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  1. #1
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    Default Are fancy apparatus getting funded with tax dollars?

    For what I am about to write, I am generally referring to some minority of rural all volunteer fire departments. Its not absolute truth everywhere. Its only what I've personally seen for myself.

    The FEMA/USFA grants are a wonderful thing for US fire departments. Our department received FY2003 and FY2004 grants. One for SCBA and one for a new pumper. Both times our department specified the exact equipment to do the job…and nothing more. All has worked out well.

    Our apparatus choice both maximized the amount of “machine” and minimized the cost. Obviously there was a budget to work with. But I’m amazed at how some departments are trying to use the Fire Act grants as a wishing well of money to fund trucks that would have never been paid for by local taxpayers and responsible boards due to their lavishness and unnecessary extras.

    Our pumper is as basic as it gets. 2 Door commercial cab truck with NFPA items. A very nice unit for well under $175,000. And it was constructed by one of the top 5 in the business. Admittedly…we are beggars and not choosers and anything new is light years ahead of what we had. We have no reason to complain.

    We’re small, volunteer and work hard for what we have. We are realists and get the job done in a safe and efficient manner…much like many, many other departments of our size.

    On the other hand…I have personally been witness to departments who are submitting requests to fund the “fire engine of their wildest dreams”. And to my surprise it appears as if they just might get funded albeit slightly less than what they had hoped for.

    When a department of the same size, demographics and run volume begin asking for $300,000 - $400,000 fire engines…I notice. Mutiple occupant custom cabs when only one or two persons will be pulling out of the station, pumps larger than any water supply within 25 miles could supply, 550 HP engines where no hills exist etc etc. I see it. And when FEMA writes back to see if they could do it for slightly less I am even more dumbfounded. Looks like funding is going to happen anyway. Slightly less than too much is still too much.

    Does FEMA consider the cost of a basic fire engine and who’s getting this truck? Is there no guidelines by which FEMA can gauge their decisions on? Its easy to stand in front of a fire house and look at a community and see that something is overly specified.

    My personal opinion is that any department who takes advantage of the USFA grants to fund extravagant vehicles, when a standard unit would do perfectly fine, is stealing from other needy departments. My only goal is to get help where help is most needed.

    FEMA should use a basic set of specifications that departments can choose from. Pumpers look like this…ladders are like this…and tankers are like this. Anything beyond that must be accompanied by specific requests and true reasons for the need.

    At least for now...they should demand to see the specifications and require absolute verification that a fair bid process was followed and all bidders were not held to some other manufacturers "special specs".

    This is all just my opinion. I see too many departments getting turned down for basic apparatus when I clearly see the need to replace a “1969” pumper. At the same time I see others on the verge of getting more than enough truck for 2 departments…when they already have two pumpers. There needs to be more to it than just wording in requests.
    Last edited by 2Chief; 08-03-2005 at 12:25 PM.


  2. #2
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    Default Go See For Yourself!

    Not disagreeing with you here buddy but, my question would be " Have you ever served on a peer panel as a reviewer?" If not then you should go experience that, and see how the process works. It is not by any means perfect however; you make it sound like the decision is FEMA's, and it is not. It is your peers who review the grants and decide who gets funded.

    FEMA also does have a system of checks and balances in place to deal with these and yes, abuses do sometimes go unnoticed but, I am also cognizant of several departments who were found guilty of fraud and no longer can apply for the grants, forever. I seem to remember one department in particular who got a FPS on-site visit with a new $650,000.00 aerial truck in their bay. As the FPS drove into town he noticed a distinct lack of buildings over 4 stories. In fact about ten less than the application said was there. As the fiee chief watched in disbelief, a wrecker was called and hauled that truck out of the bay and FEMA apparently asked for their money back as well!

