EAST PEORIA — When the Fire Department went shopping for a new ambulance last year, it looked where it had not looked before — a used ambulance lot in Iowa.

"The chassis is new, but the box on back is a completely refurbished box that looks like it is brand new, never used before," Assistant Chief Richard Ward said Wednesday. "It's a great way to save some money."

The ambulance was delivered earlier this month, inspected by the state and pressed into service Tuesday. Housed at the department's Central House on West Washington Street, the vehicle, and its crew, had answered a few calls by Wednesday afternoon, Ward said.

To call it a "used" ambulance is not exactly fair. The vehicle was purchased from Arrow Ambulance, a company in Rock Rapids, Iowa, that specializes in refurbishing used ambulances.

"They strip it down to the walls, and rebuild it piece by piece," Fire Chief Al Servis said recently. "You can't even see the difference from a new ambulance."

But it was significantly cheaper. Assistant Chief Ryan Beck picked out a box last year and Arrow has been working to refurbish the old box and attach it to the new chassis. The total cost of the ambulance, to be paid off over two years, was $214,323, a price that includes $10,000 in radios that would have been paid whether the city bought a new or refurbished ambulance. The approximate savings was $40,000. The city budgeted $230,000 for a new ambulance.

Commissioner John Kahl oversees the city's Fire Department.

"Assistant Chief Beck did much of the leg work and provided this as a viable option in effort to free up some of the funds allocated over a two year period to purchase a new ambulance and utilize the cost savings to purchase additional equipment needed within the department," Kahl said Wednesday. "Upon researching all of the information, he presented this option to the City Council for their approval to move forward on the refurbished box and allocate the cost savings for other equipment."

The purchase of the used ambulance could be a precedent.

"It was a very wise decision that enabled us to not only benefit from a cost savings on this particular one but lays the groundwork to do the same over the next several in future years to come," Kahl said. "The finished product is impressive and you would believe it to be brand new."

Scott Hilyard is the Journal Star communities reporter. He can be reached at 686-3244 and shilyard@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @scotthilyard.