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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Where Do I Go From Here?

Where you go from the point of issuing a purchase order to a manufacturer is right back to your specifications, or the "boilerplate" that accompanies them. Somewhere within either of these documents is (should be!) a clause indicating that inspections will take place at the point of construction sometime during the time the apparatus is being built. More importantly, the document should state that a meeting will take place prior to construction which will include members of your truck committee and responsible personnel of the manufacturer, and that the meeting will take place at the factory where construction will take place.

Commonly referred to as a pre-construction meeting, you should spell out exactly who you expect to be present at this gathering. Typically those who should be present include:

  • A chassis engineer.
  • A body engineer.
  • An electrical supervisor (if your vehicle will contain a generator producing electricity, an additional supervisor for the 110-volt system).
  • A plumbing supervisor (if a pump is to be supplied).
  • An aerial engineer (if an aerial is to be furnished).

In addition, a set of final blueprints indicating exactly what the manufacturer intends to build for you should be available for everyone's investigation from the builder. These should be sent to you prior to your visit to allow your committee to examine them and note the questions they wish to have answered during the meeting.

1_97_factory3.jpg
Photo by Karen Morris
This HME rescue truck was delivered to the Broomall, PA, Fire Company.


1_97_factory4.jpg
Photo courtesy of the Winnemucca Rural FD
The Winnemucca, NV, Rural Fire Department took delivery of this 4,000-gallon tender built on a Freightliner chassis.

The simplest method of conducting a pre-construction meeting, albeit the longest, is to furnish a copy of the specifications, AS BID, to all concerned. This should be your responsibility, not the manufacturer's, since some builders break down your specifications for the edification of their assembly line supervisors and rewrite some portions of them to make certain they are better understood by the assembler. This is referred to as a "work copy" and the wording may or may not be exactly the same as your original specifications. To insure correctness, furnish your own copies to those assembled at the meeting.

This can be the most productive meeting imaginable not just for you but for the manufacturer too. Any misunderstandings or misinterpretations concerning your specifications must be ironed out here before the process goes another step forward. There is no one who can read your 50, 60 or more pages of specifications and correctly interpret exactly what you had in mind when it was written, and this is the time and place to insure that those ideas are transferred to the people who will actually build your apparatus. From the manufacturer's point of view, it is infinitely easier to correct a problem before construction than after, and it is also much less expensive.

If you wait until after completion of the vehicle to let the manufacturer know exactly what you wanted, you can rest assured that the cost for any changes will be passed along to you at that point because of your failure to communicate your wishes. If a misunderstanding about interpretation of the specification occurs prior to construction, most manufacturers will gladly work with your department to insure your satisfaction.

While At The Factory

Since this all important meeting will take place at the factory, ask to be escorted through the plant BEFORE the meeting takes place. Tour the assembly area but don't just tour. Take in all of the areas of construction that you have access to and look at the methods of construction. Don't forget that this is the same assembly line that will be producing your vehicle and the methods of installation will be the same. If you see something that displeases you, make a note of it and bring it up at the meeting (that's the reason for touring prior to the meeting as an aside, for those with less than total recall, a miniature tape recorder may help you remember what you've seen).