By Bill Hattersley
The town of Burien, Washington, borders the southwest side of Seattle. For many years, Burien was a part of unincorporated King County. During the 1990s, Burien became an incorporated city. Fire protection was provided by King County Fire Protection District #2. There were three stations in the district. When I visited in 1983, only one station was manned, while the other two were manned by volunteers.
Burien was a faithful user of Curtis-Heiser bodies. For many years, they favored the New England-based Maxim Corp. for custom chassis rigs.
Burien’s reserve rig was an early quad-headlight Ford C Series tilt-cab chassis with a Curtis-Heiser body. L.N. Curtis was a west coast fire equipment distributer who sold Maxim apparatus and Hale pumps. George Heiser Body of Seattle was a fabricator of many types of truck bodies. From late 1958 through the late 1970s, Curtis and Heiser collaborated on the sale, design, and construction of over 50 pieces of fire apparatus, nearly all for departments in Western Washington. Burien’s Ford was one of the first such rigs built. The most obvious feature of this rig was the extreme lowness of the bodywork. This was apparently intended to reduce upper body strain to firefighters pulling or reloading equipment and hose. A secondary benefit was greater stability when operating on side-slopes. Power was provided by a big Ford 534 cubic-inch gas V-8, the only Ford engine powerful enough to run the big 1250gpm pump.
Engine 3 was running with a Maxim F model chassis rig with a Curtis-Heiser body virtually identical to the one on the Ford C pumper. This rig most likely was powered by the standard Waukesha 817 cubic-inch gas six. Note that Curtis-Heiser rigs built on commercial chassis received a serial number with an H for Heiser, followed by a three-digit sequence number. Curtis-Heiser bodies built on Maxim custom chassis carried the four-digit Maxim serial number and had no separate Curtis-Heiser number. For this reason, it is difficult to calculate how many total rigs were built. To further muddy the waters, L.N. Curtis also collaborated with Earl Sherman Bodyworks in Oakland, California, in building fire apparatus. The Sherman-built Curtis rigs carry an S prefix with three numbers following.
Burien received two more Maxim-Curtis-Heiser pumpers in 1968. Carrying Maxim serial numbers 2635 and 2636, these two rigs were almost indistinguishable from the 1959 model. However, there was a big difference under the hood; the new rigs were powered by Detroit Diesel 8V-71 350hp engines. The two new Maxims were assigned to HQ Engine 2 and Engine 4 (pictured).
The last Curtis-Heiser rig purchased by Burien was ordered at the same time as the two 1968 pumpers but was not delivered until 1969. Ladder 2 was another Maxim F model. The aerial was mounted on the cab-chassis unit at the Maxim factory in Middleboro, Massachusetts, while the body work was designed by L.N. Curtis and built by Heiser Body. Also powered by a Detroit Diesel 8V-71 engine, Burien’s ladder is believed to be the only Curtis-Heiser-built ladder truck on a Maxim chassis. The big Maxim remained in front-line service until being replaced by a Pierce-Arrow 105-foot quint in 1994.
In 1983, Burien purchased a “midi” or “attack” pumper. Intended for much the same purpose as a “mini” pumper, this type of rig carried a 1000gpm pump and a full-size water tank. Intended for use on car fires and at locations with tight access, midi-pumpers were popular in the 1980s. Since L.N. Curtis had become the Northwest distributer for FMC Fire Apparatus in 1980, Curtis had a small part in this rig.
In 1986, Burien re-equipped with three Spartan-Darley pumpers. Switching over to two pumpers and a quint-aerial, Burien now operates a 1994 Pierce quint aerial and two 2001 Spartan-H&W engines.