The Apparatus Architect: Part 2

In our August article we presented concepts regarding the process of designing and writing specifications for a new piece of apparatus. This installment will discuss the makeup of an apparatus purchasing committee and how it can work to acquire apparatus meeting its department's requirements.

An apparatus purchasing committee must have adequate time to define the fire department's specific needs, research individual components and develop a list of specific design criteria. While there are no standards or guidelines for timetables, it is reasonable to expect that it will take the committee six to 12 months to conduct this research and develop preliminary specifications for the apparatus.

This is the time that an apparatus architect could be a tremendous resource and help save valuable time in the preparation of apparatus specifications. The quality of the final product will in large part depend on how much time is devoted to the planning and research portion of the specifications and this could be favorably impacted by the apparatus architect.

The number of personnel and the make-up of the apparatus committee is critical to the overall success of the process. The ideal number of people comprising the apparatus committee is five to seven. A larger group may be difficult to manage because of the varying personalities within the committee, and frequent disagreements can disrupt the continuity and forward progress of the group. On the other hand, a committee of fewer than five people may result in a restricted flow of ideas and innovations, and could provide a forum in which one or two people dominate the group.

It is important to have several levels within the department represented on the committee. Company officers, drivers or engineers as well as firefighters can provide valuable input from their perspectives regarding the overall design of the apparatus. Department personnel responsible for health and safety as well as the department mechanic can provide invaluable input to assist in the design process. The New York City Fire Department, for example, recognized this many years ago and has an apparatus committee in place with equal representation among officers, firefighters and driver/operators. Along with these individuals are representatives from the safety and fleet maintenance divisions.

Maintenance records can be reviewed to evaluate components or assemblies that have failed or required frequent maintenance. Just about everyone has a favorite component that he or she would like to have installed on the new apparatus, but this can lead to a rig with mismatched components where everyone can point to something and say, "They bought that because of me."

Once a group facilitator is appointed, this person may wish to break down the task by assigning each individual to research major components such as the power train, fire pump and plumbing, compartment layout and equipment requirements, emergency lighting and generator requirements, and so forth. Each person can research the various options within each component group and more clearly define the fire department's needs and how the manufacturer's offerings can be integrated into the final specifications.

Fire department administrative personnel may wish to participate in the specification development and their input should not be overlooked. Appointing personnel to the apparatus committee can in itself become a daunting task unless the individual responsible for the formation of the group clearly has the responsibility and organizational authority to initiate these actions. A well-meaning initial action can get the entire process off on the wrong foot if someone within the organization feels that he or she is being excluded from providing input or offering another perspective to the process.

Several techniques can be used to reduce the risk that an individual or group of people within the department can be alienated by the committee selection process.

One method is to provide an avenue for input by any member to direct information and comments to the appointed committee. A log book or e-mail site can be designated to allow formal comments and suggestions to be submitted to the apparatus committee. Minutes of all meetings should be posted prominently to provide updates to the members of the department on the progress of the committee.

A feedback system should be developed to provide for a committee response to members who provide input to the group and how their comments were taken under consideration. Having an apparatus architect on hand, one who has gone though this part of the process before, can help smooth out the rough edges and get your committee off to a great start.

In our next installment we will help you start the process of gathering information for your new apparatus.

Tom Shand, a Firehouse