Fire truck buyers can save with group purchasing

Buying consortiums are a way to save money if you don't mind a shared set of truck specifications

In a recent article, I touched on buying consortiums as a means for fire departments to combine their apparatus procurement efforts to achieve an economy of scale. In plain English, several departments can purchase the same apparatus from the same set of design specifications at a lower price than had they bought individually.

In that earlier article I wrote:

Most every state has a state fire chiefs association; these associations could serve as the anchor organization for the development of such consortiums. Those associations could partner with state-level agencies that have experience and expertise in developing vehicle specifications, developing bid proposals and managing blanket contracts for large volume purchases —state departments of transportation likely purchases hundreds of vehicles of all types each year.

Well guess what? This is not some pipe dream as fire departments can now purchase fire apparatus from manufacturers such as E.J. Metals, HME Ahrens-Fox, KME-Kovatch, Pierce, Sutphen, and Toyne through a cooperative purchasing process at FireRescue GPO.

"The original concept of cooperative purchasing for the fire service started with the Western Division of the International Association of Fire Chiefs about 14 or more years ago," said Heidi Arnold. Arnold is the general manager for the Western Fire Chiefs Association with primary responsibility to the FireRescue GPO program.

Since its inception, FireRescue GPO has provided group or cooperative procurement solutions for a variety of goods and services used all types of public sector organizations. "Since its start, the program has grown to a national level through partnerships with the IAFC, its U.S. divisions and state fire chiefs associations," Arnold said.

Now fire departments can save time and money when purchasing fire apparatus by piggybacking off publicly solicited contracts rather than completing their own request for proposal process. The cost of the apparatus is often better than a department would obtain on their own and procurement staff time is reduced.

How it works
The Public Procurement Authority prepares an RFP for a Type I engine, incorporating the required cooperative purchasing (piggybacking) language that will allow NPPGov members and public entities across the nation to use the contract once a contract is awarded. The RFP is typically published for a period of between 45 and 90 days on FindRFP, PPA, NPPGov, in a local journal and in some cases a national publication.

Apparatus vendors send their response to the RFP to the authority where it evaluates those responses using the point system published in the RFP. The competitively bid process is also consistent with those guidelines used in the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.

Once a vendor or vendors are awarded a contract, the authority negotiates a master price agreement that ensures that every organization that buys apparatus off the contract gets the same price — so long as the organization is a member of NPPGov.

Those approved contract documents are then posted on NPPGov's website where members can review the documents and have access to the contract pricing by signing the intergovernmental cooperative purchasing agreement.

There are a growing number of cooperative purchasing organizations that have sprung up in the last few years looking to serve the fire service, but only NPPGov currently gives back to the fire service. That giving back process looks like this.

Why use NPPGov?
An NPPGov-member fire department in Tennessee, for example, purchases a Type I pumper off of a contract listed by NPPGov. Upon completion of the sale, the apparatus vendor pays an administrative fee to NPPGov for the services that it provides — marketing the available contracts on its website.

NPPGov in turn pays a percentage of what it just received from the apparatus vendor to the Western Fire Chiefs Association, the organization that serves as the administrative liaison between NPPGov and the fire service. The association then directs a portion of that money to the appropriate division of the IAFC. In this case of a Tennessee department, it would go to the southeast division.

Finally, the southeast division sends a percentage of what it received to the Tennessee Fire Chiefs Association. It seems like a drawn out process, but once again it's the only cooperative purchasing process at this time that gives back to the fire service.

But the money is not the only reason fire departments should purchase their fire apparatus and other goods and services through NPPGov.

"In addition to promoting the available contracts to its members on its website and in other media, NPPGov also provides assistance to its member fire departments in taking a contract and making it work at the local level," Arnold said. "The NPPGov staff is very knowledgeable and they use their expertise to help fire chiefs navigate contracts through their state or local government procurement procedures."

Another good reason for fire departments to take a good look at the program is the oversight provided by the FireRescue GPO advisory council. The council is managed by the Western Fire Chiefs Association and is made up of representatives from all of IAFC's U.S. divisions — in other words, a collection of fire service experts with variety of experiences. 

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