Apparatus Purchasing: Used Fire Trucks, Part 1

A little-known and rarely addressed portion of the American fire truck market is the sale of used fire apparatus.

A fire department disposing of a used rig has the option of scrapping it for salvage, saving it as an antique, trading it in on a new apparatus purchase, donating it to a needy fire department, selling it to another fire department, selling it to a used fire truck dealer, or listing it with a broker. This article addresses the last two. If 1,800 used rigs with an average selling price of $40,000 are sold each year, that portion of the fire apparatus market could be worth well over $70 million. One industry expert considers both estimates quite low. The market is generally self-regulated, growing each year and competing with new apparatus manufacturers for sales.

1 A preowned 1996 KME 1,250/1,000 pumper that Command Fire Apparatus sold to the Lewisport (KY) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Usdin, Command Fire Apparatus.)
1 A preowned 1996 KME 1,250/1,000 pumper that Command Fire Apparatus sold to the Lewisport (KY) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Usdin, Command Fire Apparatus.)

The Players

To provide an accurate market representation, I contacted various sized used apparatus dealers and brokers throughout the United States. Originally starting as regional sellers, many used apparatus vendors and brokers operate nationwide as well as internationally.

Mid-Atlantic States: Glenn Usdin, a used apparatus dealer, started Command Fire Apparatus in 1987. He employs 12 people in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and says, “We have a full mechanical and body repair facility specializing in lower-mileage, late-model units that are ready to go into service when delivered.”

Midwestern States: Jon’s Mid America Fire Apparatus sells both new (KME) and used apparatus, was started in 1974, and is headquartered in Rogersville, Missouri. Current owner Jim Keltner, employing 18 people in two locations, says, “We have a very modern shop with the ability to pump test up to three units at a time from our 28,000-gallon concrete test pit. We have access to and the ability to do any and all repairs or fabrication needed on any apparatus including remount, refurbishment, and retail-ready used trucks. Our trained technicians specialize only in fire trucks-not loose equipment; over-the-road trucks; or hats, boots, or bunker gear. We are fire truck people.”

Midwestern States: Started in 2008, Missouri Fire Apparatus of Grovespring, Missouri, is a used apparatus dealer that employs 10 people. Owner Greg Still says, “We offer major apparatus alterations including a program allowing a department to ‘build’ a truck on a used chassis. Our 16,000-square-foot repair and service facility, completed in 2015, offers complete apparatus refurbishing and has a 120-foot-long downdraft paint booth, a glass showroom and delivery bay for the final inspection and purchasing process, and a spacious conference room for apparatus design and contractual agreements.”

2 The Hecla (PA) Fire Department purchased this 1998 Spartan 1,500/750 pumper from Command Fire Apparatus to upgrade from a 1970s pumper. The cost of the unit was less than one quarter the cost of a new vehicle with similar specifications. (Photo courtesy of Command Fire Apparatus)
2 The Hecla (PA) Fire Department purchased this 1998 Spartan 1,500/750 pumper from Command Fire Apparatus to upgrade from a 1970s pumper. The cost of the unit was less than one quarter the cost of a new vehicle with similar specifications. (Photo courtesy of Command Fire Apparatus.)

New England: Known as “The Fire Truck Ladies,” Jennifer and Barbara Bauman own FIRETEC, a used fire apparatus broker located in Randolph, Vermont, that started in 1983. Barbara Bauman says, “We serve departments nationwide, offer free appraisals, and list around 200 units that constantly turn over. We have no stale inventory.”

Western States: FireTrucks, Unlimited, owned by Stuart, Brian, and Cindy Reyburn, has two locations in Henderson, Nevada, employing 44 people. It started in 2007 and buys and sells used apparatus, keeping about 40 in stock, and also serves as a broker, listing about 30 units at one time. Brian Reyburn says, “We have a full-service mechanical refurbishment shop with 10 fire apparatus bays, an in-house engine rebuild shop, a large parts department, metal fabrication, apparatus lifts, a separate paint shop with 60-foot paint booth, in-house graphics and design, and a separate location for ambulance remounts.” It offers National Fire Protection (NFPA) 1912, Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishing, Level 2 refurbishments.

Deep South: Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus, in Union Grove, Alabama, was founded by James Wessel in 2001. Serving as both a broker and a used fire truck dealer, Brindlee employs 45 people with more than 100 rigs in stock and about 1,000 “listed.” About his facility, Wessel says, “Everything the customer would need can be done right here from engine and transmission rebuilds, pump rebuilds, collision work, and paint to NFPA 1912 Level 2 refurbishing.”

