While it must be difficult for any business to lose a competitive evaluation process to a rival company, I don’t believe that embarrassment and anger justify making wild accusations of a procurement process gone wrong. That seems to be exactly what happened at the Jan. 28 meeting of the Glendale City Council (“Questions raised about fire truck bid,” Feb. 3, 2014).
Freightliner of Arizona, one of the losing fire truck dealers evaluated to sell the Glendale Fire Department a new fire truck, sent its general sales manager and a lawyer to the council meeting to attack the process and our department during the public comment portion of the meeting. Clearly, Freightliner believes it should have been given the sale of a new fire truck, based on the fact that they offered a vehicle for about $20,000 less than a truck that will cost the city about $485,000, including taxes.
As a Glendale fire fighter since 2004 and the president of the Glendale Fire Fighters Association, I believe otherwise – and that belief has nothing to do with dollars and cents. The fact is, the fire truck that Freightliner offered the city is a subpar piece of equipment that would have increased the risk faced by the men and women on the frontlines during life-or-death 911 calls.
The most dangerous moments fire fighters face come not inside a building amid 1,000-degree flames – it’s on the way to a call driving a 40,000-pound vehicle traveling at 40 mph or more. That’s where the Freightliner truck falls far short of what we need.
The truck Freightliner submitted to GFD for evaluation was not the extruded body cab used by our city and every other Valley fire department. These custom-designed vehicles have far better crash protection than the cheaper, lighter Freightliner model. And since Glendale is the state’s busiest fire department per capita – facing more than 35,000 calls a year – we need that extra protection. While Freightliner touts how its cheaper model works well for other fire departments, what they neglect to mention is that those departments are usually rural volunteer fire departments, where the annual call rate can number in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands. Incidentally, it should be noted that Freightliner offers an extruded body and cab product, but at a higher price.
The other key difference? The vehicle’s braking system. The evaluation- winning engine features the far more advanced Telma frictionless braking system, a potentially life-saving backup we find absolutely necessary in our city’s dense, stop-and-go traffic. This “best in the industry” brake system not only saves lives, it saves taxpayer dollars by lowering maintenance costs on our trucks’ frequent brake jobs. The Glendale Fire Department has used this system for more than 15 years without a single failure.
In Freightliner’s eyes, these differences might be classified as “luxury items.” To fire fighters who’d like to return home at night to their spouses and kids, they are absolute necessities indeed.
The evaluation of multiple fire engine manufacturers led our department to three companies all capable of meeting the city’s minimum requirements. After evaluating each of these vehicles, our department moved forward with grant funding to purchase a truck through a national sales cooperative contract. This national contract guarantees that our city receives the best possible price on everything from fire trucks to street sweepers. Since the Freightliner dealership in question only recently returned to selling fire trucks, perhaps the company’s confusion over our city’s procurement procedures stems from their never having been involved in the process before.
Speaking of the procurement process, I believe transparency here is a must. That’s exactly what Freightliner demanded in their representatives’ comments and in conversations and correspondence between the company’s CEO and his lifelong friend, Glendale Councilman Ian Hugh. I agree. But this process and commentary about the process should include all the facts about the winning and losing of fire truck sales, not just some baseless accusations.
The bottom line? Perhaps Freightliner should worry more about the highest priority of keeping fire fighters safe and less about the sales they lose.