The Apparatus Architect: Part 4

So far in this series, we have reviewed various concepts of how to evaluate your department's apparatus needs, how to initiate the apparatus committee and several methods for gathering technical information. This article will discuss how to conduct meetings with apparatus vendors and how to make your time spent in these meetings valuable and productive for everyone.

Before embarking on a series of meetings with prospective manufacturers' sales personnel, it may be wise to develop a time line for the committee to review and outline just where the members are in the overall process. This will assist the committee in determining the progress that it has made to this point and determine the major benchmarks for future meetings.

The apparatus committee has gathered information from various outside sources and has a fair amount of data to review before formally inviting representatives from apparatus manufacturers to meet with your department. Hopefully, your committee has kept detailed notes and photographs on some of the ideas and components that the members want to design into a new apparatus. This information should be categorized by function such as engine and drive train, fire pump, water tank, body and compartment layouts. This will help the committee members organize their thoughts without missing any major component on the apparatus.

Actions taken before this meeting are important in the overall process of purchasing apparatus. The committee must be organized and reach a consensus on the design of the apparatus to be purchased, and these are among the most important steps in the whole process. Some apparatus committee schedule such meetings without even knowing whether they are purchasing a pumper, a pumper tanker, a pumper ladder or a rescue pumper. A well-functioning committee, however, at this point will be well on its way to developing a set of specifications.

We want you to be organized, but don't fall into the trap of dictating specific sizes of engines and axles to the manufacturer's representative. This usually comes back to haunt the committee for years to come. How many of you are driving apparatus that are overpowered or underpowered? Probably many of you. Why? Because your apparatus committee did not have the expertise that is needed to provide the proper engine size for the proper application. This is where the apparatus architect can be extremely helpful. Also, apparatus manufacturers use computers to match the topography, pump size and weight of the vehicle to the proper engine size.

Following the outline specification in the National Fire Protection Association's NFPA 1901 Standard (beginning on page 114) will insure that all critical areas are addressed. The committee should arrive at a consensus on these major components before meeting with apparatus sales representatives. Consideration should be given to providing this outline information to the representatives prior to the meeting. That will let the salesperson prepare technical information and specifications to present to the committee in advance. This, in turn, will allow the committee members to maximize their time spent in meetings interviewing prospective manufacturers, rather than having multiple sessions with vendors to introduce them to the department's basic requirements.

Another concept would be for the committee to develop and produce a bullet-style specification outline covering all of the important areas on the apparatus. In areas where there are points of discussion or questions, these can be written into the outline at the appropriate points. Providing information and technical questions ahead of time, prior to the meeting, will promote the flow of information and make the sessions much more productive.

For apparatus with complex requirements or unique designs, it may be beneficial to invite the salesperson to visit the station before the meeting to review the department's existing apparatus and equipment designs. With this in mind, it is helpful for the department to prepare a detailed apparatus inventory, including sizes and weights of equipment, in order to properly prepare for the overall design process. Once again, this information should be shared with the apparatus salesperson ahead of time to allow more productive use of the meeting time.

Whether the meeting is scheduled for day or evening hours, the committee should develop an agenda of the topics that members want to cover during the meeting. Nothing can be more frustrating than sitting through a seemingly endless session that has no defined objectives and no starting or stopping points. Here, the apparatus architect can provide valuable input to allow the committee to achieve significant progress when meeting with apparatus salespersons. Whenever possible, copies of information and technical data should be available to all committee members and communicated ahead of time to the salesperson.

Each committee member should be encouraged to maintain a three-ring binder with sectional dividers for each portion of the apparatus and one for each manufacturer's data. As the various components are discussed, the written documentation and product data sheets can be maintained logically in this format. One member should also maintain a photo diary of all apparatus that has been reviewed by the committee with written descriptions of important features. This information can be valuable in future meetings to expand on specific aspects and details that may be difficult to recall in later meetings.

After the initial meeting with each sales representative is concluded, a list of assignments should be developed for both the committee and the manufacturer to follow up on before another session is scheduled. The progress made during the initial meeting will dictate the schedule and agenda for any follow-up sessions. As mentioned earlier in this series, minutes of each meeting should be posted for other department members to review.

Once the committee has met with an apparatus salesperson once or twice, it will then be possible to ask the salesperson to develop a set of detailed specifications for the department based upon the requested design. This can provide additional written technical data for the committee to review and consider in the design process.

Our next installment in this series will discuss various types of apparatus specifications and how they may be utilized to your benefit.

Tom Shand, a Firehouse