Now that your apparatus committee has been formed and you have begun the task of determining what type of equipment is required, you now should begin the task of gathering technical information from a variety of resources to expand your knowledge in the critical areas that will impact the design...
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Conducting visits to other fire departments to review and inspect their apparatus can also benefit the committee. This lets your department critically evaluate another department's apparatus and equipment to see how that unit may meet your fire department's specific needs. This may often be accomplished on your own schedule, without having the influence of a salesperson accompanying your committee. Once again, you should plan on taking a camera, tape measure and notebook to record your comments and findings on the particular apparatus.
Photo by Tom Shand
A modern-day apparatus pump panel, unlike those from days gone by, is very customized. Today's pump panel requires a joint effort between the manufacturer and the fire department to lay out the controls to be functional and for ease of operation, as in this case.
Should you locate a piece of apparatus that you have particular interest in, you may wish to record the manufacturer's model and serial number from the data plate that is normally provided inside of the cab on the driver's side. This reference number can provide you with additional information, should you desire to contact the apparatus manufacturer who built the unit. Manufacturers can supply you with additional information, including engineering blueprints and specifications that can provide the committee with specific design items and components installed on the unit.
When performing these outside inspections, do not go from firehouse to firehouse seeing newly delivered apparatus. Any new piece of equipment will generally appear to look good and with a limited in-service time there is no established record of use or maintenance history to evaluate. If you must rely on your local salesperson to set up your trip, instruct the salesperson that you do not wish to see any apparatus newer than five years old. A newly delivered apparatus can easily "wow" a truck committee with all of its chrome and state-of-the-art gadgets. The apparatus committee that has carefully planned its outside inspections, with the assistance of an apparatus architect, will be able to get through these smoke screens. Certainly, 10 years down the road, the committee members would much rather share the credit for a well-thought-out and reliable apparatus, rather than shoulder the blame for an apparatus nightmare that will not come close to meeting the needs of the community or making the projected 15-to-20-year apparatus life cycle.
Once the apparatus committee has reviewed both newer units at trade shows as well as older, in-service units, it is now time to schedule meetings with prospective manufacturers' sales representatives. This part of the process can become quite involved and there are several strategies that your committee should employ to make these meetings honest, informative and worth the investment of your valuable time. We will cover this portion of the process in detail in our next installment of "The Apparatus Architect."
Tom Shand is a firefighter with the Onondaga Hill Volunteer Fire Department in Syracuse, NY, and a senior instructor at the Onondaga County Fire Rescue Institute. He is employed by American LaFrance and is assigned to the company's Hamburg Facility in the apparatus sales department. Michael Wilbur, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, assigned to Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx. He has served for the past five years on the FDNY Apparatus Purchasing Committee. Wilbur also has consulted on a variety of apparatus-related issues throughout the country.