On 19 November 1987, I commenced my career in the field of Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) and what a journey it has been. I have been primarily involved in the total asset life cycle of ARFF vehicles including strategic planning, project managing the procurement (as both a buyer and a supplier), engineering and testing specialist, operational commissioning, through life maintenance and disposal.
During the last 31 years, I was significantly involved in 19 separate vehicle projects delivering a total of 147 ARFF vehicles (including 15 first-of- type vehicles) in the region of Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific Islands.
In addition, I was involved in the complete overhauls of numerous ARFF vehicles. This is where you truly see whether the vehicle manufacturer has properly designed and prepared the components for assembly. I gained a lot of knowledge from these rebuilds, which I subsequently included into vehicle specifications that I wrote. I also developed many modifications to enhance operational capability and improve maintainability/reliability.
After delivering this many vehicles and having to maintain a nation-wide fleet of vehicles throughout their life, I learnt a few tricks to ensure that the vehicle delivery process goes smoothly and maximum life can be achieved from these highly specialised assets.
The key ingredients of running any successful project of this type are:
- an experienced and diverse internal project team
- accurate and high-quality project documentation
- selecting a supplier that will deliver to your needs
- frequent project communications and reporting
Internal Project Team
The key personnel in the project team should be very experienced in their fields of expertise and include a project manager, a procurement specialist and most importantly ARFF operational specialist/s and ARFF vehicle maintenance specialist. In the fire service, it is not uncommon for some of these functions to be covered by a single person.
For business continuity, consider including junior staff in the team, so that they can learn from you and the other experienced hands in the team. You never know when your organisation might have to buy their next vehicle.
Most organisations have standard tender documentation that needs to be followed for any major procurement, however, this will not include the key specialist documentation. Your ARFF operational and maintenance specialists will be responsible for developing:
- Vehicle Specification
- Statement of Work
- Vehicle Test Plan
- Implementation Plan
They will need to ensure that the vehicle/s to be delivered under the project will be compliant with all current regulatory requirements that are applicable at their airport. This includes not only international standards but also the local regulations.
ARFF Vehicles are expensive, so it is critically important to consider the fit of any new vehicle with the current fleet and any potential upgrades of airport RFF category into the future.
Selecting the Supplier
Most of the suppliers have the capability and capacity to manufacture ARFF vehicles, otherwise, they wouldn’t be in the business.
Price will most likely dictate the selection, however, there are some other considerations that can make this activity easy or difficult:
- experience of the supplier’s team
- ongoing support capability
One of the most important criteria is the level of knowledge and experience within the supplier’s team including that of the project manager, sales specialists, engineering specialists and their after sales/warranty manager. My minimum recommendation would be that these people have at least 10 years of practical experience in the field, and I don’t mean work experience here, I mean first-hand experience with ARFF vehicles. Avoid dealing with any supplier representative who knows nothing about ARFF vehicles, as such people can be a waste of both yours and the project’s time.
Early in my career, I dealt with several vehicle suppliers that ceased to operate, some due to business collapse and others due to a change in business direction. From an ongoing operational and maintenance perspective, losing the support of the supplier can be challenging to deal with in the short term especially in the procurement of spares and warranty issues. To avoid this, it is really important to conduct a thorough evaluation of any potential supplier to ensure:
- supply to the emergency services industry is their core business
- they will remain in business to support their product
Project communications are a key to ensuring the success of a project and it is important that lines of communications are established between both sides via a single point of contact on each side. This is essential for all issues so that they can be properly tracked and the outcomes documented. If there will be additional future vehicle deliveries of the same vehicle type, it is especially important to do this for vehicle standardisation.
Regular meetings should be conducted for the purpose of efficiency and to ensure the project remains on schedule, and the meetings properly documented with all action items recorded. As you will have to report on the project status to your boss, regular status reports are a must from the supplier. As a minimum, the status report includes: progress against the schedule (including any significant milestones that have been met), issues that have been resolved, perceived risks (and how they will be mitigated), and work planned for the next reporting period.
Rigorous testing will ensure that the vehicle meets all of the specified requirements. However time is money, so the supplier will try to undertake the least amount of testing that they can get away with, and this may not be what you were expecting.
To remove any doubt, ensure that the level of testing to be undertaken has been included in the Statement of Work. If the vehicle make or model is the first of its type to be delivered to you, it should be subjected to a full prototype test.
The test plan needs to identify all tests, including:
- the procedure and the performance parameters that need to be met
- where and by whom the test will be conducted
- test instrumentation that will be used (and the appropriate calibration certificate for it)
Be unrelenting in ensuring that all testing is conducted in accordance with the test plan and no shortcuts are taken. You may need to provide a copy of the test results to your airport regulator during an audit, so it is important that it is accurate.
The test results must be fully documented and all defects noted so that they can be checked off as they are rectified. In addition to ensuring the vehicle is delivered defect free, if you are procuring multiple vehicles you can check if there are trends on the types of defects, or any agreed changes are included on all vehicles.
At the same time that the vehicle is being tested, it is a good idea to undertake a thorough review of all manuals to ensure that they are accurate.
A well thought out implementation plan is the key to ensure the smooth commissioning of new vehicles, and will include:
- operational training for all staff that will use the vehicle
- technical training for all the maintenance staff that maintain the vehicle
- update of any operational documentation
- any changes to the fire station that may be necessary to accommodate the new vehicle
- all local registration requirements have been completed (for example, road registration, airside vehicle access, plant registration, etc)
- procurement of critical spares and specialist maintenance tools
- the maintenance activities have been budgeted for and the maintenance plan has been activated
- the disposal process for any vehicle that will be removed from service
Project Close Out
This is one of the most neglected activities in any project.
Standard project activities apply here, however, copies of all the critical / key documentation should be appropriately filed by the operational team so that it can be accessed easily in the future, including:
- test results – which may be requested by an auditor (eg ICAO)
- financials – may be required by the corporate accountant
- warranties/guarantees – may be required for any breakdowns or latent defects
- sales documentation (eg bill of sale) – to prove ownership
- customs import documentation (if purchased from another country)
It is important to document all lessons learnt from the process so that you can utilise these for any other project you are involved in.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask
Taking on a project to buy an ARFF vehicle may appear simple, but it is quite involved, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Engaging an independent skilled professional in the field can save you a lot of headaches, and they can also provide a mentorship role to guide you in the right direction.
For more information, go to www.linkedin.com/in/mark-parsons-99a40b136