    As I have said before, if you are willing to wear the shiny braclets and visit Club Fed with Martha, go ahead and lie. It is a Federal offense to commit fraud ina agrant application and I don't know about you, but there is not a fire truck in this world worth my going to prison over. If you suspect fraud you should report it. It is the morally right thing to do. Abuses of the system will only make the program subject to being taken away and we must police ourselves to prevent that from happening.
    Kurt Bradley
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  3. #3
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    As mentioned above, we've all heard the stories of the abuse. Here in NC the Ladder Truck 'incident' did occur a few years back in the Eastern part of the state. There have been a few instances where that has gone on around the country, but I know for a FACT it did occur, and they will not hesitate to take back the funding or do what needs to be done if fraud is involved or blatant disregard for the program guidelines (ie: LIES) in order to be funded.

    Guys, there is a VAST difference between an oops, I screwed up (and didn't spell my town's name right) and oops, suddenly there aren't 200 4 story buildings in my town. Or our department isn't running 50 structure fires a year or whatever BS some people feel compelled to do or say in order to receive a grant. Doing this since the 90's I have seen unethical people come and go on the grant writing side of it, and they will continue to do so (GO - that is...because there's no room for dishonest grant writers, or departments, in MY OPINION).

    It is wrong to tke advantage of a program simply to get more items or a bigger truck or whatever. My Mamma always said, you can bury the trash deep, but at some point, the stink and garbage will have to come out! In other words, you will be found out. In a close knit community group (ie: BROTHERHOOD, JEEZ, guys...) who is going to be jealous when you have REALLY stretched the truth to get something you don't deserve? Or need? That's right? Your neighbor/brother. Who does need it. And think of that the next time the department down the road or one county over has an on duty injury that might, just might have been prevented if they would have had some new gear, too.

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    Default

    I agree with everything I've read in the previous posts. I would like to add that the grant application needs to be more specific in the information that is asked for. Where it says fires maybe it should break out chimney fires, car fires, what type of mutual aid calls etc.


    I added extra to the bottom line on the advice or the company our dept. has purchased all of our current trucks from ( and had do re-furbs ). Mostly cause of the timeline, and the rate many truck makers are raising there prices. It seems prices are climbing quicker and at bigger jumps than before since the grants started. Of course there is also the "dream factor", some members seem to think our little rural town needs a quint.....we don't.....a self sustainable tanker w/a pump and ability to carry tools and maybe 3 or 4 members if need be yes. I think there does need to be a set of guidelines on trucks such as chassis, pump size(s), tank size(s), engine power based on the previous and geographic locations, options ( all the pretty stuff ). Just my 2 cents.

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    Default

    Its an issue called "integrity" folks. Don;t compromise yours, it is not worth it. I would like to add one more thing to my post earlier that I forgot to insert.

    Don't forget that what you see displayed on the street,in the local parade or in the bay of the stationhouse, may not be the whole picture.

    Many departments apply for the grant for the "basic" truck and then add "their own" money to get the "parade dress" version, once it is delivered, which is a perfectly acceptable practive albeit one that seems to go against the grain of "financial need" they may have stated earlier in their original application.
    Kurt Bradley
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    Forum Member Bones42's Avatar
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    Kind of curious about the truck getting taken back incident. Was it sent back to the manufacturer? Were they still paid for the truck? Why should the manufacturer lose that money because some FD got caught lying?
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    MembersZone Subscriber ktb9780's Avatar
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    Well understand that the truck had already been delivered, so the manufacturer would have already been paid. It is my guess that FEMA either re-sold the truck, or "awarded" it to another agency. Dixie, any input on this since it was in your state?
    Kurt Bradley
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    To answer the thread's question in a word: Yes.

    Is it rampant? No, I don't think so. Is it wrong? You bet it is. I agree that it basically constitutes stealing from others.

    There's lots of discussion here about lying, fudging, exaggerating, and embellishing. That's clearly wrong. But some departments aren't being dishonest, just greedy. We requested a pumper this year. We did about like 2Chief: A basic, 2-door truck, about $160,000.

    I could have put in for a big commercial cab, chrome wheel covers, a Q siren, LED's all over, and a massage parlor in the hose bed, but I requested the rig that I think is reasonable for our department. To me, that is just what is right.

    There's far too many who don't feel that way. There is a serious dearth of character among some of these cats.

    If we get our pumper this year, it won't be the biggest in the state. It won't have a chrome bell on the bumper or have all our names in gold leaf on the compartment doors.

