How to buy government surplus fire trucks

A retired government vehicle can often be what a smaller, financially struggling fire department needs

The leaders of most U.S. fire department are struggling to make ends meet these days. Smaller departments, and particularly volunteer fire departments, are facing real challenges when it comes to having apparatus that's ready for duty. 

The cost of apparatus — for both new and used fire apparatus — continues to go up, while local tax revenues and donations are down.

Federal and state programs that offer useable surplus items, including vehicles, can be a valuable resource for those departments looking to stretch their vehicle-procurement dollars. These programs provide information via the Internet on items for sale, application processes, and auction sales.

The Latin phrase "pro bono publico" means, "for the public good." Small wonder, then, that those words are part of the symbol for the National Association of State Agencies for Surplus Property (NASASP). The 56 State Agencies for Surplus Property (SASPs) that make up NASASP believe it is better expanded to include, "for the public good for the welfare of the whole."

Those SASPs have partnered with the U.S. General Services Administration with the goal to save taxpayer dollars by extending the useful life of federal excess or surplus property. Is there a better way of giving these used assets a second lifecycle than by getting them into the hands of those public and private organizations that are dedicated to public service, like fire and EMS departments? 

Where to look
State and Local Surplus Property, found at, provides a state-by-state listing for surplus property sales and auctions by state and local government.

Public Surplus touts itself as being more than an auction site and has some capabilities specifically designed to improve the buying process for public agencies.

The site provides a minimum information set for each item listed that would give any fire apparatus fleet manager the information they would need to make an initial decision whether or not to bid on a vehicle. The minimum information set is good and many of the items I looked at went above and beyond with detailed maintenance histories and photographs of the vehicle's exterior, interior and compartments. serves as a clearinghouse for local, state and federal auctions. Customers can access the listings of live and online government auctions. Once customers find items they want to bid on, they visit the on-line auction sites to carry out the bid process.

The day I looked for fire apparatus at, I found 25 vehicles ranging from a 1975 Sutphen pumper on GMC C6500 chassis to a 2011 Kenworth T370 conventional-cab, heavy rescue truck. The pumper was still in service as Class A pumper and has passed pump test certification.

Military vehicles
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Disposition Services disposes of excess property received from the military services. The inventory changes daily and includes thousands of items from air conditioners to vehicles, clothing to computers, and much more. In FY2008, more than 56,000 military units and organizations turned in more than 3.5 million items to DLA Disposition Services.

That property is first offered to the Department of Defense, transfer to other federal agencies, or donation to state and local governments and other qualified organizations. Reuse means big savings.

In FY2008, $2.2 billion worth of property was reused. DLA Disposition Services also supports disaster relief at home, and humanitarian assistance and foreign military sales programs.

DLA Disposition Services manages the DoD surplus property sales program. Excess property that is not reused, transferred or donated may be sold to the public. The property, no longer needed by the government, is only sold if it is appropriate and safe for sale to the general public.

Every military vehicle that is going to be sold, auctioned or donated must be demilitarized before it can be handed over to a civilian. The actual process is determined by the type of vehicle, and in general, all weapons and communication systems must be removed. DLA assigns a demilitarization code to every item that has been through the process.

Some vehicles, like Humvees and jeeps, are never demilitarized for sale to civilians. They have been deemed unsafe for over-the-road driving by the U.S. Department of Transportation. They are repaired until they're no longer usable, and then destroyed.

Picking up the goods
DLA Disposition Services displays property available and detailed information, including the property's condition and location. For sales information, sales schedules and past bid sales results, go to the Government Liquidation Web site.

The DLA Disposition Services has its headquarters in the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center in Battle Creek, Mich. DLA Disposition Services property is kept at one of two types of locations.

First, property can be located at a DLA Disposition Services site that is usually in close proximity to a military base. Second, property can be located at the originating military base. Property that is located at a DLA Disposition Services site is available for inspection during the dates and times given in the IFB catalog. You can locate the nearest Disposition site here.

Property that is located at the military bases is not normally available for inspection but will have an extensive detailed property description in the IFB catalog.  

The paperwork
Every item that has been assigned a demilitarization code must have an end-use certificate, officially known as DLA Form 1822, before the item can be released. You must have a current driver's license and proof of U.S. citizenship when filling out the application forms for the DLA Form 1822.

You may also be required to file a statement of intent — how will your department be using the vehicle once it's released to you — at the same time you apply for the Form 1822.

Buyers are generally responsible for removing vehicles from the location where they are stored. In many cases, this will involve removing the trucks by loading them on a trailer.

Buyers will need to provide a driver's license and proof of insurance. All sales are final.

It's good to have realistic expectations when buying surplus military vehicles. These workhorses may have been driven many miles and operated in extreme conditions, and they may be damaged in places you can't see.

Not every department will find this option appealing. But for those with specific needs and limited cash, surplus vehicles maybe the answer. 

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