If you’re like the majority of fire agencies we’ve interacted with, you’re required to put projects out for bid if they exceed a certain dollar amount.
More often than not, it requires you to write a RFP (Request for Proposal) or RFI (Request for Information). This ensures that the due diligence process is transparent and fair to all vendors wishing to participate.
A high-quality fire station alerting system represents a large expenditure in an agency’s budget. It’s crucial that the committee assigned to write a RFP asks the right questions to make sure potential vendors can provide you with a product that will meet the agency’s requirements and expectations.
Need to Write a RFP? Here are the “Must Ask” Questions
Common sense dictates that you begin with the most basic questions, such as asking for the vendor’s name, contact details and other demographics. That can include such information as the number of staff they employ; the number of successful, similar projects they’ve completed for other fire departments; and any other crucial details that might be helpful, so vendors are clear about what you’re looking to accomplish with the alerting system you’re seeking.
Other key questions that US Digital Designs recommends asking include:
- Will the solution provided be a turnkey fire station alerting system that includes all equipment, materials, installation-related services and supervision, training and support? If not, why not?
- Will the solution be compliant with all application, local, state and national electrical and building codes, and will it ensure that all required permits are secured prior to launching the project? If not, why not?
- Will the solution be fully compliant with the 2013 edition of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1221 and 1710, as applicable? If not, why not?
Breaking the RFP Into Easy-to-Follow Sections
It’s important to write a RFP as simply as possible for both the vendor to complete and, ultimately, for your fire department committee to review. Keep in mind, also, that responses can contain dozens of pages of text, making it a fairly time-consuming endeavor.
US Digital Designs recommends breaking out these questions into the following sections:
- General. Questions in this section should be broadly worded and require vendors to provide details about how the station alerting system will be offered, including specifications for power supply, capacity and design to allow for future expansion and upgrades.
- Automated and Manual Alerting Interface. This is the segment where you must solicit feedback from vendors regarding how the proposed system will interface with your existing computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. Also, ask if the system will interface with any radio systems used by the agency.
- Station Alerting. This particular section is vital because it truly is the “bread and butter” of any cutting-edge fire department alerting system. Within this section, there can also be sub-sections that include questions related to audibility, automated voice, mobile alerting of personnel, relay control, visual reinforcement/signage, intended re-use of existing audio equipment, dispatch printing and other related requirements. Providing the responders with floor plans for each station being considered is highly recommended, and will result in much more accurate responses.
- Configuration and Software Updates. Here’s your chance to quiz prospective vendors about their approach to the initial setup, as well as how they envision ongoing maintenance of the system after it has been deployed.
- Training. What type of training will the vendor provide for your staff? Will it be done onsite or off-site? What will the training schedule look like?
- Pricing. In today’s challenging economy, the final price for the solution requested might be the deciding factor in choosing which vendor you ultimately go with. Make sure that you are asking for detailed pricing with a line-by-line breakdown of each cost as part of your RFP.
- Warranty, Service and Support. Ask the RFP participants what warranties and technical services and support are included. You’ll want to know the costs, duration and how their pricing is structured.
In addition to the bullets above, consider asking all respondents to provide a proof-of-concept system as part of their contractual obligation. This will not only protect your agency from a vendor potentially misinterpreting language in your RFP, but they will show you that there’s “proof in the pudding.” It can also offer greater levels of security and reduce your risk.
Finally, when sitting down to write a RFP, ask questions that delve into the station alerting system vendor’s financial history, industry status and experience. Ask them for bios of members of their leadership and engineering teams, including their levels of expertise. Responses to these questions will either raise “red flags” or give the “green light” to one vendor over another, when it’s a tough choice between several of them.