    But when it rolls out of the station, it will be 100% capable of doing the job it has ahead, and after that job I will lie down in my bed with a clear conscience, knowing that because I was reasonable in my request, somebody else got theirs too.
    "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
    --General James Mattis, USMC


  9. #9
    MembersZone Subscriber ktb9780's Avatar
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    Well said KYFF. The reviewers should also be more alert for this "pork" in their reviewing and request the departments ot accept lower amounts.

    It also might not hurt that a review for a piece of apparatus must be accompanied by a complete spec sheet of the proposed apparatus to be purchased.
    Kurt Bradley
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    Lies for money is criminal I agree. I can't imagine the story about the aerial. That sounds awful. But my experience doesn't involve people telling lies about anything. Its simply asking for something more than what they need...when they themselves know less would work. IE: there is no fraud in asking for a 500HP engine. The truck must have an engine. But a 300HP engine would more then do the job...AND save $18,000.

    All true. Good points everyone!! I'm not saying over spec'ing is rampant. Excellence in the program is the norm. I truly believe the program is wonderful and I know the logistics of the award process must be difficult for anyone.

    And don't get me wrong...I'm definately not talking about illegal or fraudulant activity here. I believe the post which said some trucks have a little extra "pork" in them is most accurate. Its just a case of people asking for more than a basic truck and getting considered or awarded. In this case it could be shown that an award for an apparatus was indeed warranted. However...I'm positive that the specifications were simply over done for what would work in reality. Some departments have a mindset that they are "better" than a 2 door commercial cab. At the same time...I feel so sorry for departments I see that are running 1960's trucks in 2005...because it is the BEST they can do. And for some reason they were turned down for a grant.

    I understand that all grants are reviewed by a group of peers and that FEMA itself as an agency isn't entirely responsible for awards. I know its tough with so many grants to review.

    But thats where a standardized set of specs should apply for pumpers, ladders, etc. If GSA specifications should apply anywhere...wouldn't a federally funded grant program that buys fire apparatus be one?

    Standard specs would remove alot of the need to determine what constitutes more than enough truck...or too little truck for that matter.
    Last edited by 2Chief; 08-03-2005 at 11:42 AM.

  11. #11
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    Hopefully, the powers that be from FEMA and DHS read these forums as well and are taking notes here. This is something that they need to work on in the program to "level the playing field" much the same as using the unrealistic standard of "high mileage" as an indcator of need. smaller departments with small primary repsonse areas may have to use a truck in excess of 40 years to gain enough mileage to quilify under this standard. A more appropriate standard, I owuld think, would be possibly "engine or pump hours" vs. strictly using age and high mileage.
    Kurt Bradley
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    When we received our grant...enough time had passed that I was really worried whether or not I could still afford the basic truck we had intended upon. I did add 10% when the grant was applied for. I researched the current prices and have always had good knowledge of apparatus price and option costs. Even still prices had jumped around due to steel costs etc and I was very hard pressed to get the same truck for the award amount. We had to kick in more money of our own just to get back to square one. Definately no pork in our truck. I got very lucky. That bid process kept me up nights.

    Then later the 5% rule kicked in on matches. At first I felt bad since our match was 10%...then I realized how fortunate we were to get what we got at all. I further realized that the 5% rural matches might make a ton of difference for those that cannot match 10%. It will put more new trucks on the street.

    I'm all about more trucks out there to put out fires. If one person reads this thread and reduced their specs...which in turn saves enough money to help one other department...then it was worth all the typing.

  13. #13
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    Which is the pupose of having forums in the first place, discourse and discussion over what we must deal with in pursuit of achieving public safety. Pleasure discussing this with you Chief. Keep asking those tough questions.
    Kurt Bradley
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    "Never Trade Skill for Luck"

  14. #14
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    Not trying to beat a dead horse...but here is a good example of how it perhaps could be. The link is the GSA's site and the area is fire truck purchasing. Now keep in mind that many companies are represented by GSA. This particular offering is by Alexis Fire Equipment. Not the biggest...but they definately make nice trucks. (We have no advantage to show Alexis...nor do we own or operate one. Just an example). Point is...I see a variety of capable units at what appears to be very resonable prices. There are no $300,000 pumpers here.

