A Detailed Look into the Real Costs of Fire Trucks

We’ve talked on this blog about the weight of fire trucks, and these vehicles are gargantuan, especially when filled with water. Is the price of a fire truck equally as gargantuan or are fire rescue vehicles more affordable? Exactly how much does a fire truck cost?

Fire trucks cost anywhere from $300,000 to over $1.5 million dollars depending on several factors. These factors include the type of truck, whether the truck is used, and how much optional equipment has been added to the truck.

We’ll discuss fire truck prices in detail, including how much the engine alone costs as well as the price of a fire rescue truck. If you want to know who pays for the very high costs of a new fire truck, you’ll learn that too, so make sure you keep reading! 

Fire Truck Costs – What You Need to Know

The average length of a fire truck is 40 feet, and the average width is 10 feet, so these are by no means small vehicles. As we discussed in our post about fire truck weights, they’re considered commercial vehicles as well.

All this adds up and means that owning a fire truck isn’t going to be cheap, well, unless you go used. Per the information in the intro, let’s talk further about fire truck costs for a new truck. 

How Much Does a Fire Truck Cost?

On average, a fire truck with all the bells and whistles–including the engine–costs about a million dollars, sometimes as much as two million dollars.

This 2019 article from Sun Journal discusses one fire department in Lewiston, Maine. That year, the fire department decided to replace one of their fire trucks with a new model that their fire chief referred to as the total package.

According to the article, here are the features of the new truck:

  • Sizable foam tank with a 30-gallon capacity to treat gasoline and other liquid fires
  • Higher-quality pump capable of spraying 1,500 gallons of water per minute with a water tank that can hold over 470 gallons
  • Longer attack line, this one measuring 1,000 feet
  • Triple outriggers to improve the tip load and stabilization of the fire truck as well as to help it handle sharp inclines
  • Room for more firefighters to ride along, this time up to six people at a time
  • More spacious chassis for storing medical and firefighting equipment on the truck
  • Single-piece safety glass windshield with a panoramic view that boasts more than 2,275 square inches of space 
  • More storage compartments for carrying search and rescue tools as well as other small equipment on the truck
  • Taller aerial ladder, this one measuring 107 feet, which was a 32-foot increase compared to Lewiston’s old fire ladders

The fire truck is equipped with a 450-horsepower Cummins 2019 Enforcer Ascending Aerial engine. It weighs 28 tons or 56,300 pounds. 

How much do you think a fire truck of this caliber costs? The answer is $974,998. Yes, that’s almost a cool million.

This 2015 article from The Morning Call in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania provides more details. Their article mentions that, as of 2012, it costs about $563,000 for a new fire truck. This tells us that, in about seven years, the cost of fire trucks went up more than $500,000.

How Much Does a Fire Truck Engine Cost?

Part of the large expense of today’s fire trucks is due to the engines. The Morning Call talks about a predicament faced by the Forks Township fire department. That department discovered that replacing two of their fire truck engines would cost three million dollars.

Boise Mobile Equipment, in 2017, received a contract through CAL FIRE to manufacture more than 30 fire truck engines. The contract was worth $10 million. Breaking the numbers down, that’s roughly $333,333 per fire engine. 

How Much Does a Rescue Truck Cost?

Your fire department might have a fire rescue truck or several on the premises. These rescue vehicles are available in different sizes or categories, including light rescue, medium rescue, technical rescue, and heavy rescue. 

Since the size of a fire rescue truck is about on par with a fire truck, the prices for one of these vehicles shouldn’t be all that different. If anything, a fire rescue truck’s prices might be even higher since it’s a more specialized vehicle. 

Who Pays for Fire Trucks? 

You had never realized that fire trucks were so expensive! Now that you’ve gotten a clearer idea of their costs, you’re very curious about who pays for the vehicles. Is it the fire departments themselves or does the city or town chip in?

It’s the city, town, or township that will pay for the trucks. The crux of The Morning Call piece was that Forks Townships officials were so shocked by the price of the engines–which was three million dollars, as a refresher–because that total chewed into a third of the operating budget for the township.