Rules and Regulations

Seldom referred to in the fire apparatus world is the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which regulates, by law, commercial sales throughout the country. Most states have adopted their own versions. Used fire apparatus purchasers should be aware of their “rights” as well as a seller’s “obligations,” especially in areas such as titles and warranties for used motor vehicle sales.

3 Firetrucks Unlimited sold this refurbished 2007 KME Predator pumper to the Golder Ranch (AZ) Fire District. The refurbishment included a new polypropylene water tank, repaint, and repair. (Photo courtesy of Firetrucks Unlimited.)
3 Firetrucks Unlimited sold this refurbished 2007 KME Predator pumper to the Golder Ranch (AZ) Fire District. The refurbishment included a new polypropylene water tank, repaint, and repair. (Photo courtesy of Firetrucks Unlimited.)

NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, Annex D has guidelines for in-service and reserve apparatus as well as guidelines for upgrading and refurbishing apparatus. NFPA 1912 describes the two levels of apparatus refurbishing for those who choose either route. My personal opinion is that NFPA 1901 and 1912 are unenforceable, but nationally recognized, minimum standards where voluntary compliance is influenced by the threat of litigation if not followed.

Responses about the used fire apparatus market follow.

4 Another Firetrucks Unlimited sale was this refurbished 2011 Ferrara Platform Aerial to the Storey County (NV) Fire Protection District. Its refurbishment included a complete color change, LED lighting upgrade, pump and valve overhaul, body modifications, and electrical systems overhaul. (Photo courtesy of Firetrucks Unlimited.)
4 Another Firetrucks Unlimited sale was this refurbished 2011 Ferrara Platform Aerial to the Storey County (NV) Fire Protection District. Its refurbishment included a complete color change, LED lighting upgrade, pump and valve overhaul, body modifications, and electrical systems overhaul. (Photo courtesy of Firetrucks Unlimited.)

How many used rigs are sold domestically nationwide?

Usdin: “My guess is a similar amount as new ones are delivered. Manufacturers don’t report exact numbers; it’s probably more than 2,000 per year. There is also a trend for departments to downsize units that aren’t being used and combine them into multipurpose units.”

Keltner: “1,500 to 1,800.”

Reyburn: “1,500.”

Baumann: “The answer is somewhat more elusive than the question, ‘How many new trucks are built each year?’ It’s a tight market, and our estimate is 1,800 to 2,000. It’s important not to count the same trucks twice. Some may go from fire department to auction or to a dealer or reseller then ultimately sold by a broker to a fire department. They may have two to three stops before arriving in their new community.”

Wessel: “It is hard to say exactly, as there is no Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA)-type data available, and many apparatus are sold between departments. We estimate around 3,000 total, but it is very hard to ballpark.”

5 One of three identical refurbished 1999 Pierce Quantum pumpers Firetrucks Unlimited sold to the Pahrump (NV) Fire Department. The refurbishments included engine and pump overhauls, LED lighting upgrades, and repaint. (Photo courtesy of Firetrucks Unlimited
5 One of three identical refurbished 1999 Pierce Quantum pumpers Firetrucks Unlimited sold to the Pahrump (NV) Fire Department. The refurbishments included engine and pump overhauls, LED lighting upgrades, and repaint. (Photo courtesy of Firetrucks Unlimited.)

Where are most used trucks sold?

Usdin: “The market is mixed, with a heavy emphasis on units going to smaller rural areas that could never afford new. Thousands of fire departments operate on yearly budgets of less than $10,000. They generally operate with donated units. The next level of rural fire departments purchases used units because of the limited service they will see and the cost of new units. A few suburban departments purchase used units for special needs, such as a loss of a unit due to a major accident or immediate needs such as a new commercial building or subdivision being built. Metro departments rarely buy used except in special cases. There have been special or extenuating circumstances that have led metro departments to purchase used units on an emergency basis. As the cost of new units continues to climb because of newer federal regulations and NFPA guidelines, we are seeing a slight increase in suburban departments buying late-model used units in place of new vehicles.”

Keltner: “Rural, with a trend toward suburban.”

Still: “We sell primarily to rural or small city departments.”

Baumann: “Certainly after the last recession we saw some larger communities, which had always purchased new, consider the wisdom of used fire truck purchases. Overall, buyers are rural.”

Reyburn: “Most sales are to suburban and rural departments. Private organizations also purchase used apparatus and ambulances.”