    GSA Alexis Offerings

    This list does not show aerials as they didn't bid any. But others do. And for another example...Seagrave only offers up one 6man Custom Cab Pumper in their list.

    Nonetheless...I'd feel alot better if FEMA/USFA would utilize this purchasing program for funded trucks. That in addition to requiring specs with apparatus requests.

    And I'm not a huge GSA fan either. It shouldn't always apply to everyone. When we cooked and served enough food to buy a new mini rescue truck...I wanted us to make our own decision of what to buy. But in grant cases I feel its a perfectly legitimate program to abide by.
    Last edited by 2Chief; 08-03-2005 at 12:31 PM.

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    I can go one better...we bought our new truck (2004 Pierce Contender) with zero grant funds. The only thing we are doing vehicle-wise with our grant is refurbing two tankers, not replacing them.

    There is only so much grant money, and there are so many departments that run on shoe string budgets ($10,000 or less per year). These grants are literaly life savers for these departments. If more people would stop and think about this, people (hopefully) would tone down what they are asking for...one of the reasons we are refurbishung two tankers, not replacing them.

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    2 Chief, I agree that limits should be set on what grant dollars can buy for an apparatus. It can far too easily get out of hand.

    They're doing it already on bunker gear, why not apparatus. If you need another few grand to install a foam system, etc. - then it should be written into the grant and justified.

    We just ordered what is in my opinion a fantastic engine, with a lot of needed extras, but little fluff. We ran about $235K. A neighbor bought a similar unit from another brand, and the big parts (engine, tranny, pump) etc. are similar, and they spent almost $100K more. Try as I might, I'm having trouble finding where the extra money went into that rig. None of these rigs were grant units, but its easy to see how you can arrive at nearly the same destination with very large dollar differences.

    You must be a midwestern guy, Alexis is pretty regional for someone "not from these parts" to be familar with.

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    We have some need for an ariel apparatus in our district, but not near enough to justify spending the money on a ladder or platform truck, so we are looking at the possibility of purchasing a telesquirt on a commercial chassis. In all honesty, this is more than enough ariel for most rural departments.

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    While I don't advocate spending extra grant dough on goldleafing and chrome bells, I've spec'd enough different apparatus for departments all over the country running under different conditions to easily say: you can't spec a truck for all areas. A similar discussion has been going on in the Apparatus Innovation forum about different manufacturers, and the general consensus is if you spec it light, it will fall apart regardless of who's name is on it. For example:

    Engine HP: regardless of hills, if you have a big water tank or a 1500gpm plus pump, you might need more than 400HP to have enough torque so that the motor isn't straining and stressing other parts of the drivetrain. Since motor and tranny are linked, under 400HP usually gets you a medium duty Allison tranny instead of the heavy duty, and that won't last 20 years trying to drag around a large water tank. These trucks are in service all over the place now, and falling apart very quickly. I'd rather see an extra $50K in grant money spent to get the properly spec'd truck to last 20 years than have it always be in the shop getting something replaced.

    Commercial vs custom cabs: these two types of trucks drive completely differently, so it could be an operational hazard to have one truck not like the rest depending on the experience of your drivers. Customs can easily handle 6 FFs, commercials usually 4. If you need to bring more FFs at one shot, then customs make more sense, especially in larger districts with fewer vehicles.

    LED lighting: draws less amperage from the alternator than strobes or halogen, saving wear on the electrical system. Lower cost of ownership over the life of the vehicle.

    Now does this mean that I advocate putting an LED every 3 feet, putting in a 515HP instead of a 400-450HP, and going with the largest custom cab on the market? No, but in order to build a truck that is going to last for 15-20 years as a front line piece, you can't take low bid on a poor spec, or have a 2 person cab and take the risk of having many, many POV incidents over the life of the truck trying to get your FFs to the scene. Tankers, yes, 2 works. But not attack pumpers, it's not a safe way to operate.

