposal a completely different make, model or design has been bid in lieu of what you requested. When this does occur the apparatus committee needs to develop a strategy to properly evaluate the various proposals.

You should allow sufficient time to review each bidders proposal and depending upon the public bidding laws and regulations in your jurisdiction the bids generally must remain valid for a period of thirty to sixty days. With all of the other activities that may be going on in your department the bid review process may take a back seat to other higher priority projects, however this is one of the most important steps in the entire process and should not be overlooked or downplayed in its importance. Whether you received two proposals or eight, each one should be reviewed and graded on its merits with an unbiased view of exactly what it being offered to the department. As stated in previous articles of the Apparatus Architect your recommendation is something that the fire department will have to live with for at least ten to fifteen years and a hasty or imprudent decision will have a long lasting impact on the department.

However, if the timing of your bid occurs towards the end of the calendar year be prepared to work under some time constraints before you face a potential price increase. Several years ago one fire department planned to acquire several new pumpers that were to be equipped with air conditioning, Class A foam systems and an assortment of new hand tools. The bid price for each apparatus was $235,000 dollars which was about $10,000 dollars more than what had been appropriated. The pumpers were re-bid without these components, however this process took another five months. When the new bids were opened the price had increased to $244,000 even though the air conditioning, foam system and hand tools were removed from the specifications. Many manufacturers traditionally increase their prices during the fourth quarter of the year. The old saying that "time is money" certainly fits here. When planning the timing of your bids be prudent, not careless.

In preparation for the post bid activities the apparatus committee should prepare several documents that will assist them in analyzing the different proposals. First a spreadsheet should be developed listing in the left-hand column the major components, features and critical dimensions of the apparatus. Across the top of the page each of the bidders would be listed, with room beneath each heading to fill in exactly what the bidder has proposed. While it may seem like a simple task to perform this analysis with two bidders, it will be time consuming, but very worthwhile when there are four to six bidders for your apparatus. The spreadsheet assists in keeping the major items and components in perspective and in this way, cross comparisons among the different bidders can be easily recognized. Depending upon the complexity of the apparatus and the detail in each bidders proposal, it can take from two to four hours for each proposal to be reviewed with the various key items noted on the spreadsheet. This procedure is the most time consuming, but also the most important. How much time and effort spent here will directly impact the final product and the cost. This is where the battle is won or lost.

Another analysis procedure would be to rank in order of importance some of the various design aspects of the apparatus. For example, if the overall length and hosebed height from the ground were an important factors, then these features would be ranked higher than interior color and brand of seats inside of the cab. A minimum of twenty areas could be identified with numbers assigned based upon the degree of compliance with the published specification. The proposal with the highest number is one that most closely meets the fire department requirements, at least based upon the items identified as being of greater importance to the apparatus committee.

While it is always difficult to not interject our personnel bias into the review process, the goal is to be as objective as possible and deal with facts and what has been returned in each bidders proposal. Our job as the apparatus committee, is to qualify and review each bidders proposal to see exactly what the manufacturer is offering and how best this will meet the needs of our department, as reflected in the specifications. This review process, together with the information that was obtained during the research phase will assist the committee in determining who the department will choose to build their next piece of apparatus.

In the next installment in this series we will discuss some of the facets of conducting in-progress inspections of your new unit at the manufacturers facility.