How to buy a fire truck

It's a big purchase that's meant to last a long time; fire truck buying is not something any department can afford to get wrong


Purchasing fire apparatus, whether new or used, is a major financial outlay. Therefore, it is imperative to invest good planning time from the beginning of the process in order to make the best purchasing decision.

Fire apparatus technology is constantly evolving, so even those who have experience in developing purchasing specification would be well-served to do a little homework to ensure the vehicle and its features meet the current specifications for NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, 2009 Edition.

In addition to designing, building and selling products, Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association members spend a great deal of effort looking for ways to provide useful information to firefighting professionals.

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Many documents are available on the FAMA website for download by non-members under the "Resources" tab and the "Fire Service Resources" menu. Here are three examples of documents useful in the apparatus purchasing process.

Fire Apparatus Duty Cycle White Paper (TC001)
This report uses the results from fire chief surveys as well as actual fire apparatus engine data to estimate the average fire apparatus duty cycles in terms of road miles, engine hours, pump hours, and aerial hours. The results are subdivided by demographics and apparatus type.

Report on Application of New Technology to Modern Fire Apparatus (TC005)
This report details the history of safety features on fire apparatus. It can be used as a tool for determining and justifying funding requirements, and can assist the forward-thinking fire service administrator in analyzing the department's future equipment needs.

Fire Apparatus Equipment Weight and Cube Calculator (TC018)
Use this spreadsheet to track the equipment that you plan to store on your fire apparatus. Estimated weights and volumes are provided for typical pieces of equipment so that you can calculate the total weight of your equipment and determine the total compartment volume needed to store it all.

As you are doing your purchasing research and developing specs for the new vehicle, keep these seven questions in mind.

1. What tactical operations will you expect from the apparatus?
Take a hard look at the scope and magnitude of your department's mission and assess how your current apparatus is able to support that mission. The acquisition of a new piece of apparatus is a good time to realign your apparatus specifications to address any significant changes.

2. How many people and how much equipment must the vehicle carry?
Spacious crew cabs offer many operational and safety features, but how often will you be able to fill all the riding positions? Perhaps a trade-off of fewer riding positions for more compartment space is more beneficial.

3. For pumpers, what suppression capabilities are needed?
Retired Fire Chief Alan Brunacini is on record saying that any new pumper not equipped with a compressed air foam system is obsolete before it runs its first call.

Today's residential structure fires in particular are burning hotter and faster than ever before. CAFS provides both a level of heat reduction and reduced extinguishment time that is far superior to that of plain water.

4. For aerial apparatus, what are the challenges in your district?
Aerial apparatus has its own special considerations that include, but are not limited to: requirements for initial and continuing training of driver and operators, the capacity of roads and bridges to handle the vehicle's gross vehicle weight, and preventative vehicle maintenance.

5. Purchase the apparatus new or used?
Everyone likes a new vehicle and purchasing a new piece of apparatus certainly offers more opportunity to design it to best fit a department's needs. The Internet, however, now provides a platform to shop for used fire apparatus that can also fit the bill.

The good news on the used apparatus market is that as departments have replaced their apparatus in a more timely fashion, there are more quality fire apparatus available.

Used fire apparatus vendors can be of great assistance helping a department locate the right piece of used fire apparatus — many offer vehicle-locator services. They can also provide services like body work or painting.

6. Is it better to buy or lease your new fire truck?
Fire trucks are expensive; that's a given. The Internet also provides more opportunity than ever before for fire service leaders to evaluate which financial model for acquiring — purchasing or leasing — fire apparatus is best for their department.

7. How will you pay for the vehicle?
Whether it's a loan payment or a lease payment, there's going to be a monthly payment on your new piece of fire apparatus. So where is the money going to come from?

The AFG has been a great financial boost for many departments in the pursuit of fire apparatus acquisition for more than a decade, but AFG isn't what it used to be. The current funding for AFG apparatus purchases is only about half of what it was at the program's inception.

The good news for the resourceful fire service leader is that there are other sources available to fund all or some of a new or used vehicle. Some of these other types of financial assistance programs include direct monetary assistance from grants, and loans from lending institutions.

Fire departments can also seek a guarantee, which is a formal assurance by an agency like a local municipal government that it will be responsible for a fire department's debt if it is unable to pay. And there are donations in the form of a gift of money, property or equipment with no expected repayment.

In the United States, individual donors — either living or dead — account for more than 75 percent of all charitable giving. Those donations from the dead are from foundations and trusts that those individuals set up prior to their demise.

For those fire service organizations that have non-profit tax status, donations from individual donors are a vastly under-used funding source. However, even for those departments that are not set up as a non-profit organization there is still a legitimate and legal method for gaining access to individual donations. 

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