By Alan M. Petrillo
Sometimes a fire department needs to fill a hole in its aerial fleet quickly, and other times it might not have the cash needed for a new vehicle. But in either case, many departments turn to used fire apparatus dealers and brokers to fulfill their needs.
Dealers and Brokers
James Wessel, president of Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus, says that “late model aerials always have been a bread-and-butter product for us because we’ve built a reputation in specializing in them. So, we’ve seen a lot of activity in that area of used aerials.” Wessell notes that 2017 proved to be a year of strong demand for all kinds of used aerials. “Most customers are looking in the 75-foot, 95-foot, and 100-foot aerial length range,” he adds. “But, there’s not much of a demand for ladders in the 50-foot, 60-foot, and 65-foot ranges and very little demand for used articulating aerial devices.”
Jim Keltner, owner of Jon’s Mid America, thinks that the somewhat improved economy is the main reason that he’s seeing a lot of aerial platforms coming in to his business. “Two or three years ago, low mileage aerial platforms were pretty scarce,” Keltner observes, “but now they are much more available, likely because of the improved economy and larger metropolitan areas trading in their platforms while the rigs still have a lot of value.” Keltner notes that most of the platforms are in the 95- to 100-foot range, and their typical age is between 15 and 17 years old.
Barb Baumann, co-owner of used apparatus broker Firetec, says that her company has “brokered the sales of a huge variety of aerial apparatus recently. In the past 18 months, we’ve sold aerial apparatus from a 1989 model to one made in 2011,” Baumann notes. “We’ve sold used aerials for $500,000 to $700,000. However, the average used aerial sells for between $50,000 and $150,000.”
Keltner points out that a lot of fire departments find they are unable “to spend $1.3 million on a new aerial device and look toward companies like ours to provide them with a late model used truck.” He classifies a late model aerial “as one newer than 2000 and with between 15,000 and 50,000 miles on it. We recently sold a midmount platform that only had 13,000 miles on it, and we currently have a 2002 E-ONE midmount platform available with 16,000 miles on it.”
Wessel says that 75-foot quint aerial ladders and 100-foot aerial ladders and platforms are the most popular choices that fire departments make from his company. “A lot of fire departments need the additional aerial capability for Insurance Services Office (ISO) points but can’t justify the cost of a brand new aerial vehicle,” Wessel notes. “Also, some fire departments have the need for an elevated master stream but don’t have the budget to purchase a new vehicle. Most of our customers are looking for an aerial built in 2000 or newer, but there’s still a market for 1990s model aerials.”
Baumann says that in her experience, many departments have a need for a 75-foot single-axle aerial because their districts may have tight roads and difficult spaces to negotiate. “Some departments never had an aerial in their fleets, and they are purchasing their first ones,” she says, “and other departments are going from 75-foot quints to 100-footers because they now have taller buildings or a lot of structures with farther setbacks in their district. Generally, smaller departments and rural volunteer departments are our main buyers, but in the last several years we have gotten more buyers from midsize and larger paid fire departments.”
Fire Department Experience
Dennis P. Reilly, chief of the Sunrise Beach (MO) Fire Protection District, says his department purchased an early 2000 E-ONE 75-foot quint from Jon’s Mid America. “We were transitioning to a small, fully paid suburban department that has access problems and a difficult road network,” Reilly points out, “so we went with the 75-foot quint with a 1,500-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pump and 500-gallon water tank. We wanted a small aerial with a pump and tank that could be staffed quickly and sent out as a first-due apparatus.”
Reilly says that Sunrise Beach “got into this quint for less than $300,000, compared with the cost of a new 75-foot quint, which would have been around $800,000. We disposed of a couple of apparatus, which gave us the funds we needed to buy the quint. Not long after we bought the quint, our rig crashed during an ice storm, but we got a quick insurance settlement and within nine weeks, Jon’s Mid America had our truck company back in service with another 75-foot aerial quint.”
Tommy Perry, chief of the Chapmanville (WV) Fire Department, says his department was running a 1985 Grumman Duplex LTI 102-foot aerial platform “where the cost of maintenance outweighed keeping the vehicle. It barely passed the required testing as far as the hydraulics were concerned, so we came to the conclusion to upgrade because of its cost of operation.”
Perry says after checking the availability of vehicles from different vendors, it focused on Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus. “We bought a 2003 KME 102-foot LTI platform from them, no pump and no tank,” he says. “The ladder’s waterway is plumbed to be supplied by an engine or from a hydrant, and the platform has dual monitors—both fog and straight tip. The truck has performed beyond our expectations, and people can’t believe that it’s not a new truck.”
John Bennett, chief of the Telluride (CO) Fire Protection District, says his department purchased a 2006 Smeal 75-foot rear-mount aerial quint with a 1,250-gpm pump and 300-gallon water tank from Brindlee Mountain. “We were taking two rigs, a 1987 Pierce Arrow 50-foot Telesqurt with a 1,500-gpm pump and 500-gallon water tank and a 95-foot E-ONE Cyclone tandem-rear-axle platform out of service,” Bennett says. “With our tight streets, where we often get five-foot snowbanks in the winter, we needed a smaller vehicle to negotiate our district. We wanted to replace both those aerials with a single one.”
Bennett points out that Telluride doesn’t carry reserve apparatus “because we are not that big, so this 75-foot quint gives us the equivalent of a Type 1 engine and an aerial.” He adds that while all of Telluride’s five engines are four-wheel drive because of the winter weather, the quint is not. “But, the Smeal quint is a very good fit for us,” he says.
Dave Sutherlin, chief of the Buck Creek (IN) Fire Department, says his department became fully paid in the 1990s and in the mid 2000s started seeing huge warehouses sprouting up in the district. “We got a 1996 75-foot aerial ladder donated by the Indianapolis International Airport in 2008 and used it until 2016 when it failed its ladder test,” Sutherlin says. “We got a call from Barb Bauman at Firetec, who said she heard we were in the market for a ladder, and she put us together with a truck at Plattsburgh (NY) Fire District No. 3.”
Sutherlin notes that Plattsburgh had a new truck coming from Ferrara Fire Apparatus and wanted to sell its 1998 Pierce 100-foot aerial platform quickly. “I drove to Plattsburgh and inspected the truck, especially underneath for corrosion, but there were no issues at all,” he says. “The platform has a 2,000-gpm Waterous pump, a 300-gallon water tank, and a 2,000-gpm waterway, and we paid $250,000 for it. After we received it, we upgraded all the warning, chassis, and scene lights to LED lighting. We’re very pleased with it; we’ve put out four structure fires since we got it—one commercial and three residential—and the truck has performed like a champ.”
Vetting Used Apparatus
Keltner says that his employees typically will put in about 200 labor hours cleaning up an aerial before it is ready for sale. “We go over every function on the vehicle,” he says. “We will do a full pump test out of our 28,000-gallon pump pit, recondition all equipment that needs it, and bring in a third party to do an aerial certification before we sell the rig.”
At Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus, Wessel says the standard process is to bring the aerial to its main facility in Alabama where most of its mechanics are certified emergency vehicle technicians and do an inspection, do a pump test, and then have a third party come in and test the aerial for certification. “Then we repair anything that needs repair from either the pump test or the aerial test,” Wessel says. “The customer will dictate if any cosmetic changes are to be done, like painting, lettering, and switching out lighting.”
Baumann says that as a broker, Firetech will only list an aerial if it is certified by a third party or if the owner certifies the rig as “condition failed.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.