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After many months of effort, the fire department’s apparatus committee was given the go-ahead to prepare specifications to replace Engine 3, a 1985-vintage, 1,250-gpm pumper that had provided many years of reliable service.
The Village Board, after researching several options to pay for the new pumper, decided to bond for the apparatus together with other capital projects. While the fire chief was elated to finally gain approval to specify a new apparatus, the budget for the project was less than expected and established at $425,000, including any new equipment. The chief and his committee were now faced with designing a new engine to meet the needs of the community while not exceeding the amount determined by the municipal authorities.
In today’s challenging economic times, fire departments must ensure they are spending the taxpayers’ money in an effective and prudent manner, while gaining the needed components and equipment to produce a well-designed apparatus. With many communities putting off major capital projects due to economic pressures to maintain current tax rates, the cost of a new pumper may well exceed the expense for any other motorized vehicle owned by the municipality. With this in mind, the apparatus committee should first define the mission of the apparatus which will keep the specification process on task with respect to the required pump, hose, tools, equipment and parameters under which the new pumper will be designed.
In the past, the accepted practice in many departments was to produce a set of bidding specifications that were largely influenced by one or two manufacturers with some technical portions of the specifications written specifically to favor one builder. While this may have enhanced the opportunity to purchase the apparatus from a single manufacturer, it provided little assurance that the department was obtaining competitive bids for the project.
Starting with the legal boilerplate that establishes the requirements for such areas as bid and performance bonds, technical bid submissions, warranties, terms of acceptance and inspection trips, each of these issues must be written so as to not favor one bidder, but more importantly establish requirements that will protect the interests of the department. For example, when defining the requirements for payment and acceptance, the standard terms generally call for the municipality to pay in full for the apparatus upon the initial delivery to the fire department. These terms do not address the time needed to conduct an acceptance pump test, verify the apparatus in-service weight with hose and equipment as well as the designated training and maintenance classes. These specific requirements must be stipulated up front and incorporated into the final contract specifications to protect the municipality’s legal and financial interests.
Other specification language that can restrict competition among manufacturers is the use of the term “No Exceptions Permitted” in various areas of the specification. Where a department has standardized on a particular component or equipment that is available to all manufacturers such as axles, valves and emergency lighting, there is no effort to restrict competitive bids. However, requiring one specific type of chassis suspension or foam system or cab dimensions that are exclusive to one builder creates situations where the department is attempting to write out competition to the benefit of a single manufacturer.
Following the boilerplate portion of the specifications, which is one of the most important but also one of the most overlooked, it would be advisable to list the principal dimensions for the apparatus, including the wheelbase, overall length, overall height and other important dimensional criteria for the vehicle. It is preferable to note a range of permissible dimensions for each area to let bidders submit a proposal for a unit that most closely matches the department’s needs. If there is a maximum dimension that cannot be exceeded, such as overall height due to restrictions with the apparatus bays, then this should be specifically noted.