LINNEUS, Maine — Linneus Fire Chief Mark Ganzel still has a hard time believing how the bright yellow fire engine sitting inside the department’s garage came to be.

The Middletown Fire Department in Connecticut offered the Aroostook County town a 2000 Spartan Gladiator pumper truck with no strings attached. The free rig, which was valued at $340,000 when it was new, arrived in Linneus on April 1.

Ganzel, along with a couple of members of the local department, made the whirlwind trip to Connecticut to pick up the vehicle and drive it home.

So how exactly did the Linneus Fire Department receive such a generous donation?

Back in November, Ganzel said he received a phone call from Aroostook County EMA Director Darren Woods, who told the chief there was an opportunity the town could be added to a short list of communities in the running for the engine being given away.

“When I received this information, I immediately got excited,” Ganzel said. “I had to make sure [Linneus Town Manager] Carroll Willette was on board with us applying. I then called a phone number to see what we had to do to apply, and right then and there I was interviewed.”

Ganzel said he went through three different phone interviews that same evening, explaining why the department should be chosen.

“After going through an interview process, we were placed at the top of the list for consideration,” Ganzel said. “I recall telling the [Middleton] chief [Robert Kronenberger] that this all sounded too good to be true and wondered what the catch was.”

Kronenberger told Ganzel the Middletown Fire Department was authorized to purchase a new vehicle in 2017 but had to liquidate a vehicle in order for that purchase to happen. After first trying to sell the vehicle outright — and getting offers that were below market value — the chief came up with the idea of giving the vehicle to a needy department.

One of Kronenberger’s lieutenants, Paul Heck, has a relative on the North Lakes Fire and Rescue Department that Woods also manages as fire chief in the Madawaska Lake, Sinclair area of Aroostook County.

Ganzel said at first he was skeptical of the donation, fearing the vehicle might come with a bunch of needed repairs. But when he arrived in Connecticut on March 31 to pick up the rig, he was amazed at the condition of the fire truck.

“This is a fully functioning pumper tanker,” Ganzel said. “There is no rot, rust or anything. It’s incredible.”

On top of that, the Middletown department went the extra mile, having the 30-foot vehicle lettered with “Linneus Fire Department.” It also donated a hydraulic rescue tool used to extract people from cars following a crash. The Linneus Fire Department has never had this type of equipment for emergency responses, Ganzel said.

Stickers of two red ribbons with the firefighter numbers of Middletown firefighters Charles Rau and Captain Joe Pagano, who died in the line of duty, will remain on the truck in their honor, Ganzel said.

“This extremely generous donation of the fire truck will affect the lives of more than just those in our community,” Ganzel added. “It will also reach out in a life-saving way to many other communities adjacent to ours during times of mutual aid.”

He added that it was “just a dream” for such a small community with a minimal budget and a department built entirely by volunteer firefighters to be donated “such a vital piece of equipment like a fire truck.”