So in essence, you and other taxpayers in your city or town pay for new fire trucks. This isn’t uncommon; taxpayer dollars are usually funneled into many local initiatives, including education, technology, healthcare programs, and local government.  

Can a Civilian Buy a Fire Truck?

Let’s say that you’re not a firefighter and you’re not employed by a fire station, but you’re interested in owning a fire truck of your very own. Can only fire departments purchase trucks or can an everyday citizen like yourself do it as well?

Yes, you can, but there are many caveats to that.

The Uniform Commercial Code or UCC–specifically, Article II–determines who’s eligible for used fire apparatus contracts. The only state in which this doesn’t apply is Louisiana. 

Article II describes non-merchants versus merchants, with the former those who usually don’t sell fire apparatuses but might be doing so now and the latter those who usually do sell fire apparatuses.

The UCC includes its own warranty terms into a warranty contract from a merchant or non-merchant to a buyer of a fire apparatus. The terms include the necessity of a title, that the truck must have “fitness for a particular purpose,” and that the truck must have merchantability.

Should the seller breach the warranties, they could be fined or otherwise penalized. 

There’s also the risk of loss, which is another protection. Who is protected can vary upon delivery of the vehicle. For instance, until the buyer has the used fire apparatus, the risk of loss is on the seller. Yet upon transferal of the vehicle, now the risk of loss is the buyer’s responsibility. 

Where can you buy used fire trucks? There are plenty of online retailers with websites for such a purpose, such as Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus or Firetrucks Unlimited. You can always ask around at local fire departments or look for auctions online or off and try your luck there. 

Do keep in mind that these auctions and sales of used fire trucks are subject to local and state laws about purchasing fire apparatuses. In other words, don’t buy a used fire truck in a state where you’re not allowed to and think you’ve found a loophole in the law. You won’t be able to get your truck shipped to your location. 

Even if you own a used fire truck, that doesn’t mean you can hop behind the wheel right away and start driving it. The Department of Motor Vehicles or DMV mandates that you have a Class C driver’s license first. 

With one of these licenses, you’d be capable of driving a vehicle that can transport at least 16 passengers as well as hazardous materials (although not necessarily both at the same time). 

Oh, but it’s not that easy. You must also take a course on driving fire trucks, and that lasts 40 hours. You can take an in-house course if you’re a firefighter. Otherwise, you have to enroll for the State Fire Training Driver Operator 1A course and pass that.  

Then you have to take the written test for a fire truck just as you did when obtaining your basic automobile license (which is Class D, by the way). You’ll have to pass a medical exam as required by the DMV, and not just once, but regularly. You must also practice driving the fire truck for 14 hours with an approved instructor.

Your instructor must have a commercial Class B or Class C license, so you can’t choose just anyone for the job. 

With all this time and effort that you’d need to put into learning to legally drive a fire truck, there’s no reason for the average civilian to want to do it. Taking a fire truck for a joyride could get you into hot water with your local police department even if you can prove that you own the vehicle, as it’s just not something that people do. 

Fire trucks are on the road to quickly get to the source of the fire. Don’t confuse legit firefighters or muddy up their jobs by driving a fire truck that you bought as a civilian. It’s one thing if you want to own it for display and another to want to own it and play with the hoses. 

How Long Does a Fire Truck Last?

With how expensive they are, do fire trucks at least have a good lifespan? It’s good, but not great. 

Going back to that Sun Journal article about Lewiston, Maine’s new fire truck (well, new as of 2019), the article mentions that the truck has a 20-year lifespan.

Most cars are rated for 150,000 miles or eight years, whichever comes first, so a fire truck lasts nearly two times that. However, considering that the average price of a car (as of 2020) is $37,876, a fire truck costs $962,124 more, so you would hope it would last longer than even 20 years! 

Fire trucks are very high-priced vehicles with an average retail price of between one and two million dollars. Considering the hulking size, special functions, and the bevy of equipment a fire truck contains, the price makes sense. However, even townships–which pay for fire trucks through taxpayer dollars–are finding it harder and harder to justify the cost of one of these vehicles.

More than likely, fire truck prices will continue to climb, as that seems to be the trend!