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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If you see a process that you do not understand, stop and ask the assembly line worker exactly what is being done since it will in all probability be the same process used to build your rig.

Beware The Change Order!

While a pre-construction meeting can be the most productive of the entire process, it can also, to the unwary, become the most expensive. Don't forget that, in all probability, it has been some time since you wrote the specifications, in some cases many months, and technology has more than likely made great strides during that time. It is easy to say to the builder that you would like to substitute a newer article for the one specified in the contract but if this is done indiscriminately, the toll on your budget can be awesome.

Sometimes simply asking innocently whether your apparatus can be furnished with an item similar to the one specified instead of the original can be interpreted by you as a simple swap and by the manufacturer as a change order to the specification. So, be careful. If you should make any changes to a specification that was bid on during this meeting, be sure that, upon completion of the trip, you are furnished with a complete breakdown of the changes made and any additional, or reduced cost for items furnished or deleted (that happens sometimes too).

The Inspection Trip

One of the most common errors typically made by truck committees during the course of an inspection trip is that they try to design and build their own vehicles instead of allowing the manufacturers to do what they do best (under your guidance, of course). While it is certainly within your purview to see to the placement of hose outlets, lighting equipment, pump control locations and other such items personal to your department, leave the basic construction of the vehicle to the builder. A firefighter telling a manufacturer that the truck is too flimsy and requires additional strengthening or a different steering system or better springs is only going to cause anxiety and even antagonism on the part of the people who have engineered the basic vehicle. I know I've done it!

Unless you have an outstanding reason for being critical of the construction of the vehicle's body or chassis, such as we had in New York City when we considered the types of streets on which we were forced to drive the vehicles, and unless you possess knowledge equal to that of the design engineers, you will have to be content with the assumption that they know what they are doing and that any ultimate design flaws that occur will be warranted under the clause in your boilerplate covering the adequacy of engineering practices.

One of the most important considerations that should be brought out at this meeting is the establishment of a liaison between you and the manufacturer's staff. Should a snag occur or a question be left unanswered causing some discrepancy during construction, it is important that someone be available to alleviate possible problems.

You can designate yourself or someone on your committee as the final word in addressing this type of situation and the manufacturer should specify one person on the company's staff to be the contact person either to call you or to be called by you to solve any problems that may occur.

I caution you not to allow the contact person for the manufacturer to be the local sales representative with whom you may have been dealing during the purchase. This person should be made aware of all the proceedings but any third party in this type of process seems to muddy the water and may cause severe problems when the vehicle is further along in construction. I also recommend that any final decisions made between yourself and the manufacturer's liaison by telephone be done also by fax and that a copy of the verification be kept in your apparatus folder to avoid future problems.

What's Next?

Assuming that the pre-construction meeting went all right, what happens next is that the builder will begin to act on the arrangements made at the pre-construction meeting and start to build your apparatus. Barring any misunderstandings or problems that are necessarily addressed by yourself and the liaison person, the next time you should become involved with your new rig will be at your next factory visit, which should take place at the point of what is commonly referred to as the pre-paint inspection.