Wessel: “Smaller, rural departments are the primary buyers of used apparatus, but many suburban and metro departments buy used as well. There is no particular trend at the moment different than the past.”

7 A tanker mounted on an International chassis inside Missouri Fire Apparatus’s recently completed glass showroom and delivery bay used during the final inspection/purchasing process. (Photos courtesy of Missouri Fire Apparatus
7 A tanker mounted on an International chassis inside Missouri Fire Apparatus’s recently completed glass showroom and delivery bay used during the final inspection/purchasing process. (Photos courtesy of Missouri Fire Apparatus.)

Are many exported?

Usdin: “There has always been a strong demand for U.S. fire apparatus in Central and South America and Mexico. About five to 10 percent of our business has been export. Exporting is challenging but also rewarding to a company willing to learn the rules and regulations of export and the culture and expectations for dealing with foreign customers.”

Keltner: “Yes.”

Still: “We don’t.”

Baumann: “We have found that the need in America is great, so we don’t get involved in units for export unless the buyer is very persistent and knows what it is doing.”

Rayburn: “International sales are a growing part of our business, especially in the aircraft rescue firefighting (ARFF) category.”

Wessel: “Yes.”

8 A 2006 rescue unit for the Somers (MT) Rural Fire District. The Somers Fire District had a need for a used engine, which it purchased through Firetec at the same time. The buyer of this 2006 rescue, Garrettson, South Dakota, was replacing a 1992 rescue. Interestingly, Garrettson had purchased the 1992 through Firetec in 2003; it was originally out of Swedesboro, New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of Firetec.)
8 A 2006 rescue unit for the Somers (MT) Rural Fire District. The Somers Fire District had a need for a used engine, which it purchased through Firetec at the same time. The buyer of this 2006 rescue, Garrettson, South Dakota, was replacing a 1992 rescue. Interestingly, Garrettson had purchased the 1992 through Firetec in 2003; it was originally out of Swedesboro, New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of Firetec.)

In the New England region, some career fire departments have been purchasing used rigs both for front-line and reserve service. Is this a nationwide trend?

Usdin: “As the cost of new units increases and fire service municipal funding stays the same or decreases, new purchases are often delayed or canceled by many smaller urban departments. Frequent breakdowns and lack of unit availability often lead to emergency purchases of used units to maintain the level of service. A smaller department that can’t withstand prolonged repairs on multiple units may purchase a late-model used vehicle in place of new. New England is unique with a large number of very busy, small career departments in concentrated areas, so we see these types of purchases in this region.”

Keltner: “Yes, I believe so.”

Still: “Our units are sold primarily for front-line apparatus.”

Reyburn: “Many of our customers select a vehicle from our inventory and do a complete refurbishment with the intent of getting 10 years of front-line service out of the vehicle. During the refurb, all the safety features and technology are upgraded to current NFPA standards.”

Wessel: “It is certainly the case nationwide; not sure I would call it a trend.”

9  Diversified used apparatus available through Mid America. Most used apparatus dealers and brokers can locate and supply rigs as unique as a four-wheel-drive custom pumper to a simple pumper-tanker. (Photos courtesy of Jim Keltner, Jon’s Mid America Fire Apparatus)
9 Diversified used apparatus available through Mid America. Most used apparatus dealers and brokers can locate and supply rigs as unique as a four-wheel-drive custom pumper to a simple pumper-tanker. (Photos courtesy of Jim Keltner, Jon’s Mid America Fire Apparatus.)

Are used rigs disposed of through brokers or dealers, by trade-ins, or from fire department to fire department?

Usdin: “Exact numbers for the method of disposal don’t exist. Brokers and dealers are totally different. Brokers never own the units and generally don’t even see the units in person. They list the units on a Web site and sell them on a brokerage fee basis. There is no warranty or service provided by a broker other than introducing the buyer and seller. Dealers like myself actually take possession of the units; bring them to our facility; and generally provide an upgraded level of service such as relettering, service and certification, and delivery to the purchaser. Trade-in units to new (apparatus) dealers are generally sold to a dealer like myself and then we resell them. Most new apparatus dealers don’t want to sell used units. Direct fire department to fire department sales occur when a nearby department knows the unit and makes an offer or a former member of the department moves to another area and knows the vehicle from its former life and buys it for his new department.”

Keltner: “About 75 percent to brokers and dealers.”

