Germantown’s Gem: This 1958 American LaFrance was once the “Pride of Bardstown”!

By Jack Harrison, Photography by Brad Bowling
The twin valleys of historic Germantown, Ohio, are rich in history and home to many hidden gems—one of which graces the cover of this very magazine. This 1958 American LaFrance 900 Series pumper once proudly protected the self-described “Bourbon Capital of the World,” Bardstown, Kentucky, which is home to several world-renowned distilleries.

In 1958, the city of Bardstown purchased the pumper (serial number L-5708) from American LaFrance for $19,780, as a replacement for its 1934 GMC pumper. According to retired Bardstown Fire Dept. Chief Phillip Parrott, when the 900 Series pumper arrived on October 30, 1958, from the Elmira, New York, factory, it was considered the “pride of Bardstown” and was designated Engine No. 1.

Nineteen fifty-eight was the first year for the 900 Series pumper, and this new model had many improvements over the aging 700 Series design and the recently-introduced 800 Series. The most obvious change was the wider body and gently-curved front end. The Bardstown pumper is 26 feet long and has the classic open-cab design, which did not afford fire fighters any protection from the elements, other than a windshield. The pumper is powered by an American LaFrance-built J-code V-12 engine, which is not tempered by any annoying mufflers, and could propel the pumper up to 60 mph—not quite fast enough to outrun the thundering growl of the exhaust. The engine could generate 215 horsepower to turn the bronze-cased 750gpm Invader pump. A 300-gallon “booster” tank could give firefighters a few minutes to battle the blaze while the engineer connected the pumper to a water supply.

The pumper also came with a fairly standard complement of ladders, hose, and tools. On the passenger side, a 14-foot roof ladder with folding hooks nested inside a 24-foot extension ladder. Both ladders were specified to be aluminum and manufactured by the Duo Safety Ladder Corp., which still makes firefighting ladders today. The engine was delivered with 400 feet of 1-1/2-inch “attack” hose (the main hose that firefighters would pull off the pumper and carry into the blaze). The 900 was also equipped with 1,200 feet of dual-purpose, 2-1/2-inch “attack/supply” hose. As its name implies, the attack/supply hose could be used to attack by spraying water directly onto the fire or to supply by connecting the pumper to a fire hydrant or another fire engine. Tools supplied by American LaFrance included pickhead and flathead axes, a pike pole made of “straight-grained Oregon pine,” both dry-chemical and CO2 extinguishers, various nozzles, and two fire department electric lanterns.

Today, Chief Marlin Howard heads up the Bardstown Fire Dept. He and Chief Parrott recalled more history of the 1958 American LaFrance during our interviews. Some modifications were made to the American LaFrance during its service with Bardstown. The two hard suction hoses on the driver’s side were removed to make room for an additional ladder rack. Another ladder rack was also added to the top of the engine that extended from above the cab to the back of the hose bed. It allowed the engine to carry a very tall, 55-foot Bangor ladder. This addition was essential, since the town did not have any ladder trucks at this time, and the ’58 ALF was Bardstown’s main piece of equipment. Chief Parrott also recalled that, on New Year’s Eve 1976, the ALF engine continuously pumped water for at least 14 hours during a fire at a dry goods company founded in the 19th century called The Louisville Store.

Although the ALF was eventually replaced with a more powerful 1993 Seagrave pumper with a 1,250gpm pump and a 500-gallon booster tank, Bardstown still displays the original chrome plaque that was mounted above the 1958 American LaFrance’s pump panel, proudly showing the names of everyone involved in the purchase of the new fire engine.

Engine No. 1 served Bardstown for 36 years, from 1958 until it is was sold to Bob McClain, who saw it as a family project to enjoy with his son, Matt, in March 1994. McClain spotted the ad for the truck in a magazine; the city was asking $7,000. He entered a $3,500 bid, contingent on the replacement of the Federal Q siren, which had been removed from the front bumper some time earlier. McClain heard the Q siren had probably been removed as a memento, and he was only willing to pay $3,000 for the pumper, minus the siren. Bardstown located and reinstalled the original Q siren. The retired engine then made the 180-mile trip to its new home in Germantown on the back of a flatbed truck.

The 1958 American LaFrance only had 9,200 miles on its odometer to show for 36 years of firefighting. It was in good condition, showing it had been well-maintained while in the care of the Bardstown Fire Dept. (McClain joked, ”It must have been driven by a little old lady only to Sunday fires.”)

