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  • VFD dont have to follow bidding guidelines???

    One of my friends told me that volunteer fire departments dont have to follow any bidding guidelines or procurement policies. Is it really true that volunteers can buy everything directly from the dealer or do you in fact have guidelines?

  • #2
    You can get away with it until the auditor steps in. If you are using Public Funds, i.e. Dues, Taxes, Service Fees, you are spending Public Funding. The standards and laws still apply.

    There is a very good reason for this. Too many times the Chief or other Administrator, Commissioner, Trustee or Councilman, decided to circumvent the rules and money went to companies that paid the "contact person" a fee. That is called a kickback and illegal in all 50 states. Case law is well established and in a few States, there is a lot of documentation on cases where not one, ten or 20 guys were charged and prosecuted, but well over one hundred. The penalty mostly depends on the amounts involved, or the appetite of the prosecutor to stake someone out for an example. Most lean to the highest possible standard. (This is common when the prosecutor wants to make a name for himself for the future; Attorney General / Governor.)

    Goggle the phrase "kickback scandal" and see what you get...

    If your department believes it does not use Public Funds, here is the test:

    Ask, where does your funding come from? Fees, taxes, perhaps State Operation Grants... , and even donations...

    These are all Public Funds, and there are no exceptions. Ignorance is no defense for a crime of this caliber.

    Depending on the state law, there are some items of value that do not require bidding. These are considered disposable or replacable. The cost of the item or bid is the driving factor. In most States, that cost or price tag is "anything costing $10,000 or higher". Some States place this limit at $5,000. There are a few exceptions for volunteer agencies in some states if the funds are "Grant-In-Aid Appropriations. You need to call your State Auditor to find out what your State demands. That's right... demands.

    If you're replacing a section of hose for a $100 or a nozzle at $800, it won't be an issue. But if your spending $300,000 on a truck, do it right.

    Since you came here to ask "the question", do yourself a favor.... call the State Auditor, then show the printed law (statute) to your buddy....

    If your department does not have a policy that covers this, the easy answer is to use the State Rule, law or Statute and put it in you policy book. Just add a cover page that states "The XYZ Fire Department hereby adopts the 'policy and procedures' set forth by the State of ABC in regard to the purchasing and procurement of equipment and vehicles. Then just attach the language or actual document, give it a Addendum or Document name "Refer to: addendum XXIII or Document 33B."

    Just follow the law and you will be fine. I'd tell your buddy to get his facts straight. Maybe he is waiting for his share of the graft money.

    You must not betray the Public Trust....
    HAVE PLAN.............WILL TRAVEL

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    • #3
      If you are using public funds, then there are rules usually set by the town or state about what you can spend without having to go to bid.

      We also have state contracts, that are already negotiated that we can just order from. We have ordered a Ford Explorer off "state bid", where we didnt' have to bid it out.

      Our limits were pretty high, if memory serves me it was something like this (don't quote me).

      $1-$4999 No bids
      $5000-$14999 Three quotes needed
      >$15000 Public Bid

      If we were spending money that came from fundraising, etc.. then we could just go spend as we liked (we usually got a few bids).
      I am now a past chief and the views, opinions, and comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any department or in any official capacity. Although, they would be smart to listen to me.

      "The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list."

      "When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water."

      Comment


      • #4
        Some departments operating budgets are strictly from donations, fundraisers, etc. Purchases done from those budgets is no body's concern. Actually, departments who survive on that type of funding are desperate to show any inquiring mind.
        Some are a combination of budgets from the above and their local government who is often responsible for overhead, insurance, apparatus, etc.

        This last March I got a bit of a surprise concerning the purchasing of communications equipment acquired through a fire grant. With these purchases you must follow their procurement guidelines. The AFG requests that you follow their purchasing requirements or follow your own procurement policies, whichever is the most stringent. Now as this was a regional award and would be purchasing for multiple departments, we are allowed to use a vendor who is authorized to sell equipment at 'state contract pricing.' This was my intention as it would eliminate the writing of bid specifications. As I was told, the states, the vendors and the feds had gone to considerable time, effort and money to get these prices set, so purchasing by state contract pricing was acceptable and *compliant with the grants guidelines.

