What are the benefits, and will it work for your department
By: Ed Boring, Deputy Chief, Retired
Fleet standardization has become a significant topic of discussion recently in the American fire service. Departments large and small benefit from standardizing virtually every product we use. We standardize nozzles, fire hose, PPE, and uniforms, so why not fire apparatus?
Benefits of Standardization Can Include:
- Simplified training for firefighters and technicians.
- Similar, or identical, apparatus reduce the variables and provide a singular, straightforward process for training.
- Operational and maintenance manuals acquaint, train, and refresh members on all aspects of the apparatus, operational capacities, and maintenance processes.
- The same items and equipment are in the same place across the fleet.
- The same buttons, switches, and levers operate the same items across the fleet.
- Technicians see similar rigs and make better decisions on pass/fail criteria; they better understand what is normal and abnormal for the fleet. It provides fleet managers with the ability to predict issues and trends that may affect the future of the fleet.
- Reduced parts inventory: Instead of stocking multiple items like battery sets, drive belts, valve kits, light assemblies, these inventories can be reduced and concentrated on like components.
- Predictive maintenance planning; As mentioned above technicians and fleet managers have their hands on and collect data from similar or identical apparatus. The information and feedback they glean from a standardized fleet provide reliable data on the wear and useful life of tires, brakes, batteries and more. This information is incredibly useful in creating budgets for labor and consumables and contributes to life cycle planning and capital budgeting for replacement.
- Balance of service to the community; fleet standardization enhances and provides balanced service across all demographics and service types. Apparatus equipped and designed the same allows for delivering the same personnel, pumping capabilities, water, foam, and equipment to all calls for service.
- Assists in capital planning; Consistent data from a standardized fleet helps life cycle planning, prediction and gives valuable insight into a possible replacement schedule.
While there is no absolute method to fleet standardization, organizations benefit from a deliberate process. My process looked something like this:
How It's Done:
- SWOT Analysis
- What do we like about what we have, what do we want to improve?
- What technologies and options are available out there?
- Where are the technologies, we presently use in their life cycle?
- Where are the technologies we are interested in, in their life cycles?
A good analysis of the fleet includes input and data from operational personnel, maintenance personnel, and the administrative staff that budgets for maintenance and capital purchases.
- Review data accumulated:
- What do we have today?
- How is it working?
- What do we need?
- Determine must-haves; minimum seating, pump size, tank, etc.
- Determine nice-to-haves, or items above the minimum, more seating, more compartments, bigger pump, more lights, more water.
- Do our wants and needs match up to our prime mission or statement of purpose?
- Are we specifying trucks that fulfill the obligations of the organization today and in the future?
- Can we maintain it through its life cycle?
- Are the technologies we seek sustainable? Can our personnel maintain them, does it need to be contracted, what are the tools and software requirements?
- Can we afford the purchase?
- Are the specifications and technologies we've determined we need realistic budget wise today and in the future?
- Is this configuration repeatable?
- Can we purchase the same unit in 1, 3, 5 years, or longer?
This exercise brings all the considerations, players, and decision-makers to the table and prioritizes needs over wants. It keeps the specification consistent with the organization's mission. It brings financial considerations to acquire and maintain the apparatus through its life cycle into perspective and quantifies it appropriately to present to those who fund the proposition.
The information gathered should be used to develop a "Needs Document". A good needs document serves several purposes. First, it serves as the instrument to sell the concept to the Chief, maintenance supervisor, peers, the Mayor and council. It forms the basis for the RFP (request for proposal). All performance specifications, as well as prescriptive requirements, should be included in the document. Parts, service, training, and whatever else identified as important should be included in the needs document as well.
A well-written needs document also becomes the basis for the evaluation instrument used to score proposals. It's very important to include the lifetime apparatus ownership experience you desire, whether standardizing an entire fleet or purchasing one and done. Remember that when standardization occurs, it becomes a marriage to the dealer, manufacturer, and product for an extended time.
The process should reflect that of a long courtship and planned union of all parties and not a shotgun wedding.
When deciding to standardize, the recurring purchase process should be determined and documented.
Committing taxpayer funds to long-term commitments, multi-year contracts, and perhaps sole sourcing for standardization is not an endeavor to be taken lightly.
Contracting upwards of $500,000.00, or more, per unit to a manufacturer regularly for a fire engine without going through the competitive bidding process to establish fair and reasonable pricing is the stuff that makes newspaper headlines. Similarly, a bid specification that is too prescriptive and restrictive (a specification written around one manufacturer's process) invites scrutiny from procurement, FOIA of selection and grading documents, and protests from manufacturers and dealers.
The evolution of the buying process has challenged the ability to standardize the fleet. Prescriptive or design specification versus performance-based specifications are the two general methodologies for creating specifications that go into an RFP. Prescriptive specifications are a recipe for specific parts and components manufactured in a specific or prescribed manner. On the other hand, performance-based is just that; manufacture and assemble unspecific components to create an apparatus the performs to a particular standard. As you can see from this brief analysis, the latter is not necessarily friendly to the standardization process, however; modern purchasing best practices generally favor performance-based specification.
How can we repeat this process legally, ethically, and practically?
Purchasing ordinance and state law vary widely, so consultation with legal and procurement staff is necessary to allow standardization to become a reality.
Including your intent to standardize in the RFP gives the manufacturer perspective and allows for proper long-term planning on their part.
If allowed, multi-year award agreements with the cost of inflation allowances can assure that you are getting the same apparatus at a fair and reasonable price for the maximum contract term allowed.
Buying cooperatives are more often taking the place of "going out to bid" and can be the answer to standardization. But make sure it's an acceptable practice with procurement.
HME Ahrens-Fox Fleet Purchasing Power and Experience
Whether your fleet is a few trucks or a few hundred, HME Ahrens-Fox has the plan for you. Our standardization and replacement programs are custom-tailored to your fleet, your needs, and your budget.
We have the experience, products, and customer support you need to keep your fleet operating efficiently and reliably.
Our dedicated fleet management specialists work with you to develop reliable and repeatable specifications so that all apparatus are as consistent in operation as possible through the life of your standardization program. The professionals also provide you with warranties customized to your needs and recommend service procedures and policies to maximize your shop capabilities.
Let us help you predict and control maintenance cost, apparatus reliable life cycle, and continual evolution of your fleet in this fast-paced and everchanging world.
Contact HME Ahrens-Fox Fleet Management today, and let's see what fleet management and replacement can do for your community.