Last Updated on August 2, 2022
Fire trucks and fire engines serve communities for years or even decades before being replaced by newer models. When they’ve reached the end of their firefighting lives, they become available for public ownership through auctions.
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Owners of retired fire trucks and fire engines have found a myriad of uses for them from personal to commercial, including converting them into RVs, food trucks and water tanks.
Fire truck or fire engine?
If you’re considering converting an old fire truck or engine, you should understand the difference between the two and the different types of trucks and engines.
A fire truck is equipped with ladders, search and rescue equipment, hydraulic spreaders (the jaws of life) and other equipment. Their primary role is to aid firefighters help people evacuate a building engulfed in flames or other dangerous situations.
Fire trucks equipped with a fixed hydraulic ladder (plus more handheld ladders) is sometimes called a ladder truck.
A fire engine comes equipped with a water tank, a water pump and hoses; its purpose is to supply water at rapid speed—first from its own tank and then from a nearby hydrant.
Fire trucks and fire engines look very different depending on whether they’ve been used in a city or in the wild. Fire trucks and engines that have worked in cities tend to be built on a higher-class truck and are therefore longer with higher weight capacities.
Fire trucks and fire engines that spent their time putting out wildfires are smaller (14,000-26,000 gross vehicle weight) and come equipped with four-wheel drive.
Fire truck conversions
When converting a truck or engine, you should find the model that best suits your conversion.
City fire trucks, for example, are suitable for applications, such as a tow truck or food truck that will be operated on paved surfaces or even ground, however, due to their size, you can’t drive them with just a standard driver’s license; you must get your CDL (commercial driver’s license) to drive it. Wildfire fire trucks have the four-by-four capabilities to power for off-road adventures and don’t require a CDL; they make for great RV conversions.
Fire engines are often turned into water tanks (also called water wagons). Water tanks get used in agricultural and demolition applications.
Once you remove the firefighting parts of the truck or engine, you end up with a durable truck with heavy weight capacities and a potential that is limited by your imagination and regulations, so plan out exactly what you want to do to the truck or engine and learn the relevant regulations.
From fire to farms
City fire engines have smaller tanks, since firefighters working in urban areas rely more heavily on fire hydrants; their tank capacity only lasts two to four minutes (at full pressure) depending on the size tank, which ranges from 300 gallons to 500 gallons.
Wildfire fire engines have larger tanks (up to 750 gallons) and four-by-four capability, so they are converted into machines for watering or fertilizing crops (often called water tanks). Demolition contractors sometimes convert old fire engines to water tanks to bring floating debris to the ground, so it doesn’t fly off site.
If you’re planning on converting an old fire engine into a water tank, you want to choose one with the smallest tank size that meet your needs. For example, when choosing an engine for watering or fertilizing crops, choose a tank size that will allow you to spray the entire field (or section of a field) without refill. In demolition applications, choose a tank size that will last at least half the day, so you only need to refill in once in the morning and once at lunch.
Now, we’re cooking with fire
Food trucks have gained popularity over the past decade. They provide food-on-the-go, easy on-site catering, no expensive real estate and you don’t have to wait for customers to come to you, since you can go to them.
Fire trucks provide a lot of auxiliary power; they needed them to run the numerous powered tools used during their lives as a fire truck, and that power is sufficient to run ovens, a fridge and a furnace.
The fire trucks that are the most well-suited for food truck conversion are ones with s boxier body. These boxier bodies are built to store large equipment and for firefighters to enter; the storage space isn’t composed of compartments and closets like it is on a maintenance truck, its one large space that can be gutted and converted.
Fire engines also make suitable food trucks, you just need to gut the tank and pump.
Look for parts from the original fire truck that can be repurposed in the food truck conversion. One person used his imagination and repurposed parts of ladders into awning parts for his pizza food truck.
A mobile home on wheels
Once you remove the firefighting features, and you’re left with just the truck and an empty box, that box can be converted into whatever you can imagine (that is also legal).
If a food truck isn’t for you, perhaps you want to travel in your own mini-home. In which case, you could purchase a used fire truck and convert into an RV.
Choose a wildfire fire truck since you don’t need a CDL and it comes equipped with four-wheel drive.
Once you’ve purchased the truck, the first step to converting it into an RV is gutting the inside and planning its layout.
Next, you will want to work on setting up the wiring and solar panels or other power source. The roof is strong, so you can put a lot up there. Then you need to install insulation and a floor, before putting in your appliances and furniture.
Or, you can strip the truck down to the truck rails and install a pre-made camper. In which case, choose a fire truck that can be easily stripped down.
Whether it’s for food, water, food, travel or another type of vehicle, fire truck conversions can be a fun and less costly means of making your dreams come true.