Purchasing Fire Apparatus

thumb_fire_truckPurchasing new fire apparatus is a major investment for any community. Fire engines are very specialized and serve multi-purpose functions so those responsible for procurement must understand the expected workload and diversity of operations. A new engine will be in service for a long period of time so it is very important to select the right vehicle for the job.

Acquiring a new fire engine for a community is a huge responsibility, but it is also a common occurrence that need not be feared. By doing some research and checking supplier references from other communities who have recently purchased units, a comfort and knowledge level can be established by those involved in the process. The result will be a purchase that provides good value and meets the needs of the community for many years.

It is important that the appropriate type and size of apparatus is acquired and that it is well equipped with the necessary tools for mitigating the risks that have been identified in the community. Considerable information gathering and product research can be done over the internet and once suppliers are aware the community is considering purchasing new apparatus they will be aggressive in supplying information about their products.

Most communities endeavor to comply with Fire Underwriter's Survey (FUS) requirements to maximize insurance premium reductions for their constituents. These requirements state that frontline apparatus should be less than 20 years old, maintained and tested annually. Apparatus older than 20 years can be used as a second line or reserve apparatus with annual testing and re-certification up to 30 years. Apparatus that is 30 years of age and older is not given any credit by FUS.

Acquiring the right type of apparatus will mean that the requirements of FUS would be met with respect to capacity, equipment and age. By meeting the FUS requirements the community should continue to realize a financial benefit through reduced fire insurance premiums. An additional benefit that will be realized is the improved level of firefighter safety that will be afforded to the personnel operating a modern fire engine.

A cursory risk assessment of the community and an analysis of the call statistics will reveal the number and type of responses the new apparatus will be responding to.

Consideration should also be given to the water supply available in the community. A good water system with hydrant protection may reduce the need for large volumes of water to be transported to the scene. This means that a new engine may not be required to carry more than 500 gallons of water to meet ULC standards. Because of this, the gross weight of a new vehicle may be less so access to the hose bed, ladders and other critical equipment will be easier as this equipment will be lower on the truck.

Without hydrants large volumes of water has to be transported to the scene to support firefighting operations.

Any new apparatus should be able to pump the required fire flow to satisfy FUS requirements but also have the capacity to carry the additional equipment required for other types of calls. The Can ULC S-515-04 and NFPA Standards will have mandatory requirements such as the water tank capacity, number of discharge and intake ports, hose bed capacity, size and number of ground ladders, and personnel safety features to meet the standards.

Chassis can be ordered from most manufacturers that meet the NFPA 1901 Standard. This is important for firefighter safety as the standard has addressed seating, noise levels, handling and stability, braking, acceleration and other issues that are not included in a regular chassis.

Having the right suspension is a critical consideration for fire engines because they sit for long periods of time and are always fully loaded. The trend in newer chassis is to air bag suspension in the rear. Over time, leaf spring suspension will sag and the leaves in the springs can break.

The importance of having the complete engine properly engineered cannot be over emphasized. A fire engine that is overloaded or the centre of gravity is too high will cause long term problems. The engineering in a new vehicle should take into account the additional equipment that will be added and where it will be mounted to ensure axles and suspension ratings are not exceeded. The engineering will also ensure the proper size tires are on the unit and that the braking systems are adequate for the weight. A new NFPA 1901 2009 Edition compliant engine will also have stability systems to help prevent rollover accidents.

An ongoing debate within the fire service is how should a community procure a new fire truck? Some Fire Chiefs and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) insist on having a detailed specification (spec) tender process for ordering a new truck. Others feel a Request for Proposals (RFP) is a better way to go about ordering a new fire apparatus. We will explore both options in another blog.

For more information please contact Glen Sanders.

Glen Sanders has been in the fire service for over 31 years, 21 as a fire chief. He has been directly involved in the purchase of 15 new fire apparatus for his community and has advised other jurisdictions on their purchases of new fire apparatus.