Buying Used Fire Apparatus: Vehicle Operation And Apparatus

Buying Used Fire Apparatus

The economy has been wreaking havoc on the fire service, and the apparatus world isn’t immune. Along with firefighter layoffs and brownouts, many industry insiders estimate that new fire apparatus orders have decreased 30 to 40%. This trend isn’t likely to reverse itself anytime soon.

Departments, both large and small, that need to  replace apparatus due to age or maintenance issues are having to think creatively to work within the confines of recent budget restrictions—and that translates to more departments considering the purchase of used fire apparatus. The Lingohocken Fire Company (LFC), located in Bucks County, Pa., is one of those departments.

Adjusting Expectations
“We began looking into purchasing a new pumper back in the spring of 2010,” says LFC Chief Engineer Duane Smith. The main reason for the purchase: The LFC needed a smaller vehicle that could be housed at its public works garage on weekdays. “We have four full-time employees and one part-time employee who is also a firefighter with our fire company,” Smith says. “They would man the pumper during the daytime and then put it back at the fire station for weekend responses. It would be our first-due piece during the weekday hours also.”

The LFC response area consists of 20 square miles comprising mostly residences, a nursing home, four stone quarries and some small businesses. The company carries a lot of hose for a smaller vehicle—1,000 feet of 5", 200 feet of 2" preconnected, 250 feet of 3" preconnected, two 50' spare sections of 3" and three 10' sections of hard suction hose.

LFC Chief Greg Jakubowski notes that the new apparatus was meant not only for replacement, but expansion of services: “We wanted to gain some additional capability from a wildland/urban interface perspective, with all-wheel-drive capability that also added to our ability to access properties throughout our coverage area during the severe winter storms we experience.”  

The company contacted several vendors, including Pierce, Rosenbauer, KME, Marion and Midwest, about purchasing stock or demo models, and they test-drove several demo trucks. “We actually began looking at new vehicles back then, but the cost was prohibitive for us,” Smith says. Jakubowski agrees: “Pricing on most of those vehicles was a bit more than we wanted to spend, and we began looking at anything from gently used trucks to taking an older, Type 2 engine and putting a new chassis under it.”

Eventually, the LFC chose Brindlee Mountain, an apparatus dealer located in Alabama. The truck was originally manufactured by the small and relatively unknown Montana Fire Works.

New to Them
The LFC found that even when shopping for used apparatus, it’s possible to get the features you’re looking for. “Brindlee Mountain was great to deal with,” Jakubowski says. “They were honest, and took the time to get answers to the many questions we had. We looked at other dealers as well, including Fire Trucks Plus, Firetec and others, but it really came down to which dealer had something close to the specific unit we were looking for.”

The LFC wanted an apparatus equipped with all-wheel drive and Class A foam. “It turned out the Brindlee Mountain truck had an electronic deck gun that matched our two other engines, as well as several other nice features that we weren’t necessarily looking for but were happy to have,” Jakubowski says. “This included preconnected hoselines under the cab doors that are easy to reach and a front spray bar.” The vehicle was five years old with approximately 5,000 miles on it when they made the purchase.

Pricing is always an advantage when buying used. The LFC estimates it paid about 60% of the cost of a new, similar truck. Brindlee Mountain offered a limited one-year warranty on major components and delivery to the LFC station. “We didn’t take ownership of it until it was delivered,” Jakubowski says. “The truck had to be driven over 2,000 miles to get to us, and we liked the fact that it would get ‘broken in’ a bit and any problems that occurred during the break-in would be the dealer’s responsibility.” Before making the final purchase, three LFC members flew out to the dealer to inspect the rig, test drive it, pump test it and ensure it would fit their needs.  

When you’re buying used, you’ll need to decide on how to negotiate things like paint and equipment. “The ground ladders on the truck had sat outside and were not in first-class firefighting condition,” Jakubowski says. “We purchased new ground ladders and lettered the truck ourselves, which the dealer credited us for.”

The LFC financed the purchase with fire company funds on hand, securing a 2% loan from the State of Pennsylvania to finance part of the truck, and a seven-year federal stimulus loan to finance the remainder. “We used Volunteer’s Financial Services, a local financial firm that focuses on the needs of volunteer fire companies, to put the funding package together for us,” Jakubowski says.

Protect Yourself
If you’re considering an apparatus purchase and cannot afford a new vehicle, buying used might be the way to go, but you do need to proceed with caution. Decide what specs you need on a new pumper, ladder or heavy-rescue and check out the many used apparatus dealers out there to determine if they have a unit that fits your needs and budget. Tip: When you inspect a prospective vehicle, take a mechanic or someone who knows trucks with you. This isn’t like buying a used car; the price you’re paying is going to be a lot higher, so you must be sure that the truck you’re buying is in good mechanical condition and that the dealer is giving you a warranty.

Also, ask the dealer for some references and call around to determine whether other departments had problems with their purchase—and if so, how the dealer solved them.

Buying used isn’t for everyone. In the end, it might be more difficult to buy a used apparatus than a new one. You must decide what’s right for your department and whether the risk is worth it.
Lingohocken’s "Gently Used" Apparatus

  • 2005 Freightliner FL 80 chassis
  • Montana Fire Works body
  • 330-hp Cat diesel engine
  • 4 x 4 automatic transmission
  • 1,250-gpm Waterous single-stage pump
  • 1,000-gallon poly tank
  • 20 gallons Class A foam
  • 6,000-watt Onan hydraulic generator

Clarion UX