Still: “I think most used apparatus are being sold through brokers. We usually don’t take trade-ins. Most departments have pre-1995 units to trade in. We focus on later-model trucks.”

Baumann: “We believe a large majority go through brokers or dealers. Trade-ins are not a separate category because most trade-ins end up being sold through brokers or dealers. Sometimes a fire department can match its surplus rig with a nearby fire department.”

Reyburn: “Each fire department follows its own set of rules for apparatus disposal. A department can achieve a higher value if it is able to sell through a broker. However, an unreserved surplus auction is the quickest way to dispose of a piece of equipment. Trade-ins are very common and are a good way for the department to keep the funds within its department instead of being returned to a general government fund.”

Wessel: “Again, the fire department to fire department transactions are difficult to track. I would guess about half go through broker dealers and half from fire department to fire department, but there is no way of knowing.”

 

Are used apparatus sales increasing or decreasing nationwide?

Usdin: “The used apparatus market is and will always be strong. There are many departments that could never dream of buying a new unit. That ensures the used market will always be robust. Price increases in the cost of new rigs have guaranteed that the used market will be strong.”

Keltner: “Increasing because of the escalating price of new ones.”

Still: “I think they are increasing because of the high cost for new apparatus. Some departments have funds to purchase new, but most cannot.”

Baumann: “The market is steady because the need is always great.”

Reyburn: “Increasing. There are many quality used apparatus dealers from coast to coast now. Customers have more confidence that the used apparatus they buy will meet their needs, and the dealer is going to support them after the sale. Warranties are also offered on used and refurbished apparatus. Of course, with new fire apparatus pricing continuing to rise, some departments cannot afford a new piece of equipment.”

Wessel: “We believe it is increasing. I do not know all of the reasons why.”

10  Diversified used apparatus available through Mid America. Most used apparatus dealers and brokers can locate and supply rigs as unique as a four-wheel-drive custom pumper to a simple pumper-tanker. (Photos courtesy of Jim Keltner, Jon’s Mid America Fire Apparatus)
10 Diversified used apparatus available through Mid America. Most used apparatus dealers and brokers can locate and supply rigs as unique as a four-wheel-drive custom pumper to a simple pumper-tanker. (Photos courtesy of Jim Keltner, Jon’s Mid America Fire Apparatus.)

Is there a trend for fire departments to sell rigs because of downsizing?

Usdin: “Volunteer companies have less manpower than before, and career departments are trying to do more with fewer funds. It costs quite a bit to keep unused or underutilized units on a fleet roster. Departments are ‘right-sizing’ fleets to maximize usage and minimize costs. Downsizing fleets saves money on insurance, maintenance, and other operating costs.”

Keltner: “It happens, but I wouldn’t call it a trend.”

Still: “Not downsizing but purchasing apparatus that are multifunction-capable.”

Baumann: “We have seen more and more of that in recent years.”

Reyburn: “I have seen one instance that rigs were sold because of downsizing, but that isn’t that common.”

Wessel: “Not as much now, but that was a trend from about 2010 to 2014. We are seeing less of that now.”

11 This aerial view shows some of the diverse vehicles Brindlee keeps in stock.
11 This aerial view shows some of the diverse vehicles Brindlee keeps in stock.

Is there a trend for fire departments to keep rigs longer, which, in turn, makes used rigs older?

Usdin: “No, just the opposite. More departments are aware the longer they keep a unit, the more maintenance increases and reliability decreases.”

Keltner: “No.”

Still: “I think most departments keep their vehicles as long as they meet the needs of the department and are in good condition.”

Baumann: “We have seen some of that.”

Reyburn: “Certain types of apparatus tend to stay in the department longer. Most water tenders (tankers) don’t hit the resale market until the rigs are 15 years old or more. Usually they are owned by rural departments with limited hydrant infrastructure and, in many cases, limited budgets.”

Wessel: “Perhaps on a small scale.”

Photo 12 is a recently sold 2007 Pierce Enforcer 75-foot quint. (Photos courtesy of James Wessel, Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus
Photo 12 is a recently sold 2007 Pierce Enforcer 75-foot quint. (Photos courtesy of James Wessel, Brindlee Mountan Fire Apparatus.)

Part 2 will address features such as the age, mileage, and physical condition affecting a used rig’s value; NFPA 1912 refurbishing or upgrading to meet some of NFPA 1901 requirements; warranties; and expected life spans. Brokers and used rig dealers will relate the advantages and disadvantages of working with their respective entities and offer their words of wisdom.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

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