McClain’s goal for the restoration was to return it to its original factory condition. He contacted Bardstown, searching for the original hard suction hose trays; to his surprise, the department located them. The McClains removed the ladder brackets and remounted the trays with their black hoses. Hard suction hoses are used to supply the engine from an open body of water like a pool, river, or drop tank. These hoses must to be hard so that they will not collapse due to the tremendous suction force from the engine’s pump “drafting” the water like a straw.

McClain had the engine repainted the classic deep American LaFrance red. He is also very quick to point out that the gold lettering is not a printed vinyl decal, but authentic gold leaf. It was professionally done by Steve Lainhart of Franklin, Ohio. The McClains changed the emblem and lettering on the doors to “Olde Mill, Germantown,” since McClain lived in Shuey Mill, the town’s historic gristmill-turned-residence, at the time. They later returned it to its original Maltese cross with “Bardstown, Engine No. 1.” The McClains, however, did make one non-original addition—an American LaFrance fire bell with eagle finial—to the front bumper. The bell came from another truck the McClains had sold. While the bell was not original to what Bardstown purchased from American LaFrance, it is in keeping with other engines of its day.

Today, Matt McClain, now a Dayton Fire Dept. captain, has stewardship of the American LaFrance 900 Series pumper, gifted to him by his father. Fire engine owners often say that they do not own their fire engines; they only care for and enjoy them for a time and then hand over the reigns to the next steward. The engine is still kept in Bob McClain’s garage in Germantown, when it is not being driven in parades or on display at fire musters. The pride of Bardstown now serves as a window into history and will provide enjoyment for the McClains and everyone that sees her for many years to come.

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Old Village Fire Co. Rides Again: The Foley family shares its love of vintage fire trucks through this 1930 Ford Model AA

Antique fire engines do not come with the promise of domestic bonding, but when Bill and Nancy Foley’s children reached their teenage years, the hobby created a bond that kept these teenagers and friends involved with the rest of the family.

Bill Foley bought one truck; then another, until he owned eight. His son, Eric, continued his dad’s legacy, and there are now 25 fire trucks in the family collection. From among many fine choices, a 1930 Ford Model AA caught the attention of Vintage Fire Truck & Equipment.

Sadly, Bill Foley’s life ended in October 2012, but his wife and three adult children—sons Eric and Randy and daughter Glenda—continue to preserve and treasure not only their memories of him, but also the tradition of good times and positive influences those fire trucks represent. They have preserved the collection, as well. This Ford Model AA was Bill Foley’s second piece of fire apparatus, and research into its mysterious history would connect us with a man who drove it more than 60 years ago.

“It must have been about 1978 or ’79 when Dad bought our very first fire engine—a large American LaFrance chain-drive,” son Eric Foley of Olympia, Washington, recalled, “and we did musters.”

Musters are competitive displays of traditional firefighting skills. They involve teams of six people racing against the clock to haul the fire hose out of the truck, hook it up, and use the force of water from the nozzle to knock down a target. They were very popular in the 1970s and ’80s.

“The mustering was a family affair,” Nancy Foley said. “We all participated. Both Eric and Randy were on the men’s team. Bill usually drove the engine. Glenda, our daughter, was the driver for the women’s team.”

That American LaFrance, when purchased, had the words “Old Village Fire Co.” on the hood, so the family adopted that phrase for its muster team name. They ultimately had it painted on every fire truck that came into the collection, along with the name of each truck’s hometown. A man well up in years, who had lettered fire trucks for the City of Tacoma, agreed to paint “Old Village Fire Co.” and “Falmouth, Maine” on the hood of our featured Model AA.

This fire truck first went into service in the town of Falmouth, Maine, in 1930. Two embossed metal plates—one on each corner of the tailboard—say, “Rutledge South Portland,” the name and location of the shop responsible for building the truck’s body on the 157-inch Ford Model AA chassis. Later, the truck somehow ended up in Stowe, Vermont, as the property of Charles F. Black, the man who sold it to Bill Foley. What happened in between, no one knew until we researched it for this article. In a letter dated November 28, 1983, Black stated he had last driven it in 1969. After that, he stored it in a barn until he shipped it to Foley in January 1984.

The truck needed little restoration, since it was in such good condition, with only 4,615 original miles on the odometer. It now registers 5,500. The original tires remained on the truck until 2014. Eric Foley removed a small, unattractive windshield and turn signals on the fenders, which were not original equipment. He also got rid of the ribbed black rubber that once covered the running boards and overlaid the wood hidden underneath with new oak. The 4×10-foot wood plank bed was replaced, too. When Bill Foley took delivery, it held a 250-gallon water tank, which Eric Foley still has, along with the plumbing and chrome pieces that came with it. Shortly after the purchase, his father removed the tank, “… to lighten up the truck for mustering and give us more room for taking people out for ice cream.”

