Tool Purchasing 101: Important Questions to Ask Yourself before You Spend the Cash

Story & Photo by Todd D. Meyer

When the salespeople come to visit, make sure you have cars available to cut—and the newer the better. Run the tools through multiple evolutions, attempting different objectives: roof removal, dash roll, upper rail relief cut, etc.

Buying a hydraulic tool—to be done properly, it takes effort, research and usually a committee of dedicated folks who have a common goal: getting the right tool in the hands of your responders. If we don’t follow some basic steps, we could end up with a tool that doesn’t fit our community’s needs or working with a manufacturer that doesn’t care about the end users.

Eliminate the Razzle Dazzle
Before bringing in the salesperson to demonstrate their wares, you should establish a structured evaluation process. First, know what you want. When calling for bids, your specifications should be researched and outlined. If you don’t request 30' hoses, you won’t get 30' hoses. Be specific, and know if you are willing to accept substitutions. If you just wing it, some salespeople will smell blood and attempt to control the process.

Have the tool companies come in one at a time; this takes the race out of it, so you can have their full attention.

When the salespeople come to visit, make sure you have cars available to cut—and the newer the better. Run the tools through multiple evolutions, attempting different objectives: roof removal, dash roll, upper rail relief cut, etc. It’s not about what the salesperson says; it’s about you getting your hands on the tools. That’s right—for an effective evaluation, you’re actually going to have to get dirty and sweaty!

Further, you know how sometimes, when you go to a restaurant, the meal you ordered doesn’t look anything like what you saw in the picture online? Well, the same can happen with tools. Will the tools you’re testing have the same specifications on delivery? I’ve heard stories of salespeople actually dialing up the psi on the power unit, hoping the tool will outperform the others manufacturers’ tools. Also remember that companies will use speed as a selling point, but to me, the most important thing is the cutting. I don’t want you working a half-inch from my daughter’s leg with a fast spreader that you can’t control.

Lastly, remember that the majority of the evaluation should happen on the drill ground—not over dinner and drinks where the manufacturer rep can pick up the check (more razzle and dazzle).

Find It Online
One place to do a little research about tools is online. It’s easy to find posts and discussions about tools on firefighter websites. There’s certainly some good information out there; however, if you don’t sign your real name, your post or comment isn’t worth my time. Enough already with the alter egos, the vulgar music and call sign “Buzzed 247.” Look for posts by and discussions among people who are willing to discuss their opinions in an open and honest way. My name is Todd D. Meyer, and you can find me on by searching that name.

Department References
Seek out fire departments that have experience with the tools you’re interested in, as well as with the suppliers and manufacturers that you’re considering purchasing from. What was their evaluation process? Maybe they can share their written evaluations. How has their service been? Have they had any surprises? Are the tools durable? How often are the tools used in training and on alarms or, in other words, how often do they cut? Does the tool come out once a year at a fire station open house? If this is the case, maybe that department isn’t the best reference.

Money, Warranties & Service
Budgets usually set the parameters of which tools you can buy. Make sure you know your department’s budget for the purchase. You want to get the best tool for the department’s money, so make sure you’re educated on bidding and purchasing laws. Further, investigate the warranty the company can offer. What are the particulars? If you break a cutter blade, is it covered under warranty?

On that note, if a tool or power unit goes down, is a replacement available to you, and if so, is the supplier willing to ship it to you so you can get back in service? This is especially important if you are a one-tool department. How close is the supplier’s service truck to your location? How quickly can they get to your department to fix the problem—hours, days or weeks?

Many of these answers will depend on the company’s professionalism. It’s important that you try to determine if the supplier and the manufacturer are going to partner with you in delivering service to your community, or if they are fly-by-night companies that won’t be here in two years to honor the warranties. Another thing to consider: Are you going to have a new sales rep every few months—someone who was selling washers and dryers last week? Nothing against the Maytag man, of course, but it’s nice to find a rep who has been with the company long enough to know what they’re talking about.

What about Training?
Does the supplier or the tool manufacturer provide training? If so, is it just a one-time introductory training? Will they provide training for each shift? Is this training included in the bid price or is it a surprise additional cost? Do they offer ongoing training that supports your program?

Third-Party Testing
Purchase tools that have been tested by an independent third party (i.e., UL ,TUV). This test should be conducted to NFPA standards. Also, know if the specific model you’re testing has been evaluated to NFPA standards.

Decision Time!
Fire departments usually establish a committee to conduct research and make recommendations concerning rescue tools purchases. This committee is usually made up of end users (aka, the “boots on the ground”) and some oversight brass.

If the committee produces a sound recommendation that’s within the parameters of the expectations, the chief shouldn’t override the recommendation to purchase Brand X because he likes the color of Brand Y or because he’ll get a free hat out of the deal. Changing the decision without a good reason destroys morale and isn’t a good way to say “thank you” for the committee’s hard work.

Final Thoughts
It’s never fun when things break or are out of adjustment. We don’t like paying for something that’s always in the shop. We want a product that’s durable and will perform. And that’s a good reminder of why we need to take care of our tools. But when it is time for a new tool, we need to conduct structured research and be diligent about our evaluation process. We need to consider what’s best for our community and what’s the most reliable tool supported by a solid company. If we don’t, we’re the ones who people are going to look to when the tool won’t start.

Todd Meyer is a battalion chief with the Gig Harbor (Wash.) Fire & Medic One. He has 16 years of fire service experience. Meyer holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Central Washington University, as well as IFSAC Fire Fighter I and II, IFSAC Fire Officer I and II and Strike Team Leader qualifications. He’s a Pierce County Type III team member and instructs extrication classes on the West Coast. Meyer is the co-founder of “Crunch Time,” a hands-on vehicle extrication class hosted by Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One and a member of the IAFC.

Copyright © Elsevier Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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