    And there already are spending limits on each type of vehicle, they're just not published. But just look at award amounts and they're easy to figure out. For instance, if you don't have a good reason that you're asking for a $300K truck (CAFS, 2000gal pumper-tanker, etc), then they will reduce the award to $225K federal share on a plain Class A Attack pumper. 100' aerials (no pump) are capped at $450K federal matching, and so on through the vehicle types.

    And also I believe if you have $150K saved up to overmatch an award to build a parade piece, you shouldn't have applied for the truck in the first place, you should have bought the truck and been making payments if what you're driving is that bad, outdated, or unsafe.

    99% of the time, the peer reviewers see through the fluff applications, and most of the time the trophy truck applications don't even make it to peer review because the cost-benefit calculations are so skewed. But I can't advocate limiting the choices of the departments applying to just a specific type of truck within each category. I think the safeguards are pretty well established already.

    - Brian

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    All true Brian but, why don't they set the minimum standards ( and I am not talking just NFPA compliance) and then make it mandatory to add the " justification for additonal funding" for the bells whistles and upgrades for anything above and beyond. That would seem appropriate in theory but, does not appear to be the nroimal practice at this time. I will not pretend to be anywhere near an expert on specing a truck; as I don't have the experience there, so I have to defer to your advice in this discussion and possibly learn something myself here.
    Kurt Bradley
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    I've spec'd two trucks but spent 10 years preparing to do so. I have also helped other area departments with their specs. I've studied specs from multi-station big city departments all the way down to dirt floor fire houses. I've looked at and crawled under hundreds of trucks. I've seen them sold for a dollar...and nearly a million dollars. I actually introduced one small deparment to CAFS. Their plain 2Door commercial 1250/1000 is one of the most advanced pumpers in this part of the state but you can't tell by looking.

    I will admit..I'm no expert by far. But I do have a good working knowledge of fire apparatus. I've ridden out on big city rigs to calls...and had junk pumpers stall coming out of the station...then catch fire themselves. I've driven fire engines and ambulances in 7 states, metro cities, and through corn fields to put out combines ablaze. I've dealt with tow trucks for break downs. And I've taken many days of vacation to wrench and redo things broken on fire trucks. I can teach the proper way to operate a pump...but probably can't teach them how to replace the pump packing in a Hale QSF.

    Anyhoo...I'm rambling. But I do know some things.

    Small rural departments who have been running 2000 gallon tankers with gas engines (175HP), 5-speed manuals, hydraulic brakes and two door cabs for 20-30 years are not going to wear out 300HP (950FT-LB) turbo diesels mated to Allison MD3060's and air brakes. And 300-350 HP will spin 1500GPM pumps all day long without stress. If anything its good for a diesel engine to work against its governed HP rating.

    But its absolutely true some will need 400HP or larger for their special needs. No problem with that. I totally agree some are going to need different stuff.

    Little town USA fire department cannot fill an 8 man cab at 11am on Wednesday. Well...they can...it just takes 15 minutes. 90% of the time two doors work fine for a rural VFD pumper. POV's get alot of firefighters to the scene. We've not had a POV incident in 50 years that I'm aware of. Thats all about training, education, and picking the right people...not cab size of the apparatus. If they can't drive their own pickup to the scene...I sure as heck don't want them behind the wheel of the pumper.

    I am glad there are some safeguards. I guess I'll see how one area situation comes out. I'll know soon. And I suppose one pumper type is a little harsh sort of.

    At least GSA has several choices versus just one and might eliminate the cumbersome bid process for a small department. I know I sure spent tons and tons of my time and money to make the bid process work for us. Had to.

    Stormtrac...some trucks are natural refurb candidates. Ours was not. I'm a believer in refurbs. We couldn't however. There was nothing left to work with by the time it needed replaced. Had our truck been a LaFrance Century or a Mack CF600...absolutely. But a worn out Ford 750/750 can't be turned into a Class A pumper in 2005. I'm glad to see you found refurb a good alternative that saves and helps.

    npfd801...I'm in the Great Lakes region...but I study all brands no matter where they are. I attend FDIC's and the likes. Its my hobby. We had potential bidders whom most had never heard of...but still made great trucks else where. Its all about research for me. Its my hobby.
    Last edited by 2Chief; 08-03-2005 at 03:42 PM.

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