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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This typically occurs at a point in construction when the chassis has been built, the pump or aerial device, if present, is mounted and the body has been placed on the chassis. Some of the wiring and lighting will have been located and mounted, as well as the air lines and most, if not all, of the vehicle's hydraulic system installed. You should be able to take the vehicle for a test drive and should do so at this point in order to test the braking and steering systems, as well as to determine if the location of switches, siren pedals, radio mounts, etc., are as desired.
The Pre-Paint Inspection
This will be the most important means of determining whether or not your pre-construction meeting was a success.
You should be on the lookout for all the items that you so carefully explained to the engineering staff during that meeting, as well as looking for specific items which would cause your department a maintenance or operational headache later on:
- The location and accessibility of the basic fuel, oil and air filters which are going to be changed on a regular basis over the life of the vehicle. Are there items blocking quick access to them or, in the case of the liquid filters, do they need to be lifted over the interior of the crew cab, causing the likelihood that oil will be spilled on the seats or cab floor?
- The location of the wiring harnesses running throughout the vehicle. Are they readily accessible if a short circuit should occur and rewiring a particular circuit becomes necessary?
- The grounding of electrical devices should be performed via a common ground run through the main wiring harness. Grounding each light and other device to the body individually is a sure sign that you are in for some electrical nightmares during the life of your rig.
- Are main undercarriage items readily accessible without removal of numerous other devices first? For example, if a starter needs replacement, a fairly common repair, can it simply be unbolted, removed and replaced or must the mechanic first uncouple numerous air, electrical and hydraulic lines which have been run beneath the starter and perpendicular to it? If you have to take this rig to a shop, you will pay upward of $75 per hour for repairs. Do you want to pay simply for replacement of the starter or do you want to add an additional four or five hours of labor because all these obstructing lines also have to be removed and replaced?
There are any number of items, too numerous to mention in any one article, that must be addressed when readying your new rig for delivery. The important thing to remember is that the quality of your inspections will reflect upon the degree of down time and maintenance cost ultimately incurred by your department. It is well worth your time and money to insure that a thorough, professional series of inspections is performed. If you're purchasing an aerial device, chances are you'll be spending in the neighborhood of $700,000. That's a pretty expensive neighborhood, so make sure that you get what you are paying for. Keep your eyes open and good luck!
John P. Morello has formed Morello Associates Inc., a fire apparatus consulting firm whose goal is assisting fire departments in specifying and purchasing new fire apparatus. Anyone interested in obtaining professional assistance with specification preparation, bid evaluations, performing factory inspections and acceptance of fire vehicles may reach him at his New York office, 718-478-6967.
John P. Morello recently retired from the FDNY after a 34-year career. He served for 12 years as a battalion chief, including eight years as the FDNY Chief of Technical Services, responsible for specifying and purchasing all automotive equipment used by the FDNY, as well as all the firefighting tools and equipment. In addition, he was the fleet manager for the FDNY's over 1,100 vehicles. He has specified, purchased, inspected and accepted over $75 million worth of fire apparatus. He was a voting member of the NFPA 1901 (Fire Department Apparatus) Committee for five years, while in active service, and still participates in its operations.