Cutting costs and still getting what you want is beginning to take on a new meaning. Do you replace apparatus based on longevity (a 15-20 year plan), or do you base it on the condition and use of your engine, truck, heavy rescue or squad? In any case, fire departments are holding onto their apparatus a few more years.
If your engine is pump-tested on an annual basis and passes, you might be able to push back the purchase of a new apparatus. And in the case of an aerial ladder, if the ladder and components are tested and X-rayed and present no problems, you could do the same.
You could also consider buying used from a fire apparatus broker with a good reputation. You can find some good bargains out there if you are willing to make some adjustments to what you need.
If you decide that this isn't the way to go for your department, then you might choose to order a program apparatus from one of the apparatus manufacturers. A program vehicle is limited on the amount of options you can order, but you're trying to save money anyway.
A demo is another way to go. Most major manufacturers build these for shows around the country as well as for dealers to show prospective buyers. At various shows around the country, you can sometimes see fire departments write out checks right on the show floor to buy a vehicle.
Again, you might not get exactly what you want, but if it's close and saves you money, why not?
Analyze your immediate and future needs. Do you need a 2000GPM pump, or will a 1250GPM single-stage work for you? Is the 515HP diesel engine a must-have, or can you settle for a 475HP? Can you get by with simple manual gate valves and hardwiring, which, by the way, a great deal of fire departments are going back to, or do you need flow valves and wiring connected to computers?
There are many features you can delete or downsize without really affecting the purpose or the operation of your new purchase. Not to sound like a dinosaur, but since the objective is to extinguish fires and you can get away spending $250,000-300,000 for an engine, then why spend $500,000-750,000 to accomplish the same goal?
Shop around. A great many fire apparatus dealers and manufacturers will work with you and give you some good prices during this down economy. The decision is up to you and your apparatus committee.