Performing Factory Inspections On New Fire Apparatus

John P. Morello offers professional advice on the many different aspects of purchasing and factory-inspecting a new vehicle for your fire department.


One of the most important facets of purchasing fire apparatus, and the one that can lead to greater satisfaction or sheer horror, is the factory inspection which takes place (or should) during the course of construction of the vehicle. It is also the most misunderstood and can be the most wasteful...


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One of the most important facets of purchasing fire apparatus, and the one that can lead to greater satisfaction or sheer horror, is the factory inspection which takes place (or should) during the course of construction of the vehicle. It is also the most misunderstood and can be the most wasteful portion of the purchasing process or the most beneficial.

While there are various means of participating in the actual finished design and layout of your vehicle, the most advantageous to your department are the three most commonly utilized controls over the quality of construction in use today. These are:

  1. The pre-construction meeting.
  2. The pre-paint inspection.
  3. The final inspection.

Typically, these meetings are held with representatives of the manufacturer and the most appropriate location for them is at the plant where the actual construction of the apparatus will take place. It cannot be stressed too strongly that a LIMITED number of representatives from your department should take part in these meetings and inspections. I have heard reports from manufacturers of up to 17 members of a truck committee attempting to hold an inspection. The only possible outcome of this type of crowd trying to perform this service is that the end product will be less than satisfactory to everyone. Remember, the manufacturer also has a vested interest in your performing a good series of inspections since the more defects you uncover on inspection, the less his warranty cost will be after the vehicle is delivered.

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Photo by Dennis C. Sharpe
This KME pumper was delivered to Swoyersville, PA, Hose Company 2.


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Photo by S.P. Ryan
The Kingstowne Station, Franconia Volunteer Fire Department in Fairfax County, VA, was the recipient of this Pierce Quantum.

Some departments feel that they are getting something for nothing by writing into the specifications that the cost of the inspection trips will be borne by the manufacturer. There are no free rides in this world, including rides to the manufacturing plant. If you write trips into your specification, the manufacturer will write those costs into the bid and raise the price of your vehicle accordingly.

The cost of these trips should not deter you from inserting them into the specification, however, since they are invaluable to the finished product. If you feel that your department can only afford two of these instead of all three, I would strongly recommend that you perform the pre-construction meeting and the pre-paint inspection. If you perform these properly, everything you need to cover at the final inspection should be covered and it is possible to perform that final viewing at a local shop or your own firehouse. It would be better to do it at the factory since any changes necessary can be made more easily, but, since these are or at least should be minor changes they are usually capable of being performed locally.

Committee members should realize that there may be times during the planning of the vehicle and during the actual inspections when you may have to make decisions regarding the placement of items inside, outside and underneath the rig that will bring you into a direct conflict between locations necessary for operations and those allowing the easiest, fastest maintenance. This will be a trade-off and you should face up to it realistically. The reason for these visits is to reduce your vehicle's down time over its life span. This will lead directly to a reduction in maintenance and a concomitant reduction in costs associated with keeping the rig in good operating condition.

Once the warranty ends, should you not have your own maintenance staff to perform repairs and maintenance, these can be extremely costly when performed at a truck repair shop. A shop in the metropolitan New York City area, for example, would charge well over $75 per hour for labor alone. Think about that when contemplating the trade-offs between operational capability and maintenance cost control. Some operational tactics, while important, can be placed in the non-emergency category when being considered in this light since they will normally be the focus of secondary tactical considerations.

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