After receiving a new paint job, new chrome on the headlights and radiator shell, plus new seat upholstery shortly after it was purchased, the Ford appeared once again ready to race down a street in Falmouth in 1930, its siren’s warning clearing the way. Bill Foley’s first drive in it must have felt like time travel.

“It drove like a brand-new Model AA,” Eric Foley said. “Nothing was worn out on it. It always started, always ran, and it always got the looks. Dad liked things that were reliable and easy to use, and that one was definitely reliable.”

Rather than a playful brush with history, the experience of driving this fire truck during its working years is an actual memory for a 77-year-old gentleman living in Falmouth, Maine. With help from Lieutenant Erik Knudsen of the Falmouth Fire-EMS Dept., Vintage Fire Truck & Equipment had the privilege of speaking with former Fire Chief Freeman Cleaves III, who knew the Model AA well and confirmed its identity through photos, recognizing it at once by its features. He remembered everything about it—the ladder, bell, hose reel, dual rear wheels, and especially a particular arrangement of three red lights in a metal disk, mounted on a stanchion behind the driver’s side. How many times had he changed those light bulbs? When he looked at the tailboard again after decades, in his mind, he still saw up to six men standing on it, hanging on tightly to the eye-level handrail above.

Although too young to have witnessed its arrival at the fire station designated “Engine 3” in the Pleasant Hill section of Falmouth, Cleaves grew up with the Model AA. His uncle and father—brothers Elmer Cleaves and Freeman Cleaves Jr., respectively—served as fire chiefs for “Engine 3.” Later, the city’s four separate fire departments merged to become districts within one fire department, under a single chief, and Freeman Cleaves III himself served in that capacity for three years, 1984-1986.

“I actually first drove that truck when I was 15, in 1953,” Cleaves said, chuckling. “I snuck in there a little early. We called it ‘Tank 3.’ Even the bay it sat in was marked ‘Tank 3.’ I’m guessing it was very close to 1960 when the truck [was] retired.”

He recalls hearing that an antique dealer bought the Model AA with Vermont as its destination. At some point later, a letter arrived at the fire station containing photos of it, including one showing a Vermont license plate designating it as an antique vehicle.

Cleaves also remembers that a bed divider provided storage areas for 2½- and 1½-inch hoses. The pump gauge can be seen in the panel below the seat, on the truck’s right side. It shows readings up to 300 psi, more than enough to destroy those hoses.

“It was a gear pump, rather than a centrifugal pump,” Cleaves recalled, “a ‘positive displacement’ type of pump. If you weren’t cautious, you could bust hoses with it, because the water coming out of it would exceed 250 psi. I pumped a lot of fires with that truck.”

In fact, he still remembers the first time he drove it to a fire, which happened to be in the woods right across the street from the station. Unlike with larger modern trucks, the firemen did not hesitate to use this tough Ford with its dual rear wheels as an off-road vehicle.

”You could take it right out in the woods and not worry about scratching the paint,” he said. “And of course, every week, a lot of firemen trained on that truck.”

Some of his other memories of driving it sound more miserable than exciting. Imagine how it felt to be in an open-cab fire truck in the middle of a Maine winter.

“In the wintertime,” he recalled, “it was brutal cold. If you hit snow, you looked like an igloo going down the road, because the snow would come right into the seat and just cover you up. It had a little windshield for a little protection, but that was about it.”

Cleaves remembers using the Model AA’s mechanical brakes and taking corners with no power steering. Its top speed was about 50 mph. In fact, its speed, along with the truck’s lighter weight (compared to the American LaFrance) and ease of towing, were reasons Bill Foley wanted it.

“We’d enjoy these fireman musters with our whole family and our friends,” Eric Foley said, “but the big LaFrance chain-drive was just too slow. Dad went back east on a trip, found this Model AA, looked at it, bought it, and had it shipped out.”

Another member of the Old Village Fire Co. muster team who remembers Bill Foley, his collection, and the good times they had is family friend Gary Hauenstein, a 30-year veteran of the fire service. He remembers how Bill Foley appreciated the fire truck’s 4-cylinder Ford engine with the designation of “Model A” (not to be confused with the body style) but dreamed of more.

“I do know they had a Model A engine and a Model B engine,” Hauenstein said, “and the Model B was kind of a souped-up engine. Bill always talked about putting a Model B in there.”