        Then in March I get a phone call from the DHS/FEMA regional representative who wanted to ask how I intended to handle this purchase. (turns out they were calling other regional awardees) I said though state contract pricing. He then relays to me FEMA's new strong preference that I seek bids for this purchase. He was really emphasising this, even though I would be compliant by the state contracts system, he again wanted to impress upon me FEMA's strong desire that I start a bidding process. It struck me as a little odd and so I asked him why? He then told me that FEMA and DHS had become aware that some of these pre set discounts were as much as three years old and that those agencies felt that the project could get more purchase power through the bidding process. He also said that these agencies feel that contracts that were as new as six months were too old. I said "then why doesn't DHS and FEMA just come out and say bidding process only?" He couldn't elaborate further but I got the message. Turns out that they were right in the end, but trying to guess about what the Feds feel is proper purchasing procedures can be road lined with traps.

        Whatever you do, check with the sources that the funding came from, ***get in writing an approval*** from them what they feel will satisfy them that you are getting the best bang for their buck.

        We grant administrators have learned to document every communication with the funding sources. Do not guess, call them and get a confirmation email. They can't eat you if do this and you have successfully covered your ***.

        Comment


        • #5
          As usual, Paladin Knight and the others have summed it up well.

          Speaking from experience with some cash-laden volunteer departments here in Virginia and Maryland, there are quite a few VFD's that do their own fundraising and earmark their fundraising money specifically for apparatus purchases. That allows them to leave the revenue they get from the locality for fuel, insurance, turnouts, and the like. Here in Virginia, it's perfectly legal, although many people question the ethics of it.

          Do your self a favor and contact your state's purchasing department and see what the legalities are for your particular case.
          Career Fire Captain
          Volunteer Chief Officer


          Never taking for granted that I'm privileged enough to have the greatest job in the world!

          Comment


          • #6
            Bottom line is you have to follow the rules set by whoever's money you are using. If the money is town/city tax dollars, then you have to follow the town/city procedures. If the money belongs to the fire company privately, then they can buy whatever they want just like you or I could with our own money.
            Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by ChiefKN View Post
              ...$1-$4999 No bids
              $5000-$14999 Three quotes needed
              >$15000 Public Bid
              ...
              Our current thresholds...

              $1-$499 - no bids
              $500-$14999 3 quotes
              > $15000 Public Bid

              (but that may just be my Town's rules)

              Also, as for State Contracts....while they are simpler, they are rarely the best price. Most times, you will save money by doing the extra work for getting prices.
              "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Bones42 View Post
                Our current thresholds...

                $1-$499 - no bids
                $500-$14999 3 quotes
                > $15000 Public Bid

                (but that may just be my Town's rules)

                Also, as for State Contracts....while they are simpler, they are rarely the best price. Most times, you will save money by doing the extra work for getting prices.
                It might have been that low, to be honest, I can't remember.

                The town can set its own thresholds, but there is some general guidance from the State.
                I am now a past chief and the views, opinions, and comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any department or in any official capacity. Although, they would be smart to listen to me.

                "The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list."

                "When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water."

                Comment


                • #9
                  Oh, I see. Basically they want to push you to get the best price for whatever you want to get...which makes absolutely sense. I thought you could be forced to get the cheapest offer. Even though the initial cost for quality gear might be higher, the cost of ownership over 5 years is most likely to be lower.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by koechler View Post
                    Oh, I see. Basically they want to push you to get the best price for whatever you want to get...which makes absolutely sense. I thought you could be forced to get the cheapest offer. Even though the initial cost for quality gear might be higher, the cost of ownership over 5 years is most likely to be lower.
                    Yes, it isn't always lowest bid wins. It's a process, where the bids are then reviewed for many parameters. We've not taken the lowest bid for various reasons.
                    I am now a past chief and the views, opinions, and comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any department or in any official capacity. Although, they would be smart to listen to me.

                    "The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list."

                    "When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water."

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Our fire district has thresholds similar to those cited by Bones, but we have four levels - no bids, verbal quotes, written quotes, and bids, with suitably increasing dollar amounts.

                      Even with that, however, grant guidelines/rules can be a factor. We got a matching forestry grant a few years ago for a mere $1000, but we had to have bids or quotes on all items.

                      Some years ago I read a little snippet in the Reader's Digest that said that an Italian government at some level had the following philosophy on bidding:

                      Throw out the lowest bid because they obviously don't know what they're doing and will either turn out an inferior product or not be able to finish. Throw out the highest bid because they just want the money. Then find the average of the rest of the bids and pick the bidder who comes closest to that average. That's the one who has truly done the math.

                      We still have a few folks who chafe at having to get quotes and bids - they're used to wheeling and dealing and it's not very easy to do that if stuff has to be in black and white.
                      Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

                      Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Our city states 0-500 no bid, 500 to 999 verbal and 1k and up need bids.

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