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Speccing for the future: Planning ahead doesn’t require a crystal ball

Consider costs, compartments, multi-functional uses and response area when envisioning your department’s next apparatus


Selecting and purchasing fire apparatus is an exciting yet daunting process, especially now with prices steadily climbing and build processes becoming increasingly complex. As decision-makers for our organizations, we must be mindful of these considerations throughout the apparatus vendor selection and build process.

Apparatus prices are soaring

Inflation is the buzzword of the day, and fire apparatus are no exception to the impact. Manufacturers are adjusting pricing to account for increasing prices on just about everything. Some estimates show fire apparatus costs climbing over 20% from 2020. This is due to the higher overall costs for the building supplies, electronics and other components needed to build these unique machines.

Municipalities are forced to either pay these prices or look for creative solutions, like drafting specs for apparatus that can serve dual functions. Maybe instead of selecting a new fire engine and separate rescue, a singular apparatus is designed and equipped to handle both duties. The same thinking could be applied to ladder trucks, which have traditionally served a singular role, but could be designed as a quint in order to provide a multi-functional purpose and more flexible role in the department’s fleet – all to make the dollars and cents go a little further.

No matter what situation you face or what solutions you’re considering, it’s vital to have open communication with the people in charge of finances. Let them know of the pros and cons, plus the realistic capabilities that are available in your given spending ceiling.

Equipment is costly too

Unfortunately, fire apparatus aren’t the only big-ticket items with a higher price. From hose and ground ladders to hand tools and EMS equipment, many equipment vendors have been forced to increase prices. This is a big deal, as new equipment that would normally be replaced or included in a new fire apparatus begins to drive up the already high price.

If you’re part of your department’s apparatus purchasing committee, make sure that you are clear which direction you want to head in terms of equipment. Will you be using existing equipment on the new truck, or will it be delivered fully loaded with equipment? This is particularly important, as even the smallest changes to equipment or associated compartment sizes, hosebed dividers and tool-mount locations can impact where the old equipment can be placed on your new apparatus.

Additionally – and this may seem obvious – you must ensure that your new fire apparatus can fit inside and maneuver out of its intended firehouse. This is a critical consideration if the vehicle has changed significantly, like if the apparatus bay was once sized for a small fire engine now much accommodate a taller ladder or quint needs. Don’t forget, the longer the apparatus, the wider the turning radius. Please make sure you have enough room to accommodate it.

Plan for the future

With apparatus build times reaching nearly two years from order to delivery, decision-makers must consider the future needs of the organization. Will the fire truck you order today still serve its function in two years? How about 10 years or 20?

With several of our departments experiencing population increases and building booms, our service demands and responses will have to adapt to meet these needs. Plan the apparatus for the potential to carry additional equipment, even additional firefighters. Will a four-seat cab serve your department in 10 years? Will that extra compartment fulfill a need in 2025?

Additionally, consider that this new fire apparatus may have to serve the community for a longer time period. Could it last 15 to 20 years? We often become so focused on the now that we forget to look ahead.

Be a ‘future-thinker’

It can be a lot of fun to buy a fire truck, including the manufacturer visit for the apparatus inspections, but apparatus and equipment purchasing is a big responsibility. With costs top of mind, it’s critical to be a “future-thinker” at all stages of the purchase process. This will help ensure that you receive a fire truck that’s not only within budget but will serve your needs for many years. After all, a million-dollar item needs to have a million-dollar plan.

Vince Bettinazzi joined the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Fire Department in 2007. He currently holds the rank of battalion chief and is assigned as a shift commander on C-Shift. Bettinazzi is a member of the department’s Ocean Rescue Team as a certified USLA lifeguard. He completed the NFA’s Managing Officer Program in 2016, and recently obtained his Chief Fire Officer Designation from CPSE. Bettinazzi is a co-host on the “Beyond the Stretch” podcast.