How does your department choose what equipment to purchase? I have seen many different programs used by different departments. Usually it’s a quick and simple purchasing program; a single officer deciding what is chosen, purchasing the cheapest product, or going through a single vendor and just getting the brands they carry. While these are simple methods, they don’t always produce the best results. Most of the issues come from a lack of input from the guys on the rigs. They use these tools day in and day out, they know what works and what doesn’t. They also trust their lives to their tools. So how do we go about choosing the best tools for our department? Committees. Create a committee for everything that needs purchased. Get the unfiltered input from the guys as to what they want or need to do the job. Most Firefighters have no problem telling you what they like and what they don’t like.
There are many ways to create and structure these committees, but here are some good ideas. Anyone that rides on the apparatus and uses the equipment should be offered a chance to be on the committee. Its best to keep a set number on the committee. Every company and shift should be represented, at a minimum, for equipment that impacts the whole department. So if you have five companies, you should have at least five people on the committee with every shift represented. A great way to pick who gets to be on the committee is by letting the company pick its representative. They will know who the subject matter expert is. Its best to keep an odd number on committees for instances where the committee may need to vote on something. More company specific things should have a committee of only those who use them most. For example, when purchasing new ventilation saws create a committee of Firefighters from Truck companies. There should be a Chairman appointed to each committee to ensure things progress on the set timeline. This can either be elected by the committee or appointed by the purchasing authority. This is a great position for a Battalion Chief.
When the committee is formed they should be given set parameters to go by. At a minimum, they should be given a budgetary limit, a deadline, and any specific equipment requirements. For example, if you are preparing to purchase new forcible entry equipment you would tell the committee; “We are purchasing new sets of forcible entry hand tools for each Engine, the budget limit is $1,500 per Engine, the tool purchase must include a flat head axe & a halligan, and the purchase recommendation must be submitted by November 1st”. Once the parameters are set, let the committee do the work. The chairman should decide the meeting schedules and assign specific tasks.
Within the committee there should be a few things that should happen. First a meeting will need to be held to discuss the parameters and to start to get ideas on the best options. After this meeting members should begin to research the different tools, equipment, and options available. The second meeting should be used to discuss findings and possibly decide what to purchase, depending on the complexity of the equipment. Something like a halligan may not take long, but an Engine will take months and a lot more meetings. If it is more complex you will need to have people research more of the options and prepare presentations to give to the rest of the committee. It may come down to a vote when deciding on one specific part of a larger project. With large projects, break it down into smaller portions. Go through the typical meeting processes for each decision. For an Engine; start with a manufacturer, then a model, then a powertrain, then the pump, etc. It can seem like a lot, but breaking it down will make it seem much more manageable. Once everything is decided, someone should be tasked with writing the purchase recommendation and one more meeting should be held to review and sign it. If all of managements parameters are met the items should be purchased. This process does not work without management following through.
Like previously stated, its best to have a committee for everything purchased. This is one of the best ways to motivate your Firefighters and creates a huge sense of ownership in the department. It also spreads the workload across the department and gives your Firefighters experience in skills needed once promoted.