While most of us in the fire service start planning for a single-piece apparatus order well in advance, the administration and firefighters of Lancaster County (SC) Fire Rescue (LCFR) took it to the next level. Their recent apparatus purchase was for 18 units: 10 engines, two pumper tankers, one dry side tanker, and five heavy rescues.
To give you a little background about Lancaster County, it is comprised of 577 square miles with a population of 85,000. Sixty percent of the county has hydranted areas, with 40 percent being underdeveloped timberland. It is primarily a bedroom community with urban growth around a community called Sunland that is a 55-and-over development with more than 4,000 residences. “We are also seeing quite a bit of growth in other areas as well,” says Darren Player, LCFR director. The county operates one career station and 17 volunteer stations.
According to Player, “We started planning for this larger order three years ago. This is our third large order, with 1997 and 2008 being the years of our other purchases. We try to work on a seven-year cycle for the orders with truck replacement based on age, maintenance records being the norm to decide which vehicles get replaced and which vehicles we retain and transfer to less busy stations. Our vehicles are also typically sold at anywhere from 18 to 29 years of age,” Player adds.
LCFR has a fire commission of 19 people. Each individual fire company has a member on the board. LCFR also has a truck committee, which like for most departments has members from administration, firefighters, officers, and chiefs who work on the specs for the new vehicles. The fire commission decides on placement of the vehicles when delivered.
When the committee decides on the specs, the county goes out with a performance-based bid. “We have to take the lowest bidder,” Player says, “but are adamant about any manufacturer not meeting all our specs. We were lucky to have Pierce win this bid and previous bids. It makes it easier for maintenance, parts, service, and dealing with the local Pierce dealer—Spartan Emergency Vehicles.”
This time around, the committee changed the specs to build with a custom cab for the majority of the vehicles. “In the past, we went with the Pierce Contender with a commercial cab,” Players says. “This time, we chose the Saber cab that was much bigger and gave more room for the driver, officer, and firefighters riding.”
Some other changes include having a 30-kW Onan generator, a winch on the front of the heavy rescues, and a 16-foot roof and 24-foot extension ladder on the rescues as well. The committee also went from top-mount to side-mount pump panels.
Billy Lloyd, the fire apparatus and equipment officer for LCFR, states that working with Pierce and the local dealer Spartan Emergency vehicles went well. “We made four visits to the factory in Bradenton, Florida, for this purchase,” Lloyd says. “All of our questions were answered by Pierce and the average worker on the assembly line as well as our contact with the local dealer.”
Even though the department still has other manufacturers in its fleet, with Pierce winning the past several bids they can see a commonality with parts, maintenance, and training. The local dealer has a service center less than two hours away but sends a maintenance vehicle to LCFR’s facility every Wednesday to look into and repair any issues that exist with the Pierce apparatus. It now takes days and not weeks or months to get a part if needed for repair.
“The only glitch we had with delivery was that one of the recent hurricanes that went through Florida slowed our delivery about three weeks,” Lloyd says. “The factory wasn’t damaged, but with power failures and evacuation orders down there, it slowed things down.”
The delivery of the vehicles was staggered. The vehicles were delivered to Spartan and then to the LCFR facility several at a time. This way they weren’t overburdened having all the vehicles at once.
Training was conducted by Pierce, which sent one of its people who conducted training on all the vehicles at several sessions, day and night. “This was done not only to accommodate our paid firefighters but to cover all of our volunteers who work different schedules,” Lloyd says. “It worked out really well for us.”
Growth and Standardization
While your department may not have to worry about this large a purchase, you can still learn from the LCFR experience. Members of the department were proactive in their thinking in writing the specs, thinking about future growth, and trying to standardize apparatus. This makes it a great deal easier for parts, maintenance, and training. While still having to choose a low bidder, they also made sure all the specs were met—with no exceptions.
Always plan way ahead for your apparatus purchase, think outside the box for the future, and get what you want. Also, think about service after the delivery and work on a good relationship with your local dealer.
Bob Vaccaro has more than 40 years of fire service experience. He is a former chief of the Deer Park (NY) Fire Department. Vaccaro has also worked for the Insurance Services Office, the New York Fire Patrol, and several major commercial insurance companies as a senior loss-control consultant. He is a life member of the IAFC.