In the past, many people considered factory or in-process inspections to be a perk awarded to the committee for its efforts and much of the time spent at the manufacturer's location was social and recreational in nature.
Now, to the contrary, pre-construction meetings and in-process inspections are important steps in the building process. They provide opportunities to respond to questions as well as clear up any misunderstandings as to the intent and wording in the specifications. For example, if the department specifications stated, "The crosslay hosebeds shall be as low to the ground as possible, but in no case shall be more than 64 inches from the ground," just what will be designed by the manufacturer?
Here are some guidelines to make the pre-construction conference more valuable :
- If you have not visited the manufacturer's facility, ask that the pre-construction meeting be held there. This lets the committee tour the plant where the apparatus will be built and meet some of the key personnel who will oversee the building process for your unit.
- Prior to the meeting, highlight the important items and components in your specification. Make sure to bring these items up during the meeting. It may be wise to prepare an agenda for this session to insure that all items are discussed, with the proposed resolution or person responsible to follow up on each issue that is discussed.
- Assign one member of the committee to take notes at the meeting and mark up one set of specifications and a blueprint to indicate what items were changed or relocated as a result of the discussions during the meeting.
- Limit the number of people who attend the pre-construction conference to four or five. Larger groups tend to wander from point to point through the specifications without a defined goal. Too few personnel often leads to "tunnel vision" with smaller items not reviewed and taken for granted.
Depending on the apparatus builder, this may be the last time in the process when the fire department can make any changes in the unit. If that is the case, you may want to consider another manufacturer.
It is one thing to look at blueprints and specifications; it is much different to see the vehicle in a pre-paint inspection. For example, one department's specifications required the vehicle to carry three pike poles/hooks. The manufacturer neatly configured a mounting bracket in the upper-right-hand corner of the hosebed that could hold three pike poles/hooks as specified, but then we noticed that the mounting bracket had enough room to accommodate three additional pike poles/hooks, as long as there was enough clearance behind the mounting bracket. So we asked the factory representative if we could add three more pike pole/hook spaces in the mounting bracket. He checked with engineering and found that it would work. We also were able to add an additional compartment based on our pre-paint inspection to use what other wise would have been wasted space. The changes did not cost much and made for a more functional vehicle.
The ability to make any change on the vehicle and its impact on cost and delivery time should be reviewed with the manufacturer, to prevent surprises or disappointments during the building process. If you have been following the concepts that we have outlined in the Apparatus Architect series, the apparatus committee members should all be on the same page with respect to the overall mission and conceptual design of the unit. The pre-construction conference is an opportunity to fine-tune the overall design of the apparatus.
We have all heard stories of major design flaws - for example, rigs that did not fit into stations on delivery or foam systems that did not work. Retaining the services of an apparatus architect will insure that major problems will not occur and that minor issues can be resolved easily, at times with less cost and improved performance. The overall investment of several hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money can be well spent to provide safe and efficiently designed equipment by insuring that outside advice is secured before building a complex piece of apparatus.