Fire chief reviewing truck bids; Initial miscommunication ‘blown out of proportion’

Published 12:12 am Wednesday, February 4, 2015

NATCHEZ — The Natchez fire chief is reviewing specifications for a potential fire truck purchase as part of the city’s fire protection agreement with Adams County.

Natchez Fire Chief Oliver Stewart said while there may have been an initial miscommunication between himself and Adams County’s purchasing office about what specifications should be used for the purchase of the truck, that issue has been resolved and all of the potential bidders are working on the same page.

“It was all blown out of proportion,” he said. “The only thing that we require is that bidders meet what we are asking for.”

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What the city requires is, in part, based on a 40-plus-page manual from the state fire marshal’s office, Stewart said.

Adams County is purchasing the truck for the city as part of its shared fire-protection agreement.

Adams County Purchasing Clerk Frances Bell said she submitted a short list of key provisions for bidders to review because the specifications the fire department wanted were incredibly extensive.

“That estimation was so much information and so specifically detailed, there was no way for me to get that information to the companies,” she said. “I asked for a shorter listing and a basic overview of what (Stewart) wanted the truck to have, and when he gave me the shorter list that is the list I used to approach the vendors. I am sure that once they take that shorter list and say they want the truck to have this, they can say ‘Let’s get this estimation together and get an idea of what the truck will cost.’”

Bell said when she gave him the bidding information from vendors based on the short sheet, the fire chief told her he would contact the vendors and make sure what they submitted was everything the city needed.

The purchase is being done through the state contract system, which means the bidders  can’t overprice the county. It is, however, still a competitive process, Bell said.

“If it is on state contract, you can have the choice of whatever, but because the city is going to be using the fire truck, they are getting to choose,” Bell said.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said the city does not have a preference on a manufacturer, but wants a truck that “matches our fleet.”

“The last two trucks that have been purchased by the city are essentially the same, and that is what we want, but updated,” Brown said. “We know what the specs are on the last two, but the only thing we would change is to take the improvements from that model year to the current year.”

Some of the fire trucks previously discussed — and since scuttled due to vendor issues — were more appropriate for a volunteer fire departments than for the city department, Brown said.

“I don’t mean to disparage volunteer departments, because they’re all over the country and very important, but we can’t fight a fire in the industrial park or prison with equipment that is built for a volunteer fire department,” he said.

“They have limitations to what they can do and their response time.”

Adams County Board of Supervisors Attorney Scott Slover said while the process is competitive the county may not automatically choose the cheapest truck.

“The law requires that it is the lowest and best bid, and if a bid is better but more expensive, you can still do it if it is not just some tiny detail,” he said.

The fire agreement between the city and county does not specifically require the county to purchase a fire truck, Slover said. The language requires the city and county to apply together for fire fighting equipment grants, and if those do not come through for the county to purchase some kind of firefighting apparatus.

“We have never been in breach on that,” Slover said. “We need another fire truck out there, so what are you going to do? The board thinks that is a reasonable request, (the city) has three trucks they have purchased and we have purchased one, so it is probably our turn to buy another one.”

If the truck was needed on a specific timeline, it should have been specified in the shared fire agreement, Slover said, but he also believes the city will see a new truck soon.

The city’s requests have also been reasonable, he said.

“I don’t think they have gone in there and said they want the Ferrari when in the past they have purchased the lemon, they have said they want a similar, comparable vehicle to what they have got,” Slover said.

“Everybody wants a good vehicle because this vehicle will be used for county fire protection.”