So...I Bought A Firetruck

When I was a little guy I was infatuated with firetrucks. That's probably not unusual. Boys like trucks. But kids usually grow out of this kind of thing. I didn't. I'm 32 and a half years old and never stopped thinking firetrucks are awesome. So I bought one.

At a young age, I declared that I'd have my own firetruck someday and I've been trying to buy one ever since. In high school, I found an old firetruck for sale out in the country. At $1,500, it was only $1,480 more than I could afford. Nevertheless, I made several calls to the owner in an effort to negotiate a more reasonable price. It didn't work out. That guy was so mean.


I didn't get my first car until late in college when my grandparents decided that the body damage they'd done to their Subaru station wagon qualified it as the perfect hand-me-down for their oldest grandson. Aside from the fact that the automatic seatbelts made a beeping noise that reminded me of the missile lock warning tone from Top Gun, there really wasn't anything I liked about that car. When the transmission finally went out, I was happy to get rid of it and set my sights back on what I really wanted to be driving.

Finding used firetrucks for sale is surprisingly easy and the cost is surprisingly low. When a firetruck gets to the age that it's no longer efficient to keep in service, their resale value plummets. Who would want one? Do a quick search on eBay and you'll find firetrucks for sale all over the country in all shapes and sizes. Depending on the age and condition, prices will vary from about $1,500 up to $300,000 or so for a new truck. Most of the older engines are in the $1,500 to $3,500 range.

I wanted to buy a truck from an active fire department (as opposed to a private owner) because many older private firetrucks have been neglected and no longer have functioning pumps. What fun would that be? They look cool but don't actually pump water. A fire department has to meticulously maintain their rigs and keep everything working for obvious reasons.

My 1982 Pierce Arrow came from a fire department in Ohio that was retiring it after 31 years of service with only 47,000 miles.


My post-Subaru-college days are a bit more complicated than they used to be. More specifically, I'm married, have a mortgage and we just had our first child in October. So in November when my firetruck appeared on eBay and I brought up the topic of purchasing a large red truck for the millionth time in our relationship, my wife had more important things on her mind. In a moment of weakness, she angrily said "I guess I can't stop you!" making it enthusiastically clear that she wanted me to immediately buy this particular truck and not pass on an epic opportunity to put a check mark next to a lifelong goal.

So here is where normal people would probably have a conversation about issues of practicality. Just because it's possible to do something doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea. For example, how will I get a 31 year old fire truck from Ohio to Montana? Where will I park it? What will I do with it? What will the neighbors think? Is it even legal to own and drive one of these things? I've never been a good planner and my attitude toward such fun-road-blocks has always been "Who cares! We'll figure it out!"


If we based decisions on practicality, we'd all drive Taurcedes until we had kids, then we'd get minivans and we'd all be miserable. At 65, we'd retire and finally get that entry-level Porsche Boxter that we'd been wanting for the past 40 years. That doesn't sound like a good plan to me.

The coolest toys in the world aren't practical. Koenigsegg certainly aren't. Jet fighters - nope. Army tanks - nope. Did you know that you can buy old aircraft carriers on eBay? Can you imagine wake boarding behind one of those things? "Cool" just isn't practical. I've come to terms with that.


So I went ahead and pulled the eBay trigger and was elated to get truck 1213 for just $100 more than the reserve price. A total of $3,600 which also happened to be the hard limit my wife had imposed on this particular invaluable transaction.


As it turned out, getting a firetruck from Ohio to Montana is kind of a big deal. In fact, it's an incredible pain in the ass that takes months to research and then schedule. My first thought was that I'd drive it myself. Well, firetrucks aren't built to drive highway miles or drive at highway speeds. Who knew! The chances of a breakdown 500 miles from anywhere on a Friday night were pretty high. Missing 3 days of work for a cross-country trip like this is one thing, but inevtiable unforeseen mechanical issues could easily stretch that timeline into a month-long ordeal. There are also laws that govern the legality of a cross-country firetruck road-trip and those laws vary on a state-by-state basis. For example, in some states, I might have to repaint the truck, remove the lights and sirens and get a commercial drivers license (with airbrake endrosement).

The next option was to ship the thing. I contacted dozens of vehicle shippers and even contracted with one who offered the best price but they weren't actually able to find a semi driver to pick it up. That was a gigantic waste of time and an enormous source of frustration.


While I will go out of my way to argue that practical things aren't the ticket to fun times, I do consider myself to be somewhat reasonable about many things. For example, ordering anything on the internet and paying more than the cost of the item in shipping fees is pretty depressing. As a general rule, that puts a halt to my eCommerce experience before I press the "checkout" button. The last time I paid $15 for a great t-shirt and paid $16 to ship it was 2000-never.

But in this case, I now owned a firetruck that was sitting at a department in Ohio and had to figure out how to get it to Montana. I was horrified to end up paying more than the cost of the firetruck in semi transportation fees and had to suffer through many long conversations with my wife which could be summarized with "you should have thought this through better".


I did a lot of research about the legalities of owning and operating a firetruck privately. Obviously the lights and sirens are off limits on public roads. That's a sure fire way to get in trouble. But what about driving a big red firetruck around town?

The Montana DMV said "it shouldn't be a problem" but recommended I consult with the city police department. The police said "it shouldn't be a problem" but referred me to the highway patrol. Apparently the highway patrol governs laws regarding public roads - or something like that. The highway patrol said "it shouldn't be a problem" but you can't use the lights or sirens on public roads.


So my firetruck is legal. It's licensed, registered and insured. The truck weight (without water) puts it under the Montana legal requirement for a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) so I've been able to drive it with my regular license.


I keep my firetruck in the driveway and drive it to the web design firm where I work and wherever else I feel I stand a reasonable chance of finding a place to park. Big box stores are always a safe bet. I've grown to love those big parking lots! Parking on city streets is another issue entirely. 1213 is much wider than your average grocery-getter and consumes the entire width of a parking space, the adjacent bike lane and a good part of the traffic lane. I'm not sure how many parking meters I'd need to pay to parallel park downtown, or even if that can be done legally. I haven't tried that - yet.

Driving a firetruck is a lot of fun. As you'd expect, it gets a lot of looks and waves. Even though it's 31 years old and technically qualifies as an antique, it looks like a modern fire truck.


My biggest concern about driving 1213 has been that I'll offend or upset the city fire department (or other emergency services). Real firefighters are awesome. I have tremendous respect for the police and fire departments in our city and have absolutely no interest in impersonating them. I worry about the possibility of getting pulled over by the police who could only assume I'm breaking some kind of law - or stole the thing. I also worry about passing a real emergency and getting flagged down. That would suck.

Owning a firetruck has been a long time goal and I love seeing it in my driveway. My son will grow up thinking that it's totally normal to drive a firetruck to the grocery store. Maybe someday he'll get himself a really cool Army tank and we'll drive our ridiculous vehicles together. I bet tanks get even worse gas mileage than firetrucks.

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