Champaign to buy three new fire trucks, auction old models

CHAMPAIGN — Maintenance workers on Tuesday were having trouble getting their 50-year-old fire engine started.

Probably time for an upgrade.

The fire department will purchase three new pumper trucks at a cost of nearly $1.5 million after the city council signed off on the plan Tuesday night. Those will replace two 15-year-old trucks with more than 100,000 miles and a 14-year-old pumper with 72,000 miles.

The middle-aged trucks will move into what firefighters call "reserve status," and three trucks that are even older will be sold on eBay.

One of those older trucks — this one particularly old — is a 1962 Seagrave pumper. The University of Illinois Fire Department bought the truck new, and the city bought it from the UI in the mid-1980s, said Fire Chief Doug Forsman.

It has never been used in front-line service for the city of Champaign. The engine is sitting in reserve for when the fire department needs extra trucks, like when a front-line truck is in maintenance or when they need to cover for staff while other firefighters and vehicles are out on a major fire.

Lately, the 50-year-old truck's primary purpose has been in the city's Fire Explorer program for high school and college-aged students interested in becoming firefighters.

But more recently, it has not even started — it was sitting in the Reynolds Towing garage in Urbana on Tuesday.

Forsman suspects it is an electrical problem. But more so, it is just an old truck — older than most fire departments would keep in their fleet.

"It's pretty unusual, and we need to get away from that practice," Forsman said.

The two other trucks to be sold on eBay are spry, young teenagers compared with the 50-year-old Seagrave. But the two 18-year-old engines are in their twilight years by fire equipment standards. Both have around 90,000 miles on the odometer, and were also being used as reserve trucks.

"We had gotten a little bit behind the curve just because the economy was in the tank a little bit since 2008," Forsman said. "The key to this is having quality reserve equipment."

If the fire department gets an emergency call while one of the newer front-line trucks is in for regular maintenance or if they are occupied on another call, it is important that the reserve vehicles function.

"You want the reserve unit to start and perform," Forsman said.

"Unfortunately," the city expects to receive only $5,000 or $10,000 for the old fire engines, Forsman said.

Three new Rosenbauer pumper trucks will be purchased at a total of just under $1.5 million. That money will come out of the city's vehicle replacement fund, which city officials budget years in advance as they continually replace vehicles like fire trucks, police cars and public works equipment.

The 50-year-old truck will go to the highest bidder.

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