The Foleys began participating in more musters in Washington and Oregon, winning state championships, even traveling as far south as California to compete. Eric Foley described them driving a one-ton Chevrolet dually pickup with their third fire engine—a 1917 Ford Model T with an American LaFrance “chemical wagon” fire engine body—in the bed, and the Model AA on a trailer custom built for it.

“It was quite the show going down the road,” he remembered. “That went on up to about 1987. At that point, the musters kind of went by the wayside. Randy and I were off to college.”

When home on Christmas break, the boys helped continue a tradition that began during their teens. The local fire department had ended its practice of driving a fire engine through the neighborhoods to hand out candy canes to children with Santa Claus on the back of the truck. Bill Foley made arrangements with his good friend, the assistant fire chief, to start using his LaFrance to transport Santa. The Ford Model AA, covered with colored lights and carrying a big sound system, ran ahead of the LaFrance to get people to come out of their houses. This went on for five nights.

“We handed out a lot of candy canes, and it was a lot of fun,” Eric Foley said. “All my friends would come out, and their girlfriends would help, too. I usually drove the LaFrance. My brother, Randy, drove the Model AA, and we just had a lot of fun.”

Hauenstein remembers how much his friend Bill cared about the community, like Nancy and her adult children still do. In addition to this Christmas activity, Bill Foley initiated the building of floats for the area’s annual Daffodil Parade. Hauenstein said Foley did not care much for committee work but always accomplished great things on his own. Nancy always supported him.

“The fire department gave out food baskets,” Hauenstein said, “and Bill would say, ‘Give me about 12 names.’ Then, he and Nancy would fund 12 families and deliver everything on the fire engine with Santa Claus. That all came out of their pockets. That was all from the heart. Bill was a very, very giving person.”

Those times are gone, but Bill Foley’s attitude toward life and his fellow human beings lives on in his family and those who knew him. His spirit of fun and love of life (and the people in his) seem to have even permeated the old 1930 Ford, the family’s favorite, by far, in the collection.

“Out of all the rigs we had, it was the most enjoyable to drive,” Eric Foley reminisced. “The number of times we loaded into that thing and went down to the local ice cream store was numerous. It was definitely the most loved.”

Because of those feelings, Eric Foley thought to assign the truck its most important, and poignant, duty in all of its 72 years of service. At the private family funeral for his father (which was followed by a public memorial), the dear old Model AA bore in its bed, not hose for mustering or teenagers on an ice cream run, but his father’s casket, for a glorious last ride.

“Bill’s legacy, his love of vintage fire engines, their history and preservation, as well as his love of vintage trucks and cars, has been passed to his three children and grandsons,” Nancy Foley said. “He would have loved to have been here to share his stories about the Model AA for this magazine article.”

Model A or AA?

Although Bill Foley, his family, and his friends always referred to this truck as “the Model A,” he questioned whether it was an A or an AA. Fire apparatus expert Walter McCall, of Windsor, Ontario, Canada—who has studied this subject for more than 50 years and written many books—confirmed the truck’s designation.

“The Rutledge Model ‘A’ fire engine is most definitely built on the 1930 Ford Model ‘AA’ commercial truck chassis, as evidenced by its five-stud steel disc wheels, dual rear tires, and the radiator shell without the little downward-facing ‘peak’ at is center, as seen on Ford Model ‘A’ passenger cars and light trucks.”

Thornewood Castle

Vintage Fire Truck & Equipment is grateful to Deanna Robinson, owner of Thornewood Castle, for the use of the home’s grounds for this photo shoot. The “castle” sits on four acres of forested land in Lakewood, Washington, where its huge leaded-glass windows face American Lake. Chester Thorne had it built between 1908 and 1911 as gift for his bride. A solid three-foot-thick foundation supports its 10-inch-thick concrete floors and concrete and steel walls, covered with imported bricks from a dismantled 400-year-old Elizabethan manor in England, as well as some bricks from Wales. Oak paneling, an oak staircase, and medieval stained glass from the manor were also included in these building materials transported to the Pacific Northwest on three separate ships, which traveled around Cape Horn. Thornewood Castle has provided the setting for several films and many photo shoots.

Although still a private residence, it is available for rent as an event venue, as well functioning as a bed-and-breakfast inn. For complete information, a gallery of photos of this historic inn and its gardens, and more, please see thornewoodcastle.com or call 253-584-4393.

