The Apparatus Architect - V

June 27, 2003
Developing and writing apparatus specifications can be a daunting task for many fire departments. The specifications are filled with dimensions, model numbers and verbiage that may be completely foreign to us.
So far in the Apparatus Architect series we have reviewed various concepts of how to evaluate your departments apparatus needs, how to initiate the apparatus committee and several methods for gathering technical information. In this article we will discuss the different styles of apparatus specifications and how to begin the process of putting all of the committee's ideas down on paper.

Developing and writing apparatus specifications can be a daunting task for many fire departments. The specifications are filled with dimensions, model numbers and verbiage that may be completely foreign to us. Reading an entire specification may seem like blank verse and leave you more confused then when you started. Well you are not alone. Since most of us were not gifted to be technical specification writers, there are several methods that you can employ to get your committee off to the right start.

During the process when the committee was collecting technical information you probably obtained a set of specifications from another fire department or perhaps one of the apparatus manufacturers that you contacted. These documents can serve as an example of how a complete set of specifications may appear. It is important to recognize that there are several styles of apparatus specifications that can be utilized.

First, is the manufacturer's or design style of specification. This document generally describes all of the components that are used in the construction of the vehicle, including most of the standard designs that are used by that particular manufacturer. While this provides for a complete piece of equipment, this type of specification requires that other prospective bidders either take exception to the specification for a particular feature or change their design to meet your requirements. The balance needed here is to weight the importance of a particular design that will meet the needs of your department versus the "No Exception" requirement for a design that is only offered by one manufacturer. An example here would be to specify that: "The crosslays shall be no more than 64 inches from the ground to the bottom of the crosslay bed when the apparatus is fully loaded". This is a performance requirement that provides an opportunity for any manufacturer to design their apparatus to meet your need. Contrast this with: "The manufacturer shall provide for Brand "A" heater which shall have an output of 55,000 BTU's with overhead backlighted controls". This is too specific, in that this make and model of heater is used as standard by only one manufacturer. When you specify the make and model of engine, transmission or tires, these can be met by any builder as they will attempt to meet your requirements in these areas. Remember that anytime you deviate from someone's standard, this impacts the price of the apparatus and that making the specifications too precise will preclude some manufacturers from bidding.

The second type of apparatus specification is the performance document where the fire department determines the minimum requirements for the apparatus. This allows the manufacturer the ability to offer their standard designs in response. An example would be that the department request a 1250 GPM single stage fire pump. Here, each builder could offer their standard fire pump installation and components that meets this requirement. One of the problems here is that the fire department may not get everything they desire from each of the bidders, and there is little ability to compare from vendor to vendor exactly what is being offered to the department. Another version of this specification is the open specification, where the department can list each major component on the apparatus to insure that the bidders will all be bidding on the same configuration. Using this style of outline specification allows the committee to identify each and every component on the apparatus without going into the detail of how the component will be installed on the apparatus. However there are dangers when apparatus committees dictate specific components on the apparatus. If a specific component does not work your committee specified it and ordered it so now you own it. If you have performance-based specifications and the apparatus manufacturer supplies a component that does not work the manufacturer owns the problem and not you. The more responsibility and liability the manufacturer takes on and the less responsibility and liability the apparatus committee takes on the better off the fire department will be.

The most realistic style of specification provides for some design criteria together with performance requirements for acceleration, braking and compartment design. In this manner, the apparatus committee can take advantage of the manufacturers experience while maximizing the performance of the apparatus without paying for unwanted components or frivolous designs. The NFPA 1901 standard has an excellent questionnaire in the appendix of the document that takes you through all of various components on a piece of apparatus. This document can provide as an excellent outline for your specification and should be reviewed by the apparatus committee before the specification development process begins.

The third style of apparatus documents that may be used are known as Request For Proposal (RFP) specifications. These specifications are much less detailed than a design specification, which provides for more competitive bidding. RFP's detail the manner in which the fire department will evaluate each proposal and how the department will determine the successful bidder. These specifications can be more difficult to write and to evaluate unless the committee has an extensive knowledge of manufacturing designs and component models. Overall, this type of specification allows each of the bidders to offer compliant apparatus using their own construction methods while showing some innovative solutions to meet the department's needs.

Each of these styles of specifications offer advantages to the department and with the advice of an Apparatus Architect, the committee may be able to decide which specification will work best for them. Fire departments that operate large fleets typically have standard specifications for their apparatus, which are frequently updated to keep up with new components and model numbers. These documents can be an excellent resource to the committee to provide a framework for their specification to insure that all critical areas of the apparatus are covered.

While it is generally not a good idea to use a manufacturer's specification for a bid document, it is also not advisable to write your own specification by "cutting and pasting" different sections from a group of various specifications. Unless your committee has the technical resources to carefully evaluate each bidders response, a specification that has a "little bit of everything" generally does not provide for a well designed apparatus. By following the outline of a good, through specification the committee will insure that each of the bidders well have a clear idea of the departments requirements. In this regard, do not use words in the specification such as: "heavy duty", "best apparatus industry practices" and "for the intended use." These words mean very little and do not convey exactly what the fire department is requesting. For example, if the committee desires a particular flow through a rear discharge, asking for "heavy duty full flow three inch piping" means what to you? Specifying a three-inch rear discharge with the capability of flowing 500 GPM with a maximum friction loss of 15 PSI at the outlet defines exactly what you want the performance level to be on the apparatus.

The specification writing process is a time consuming job that requires patience and the ability to logically develop all of the ideas and concepts that the committee has reviewed into a written document. The end result of the specification development and bidding process is the award of the contract to the successful bidder. In the next installment of the Apparatus Architect we will discuss some of the aspects of the bid review and evaluation process.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!