By Mark Peters
MERIDEN - A rural Indiana fire department's search for a new engine
ended this month in Meriden - thanks to eBay.
Terry Jackson, chief of the Owensburg-Jackson Township Fire
Department, arrived in Meriden two weeks ago driving a rental car. He
left in a 1971 American LaFrance pumper bought from the Meriden Fire
Department, making the 17-hour trip back to his small volunteer
"It was the first time I was ever out East," said Jackson, who runs
the township's one grocery store.
EBay, the largest online auction house, is becoming a familiar tool
for Connecticut fire departments. Nationwide, fire chiefs are logging
on to the site to unload old trucks and other equipment. Sales of the
old equipment generate extra money for new projects or materiel.
"We are amazed at how well we have done," said Thomas Weber, chief of
the Manchester Fire Department, which is selling off Manchester's old
fire alarm system piece by piece. Proceeds go toward the cost of
dismantling the system.
Weber, who is also president of the state Fire Chiefs Association,
has recommended the idea to other departments.
For Meriden, the 1971 American LaFrance pumper was the third such
truck sold through the Web site. Last year, officials sold a ladder
truck and a pumper to a department in Wisconsin, Acting Meriden Fire
Chief Clinton Ross said.
Collectors are snapping up pieces of the Manchester alarm system,
attracted by the classic look of the call boxes and related
equipment. The department got $625 for one call box and $600 for a
cast-iron stand for a call box, selling a few pieces at a time to
avoid flooding the market.
"It seems like that is the way things are going," said Southington
Fire Chief Richard McDonough, whose department is considering using
eBay for the first time in the coming months to sell off its old
In the past, departments sold used equipment through public notices
or trade magazines with limited circulation, Ross said. When
advertised through traditional means, the ladder truck and engine
attracted people interested in them only for parts and scrap metal
and offering the department $500 and $800, respectively, Ross said.
After Assistant Chief Joseph Kaminski posted the equipment on eBay,
prices rose considerably.
"EBay gets it all over the country," Ross said.
The Owensburg-Jackson volunteer fire department paid $4,151.02 - the
highest of 28 bids - for the 1971 American LaFrance. The volunteer
chief in Indiana was surprised by the price, saying it was cheap
compared to dealership prices, while Ross said that unless a truck is
relatively new or antique, it is worth little. There is not much of a
market for a 1971 pumper, even though a new version costs about
Firetec, one of the largest dealers of used fire equipment in the
United States, listed 1970s-vintage equipment at comparable, though
slightly higher, prices. For example, a 1971 pumper listed for $6,000
and a 1970 pumper listed for $8,000, according to its Web site.
"It is just like a car. It loses value," said Heather Hatch, a
saleswoman for the Vermont-based Firetec.
Hatch said she was aware of the online auction trend but that Firetec
is not worried.
"E-bay doesn't scare us," she said.