In less than one month, the former North Columbia Fire and Rescue department has achieved something even its chief wouldn't have imagined.
"If you had asked me if I believed that we would have the debt covered in 20 days or a little over, I would have told you, 'You're crazy,'" former North Columbia Chief Tom McFarland said. "It's going better than I anticipated. I had no idea how good the market was for used equipment.''
North Columbia Fire and Rescue, which had covered the northern communities of Columbia County, was left with 11 emergency vehicles and more than $311,000 in debts Dec. 31 when Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue took over fire service for all of the unincorporated areas of Columbia County, rendering North Columbia obsolete.
McFarland said that since the North Columbia department was disbanded in the change, his mission has been to sell the equipment that could not be used.
"I knew we had a good product and I knew that it would sell,'' he said. "I just had no idea there was such a demand out there."
The private department had 11 fully-equipped emergency vehicles including tankers, pumpers, rescue and service trucks. McFarland posted some of the trucks on www.fentonfire.com, which, he said, was the easiest for him and probably others looking for equipment to find.
"The site that I found, the first weekend, our trucks were listed, they had over 3,000 hits," McFarland said.
The newest fire truck sold for $135,000. A tanker has already been delivered to a department in Oregon for $45,000. Another truck, with payment committed for $85,000, is waiting to be picked up by a fire department in Shelter Cove, Calif. Two trucks were sold to Swainsboro, Ga., and a third to a Warren County fire department.
All five trucks have been sold for a total of $315,000, enough to cover nearly all of the debt that was listed in the names of North Columbia officers and board members.
Commissions to the Web site and a former North Columbia volunteer, who is a fire equipment dealer selling the other six trucks, still need to be paid in addition to between $20,000 to $30,000 still owed on the construction of a Columbia Road fire station, McFarland said.
"What the chiefs are telling me the reason they are buying this good used stuff is because the waiting list to get new stuff is over a year," McFarland said.
"They are ready to go into operation. They love it. They flat love it. We sold two trucks to Swainsboro and the chief down there couldn't get the grin off his face.''
Six North Columbia trucks remain to be sold. Two pumpers are having pump work before they can be sold, but a tanker, service truck and engine are ready to be delivered if they are purchased.
"They are going to be spread out everywhere," McFarland said. "And we're not through yet, so we have no idea where some (will go). I got calls from Arkansas, Iowa, Nova Scotia, Oregon, California, all over Georgia and South Carolina ... It's unbelievable."
Selling one more truck, even the least expensive one, would cover all debt owed by the department, including what remains on the construction loan for the Columbia Road station and commissions.
"The GMC truck worth $55,000 that was paid for (by Appling) has not sold yet," McFarland said. "When that sucker sells, we are going to be so far up in the clear it is unbelievable. And we've got people coming to look at it."
The department should have a good amount of money left after selling all the trucks and paying off all debt, McFarland said. What to do with those extra funds will be up to the residents, who still make many department decisions.
"(One of the) couple of ideas that have surfaced is a trust fund and using the proceeds from the trust fund for firemen's children scholarships," McFarland said, adding the idea wasn't just for children of former North Columbia volunteers.
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