Other Firefighters Enjoyed Ford’s Reliable AA Trucks

Lieutenant Erik Knudsen of the Falmouth Fire-EMS Dept. provided invaluable assistance by connecting us not only to Freeman Cleaves III, but also to another of Falmouth’s former fire chiefs, 88-year-old Ted Vail. He, too, went into fire service in Falmouth as a teenager, during World War II, and drove a similar 1930 Ford Model AA, built as a hose truck. His descriptions of the city’s four original fire departments, the kinds of trucks they owned, and the nature of the work they did contribute background information and valuable insights.

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Plugs and Pipes

The fire service is filled with many historical facts, and none are more interesting than the impressive feat of getting water to the scene of a fire. Today, most communities are fortunate enough to have hydrants attached to a municipal water system, but that has not always been the case.

In earlier times, water was carried in some sort of container to the scene of a fire. Early firemen sometimes had to travel great distances to get the water to the blaze. The use of buckets to combat fire has been historically documented back to the time of the Roman Vigiles—the firefighters of the Roman Empire, circa 60 A.D.—who used bucket brigades to control or slow the progress of the fire. This system was both labor-intensive and time-consuming. Bucket brigades were used throughout the world for many years, but slowly became obsolete with the advent of fire pumps, fire hoses, and water-distribution systems.

Several hundred years later, hollowed-out log pipes were used for water conveyance. There are references to wooden water pipes in the 13th century; the use of wood for water distribution had become standard practice by the late 1700s and early 1800s. It didn’t take long for firemen of the time to discover they could easily tap into this water system. When a fire occurred, instead of traveling great distances like their predecessors, the firemen would dig down to the log pipe and drill a hole in it, using a hand-powered auger. Once a hole was made in the wooden water pipe, the water from the hole was allowed to fill the excavation site that the firemen had just created. Initially, buckets were used to scoop out water from the excavation. Later, they would use a fire pump, which could draft out of the excavation.

After the fire was extinguished, the fire crew would seal the hole in the pipe by driving a wood plug into the opening. The plug’s location was often marked before the pipe was covered over, so the plug could be found and used again as a source of water instead of creating a new hole in the wood pipe. The use of the wooden plug is where we get the term “fire plug” that is commonly used by firemen, to this day, to describe a fire hydrant.

I was given a section of water main (pictured in this story) as a gift from my father-in-law, who received it from his aunt. His aunt saw the pipe sitting along the side of her road where the public works department was working and recognized its significance and history. To most people, this would look like just a log, an old pole, or a big piece of wood, but she saw the signature details and asked the street workers if she could have the old section of wood. In turn, she gave it to the author’s father-in-law, knowing he was a fireman and collector of fire-related artifacts.

Early wooden pipes were often constructed of hollowed-out logs and became the norm in the 1700s and early 1800s, with some even being found, still in service, in the 20th century. The type of wood that makes up this section is unknown, at the time of this writing, but water mains were commonly made of Douglas fir, hemlock, elm, and white pine. It was common to see redwood used in the western United States, because of its availability and durability. My particular section of water main shows the commonly-found, spiral-wound steel strapping that was applied to give the wood the ability to withstand higher internal operating pressures. Additionally, as you can see in the picture, an asphalt coating was applied to protect the wood and the steel from the minerals in the earth.

Long runs of water main were difficult, due to elevation issues that affected how the log would sit in the excavation site. Settling of the site where the water main was laid had the potential to cause connection issues. Additionally, the weight of the logs made it difficult to transport numerous sections of water pipe without damage. To address some of these problems, later versions of wooden water mains were made of staves and hoops, as it was much easier to transport these pieces on a wagon to a site, excavate the site, and construct the water main.

“Why use wood?” you might ask.

Wooden pipes were much easier to maintain than metal because the wood did not expand or contract with temperature changes as much as metal, eliminating the need for expansion joints and bends. Additionally, thick wood has natural insulation, thereby reducing the potential for freezing, as compared to metal pipes. Wood used for water pipes also does not rot very easily. The water pipe is buried, and therefore not exposed to air or the elements that contribute to rot and decay.

It is easy to see how history can be overlooked. Things that seem very ordinary or just scrap can be very important in the history of this country and our culture today. The wood water main’s place in history is interesting to the fire service and those in the water-distribution service, but we are not the only ones.

We all, as a society, need to be constantly looking for those artifacts that trace back to our history and how we came to be where we are today.

Thanks to Jon C. Schladweiler and sewerhistory.org for his research help for this article.

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Wooden Fireman

This 7-foot tall, carved wooden fireman may look like a statue that commemorates the deeds and sacrifices of firemen. However, the story behind the “Chief Director” has nothing to do with commemoration. This huge wooden carving used to sit atop the firehouse of Mechanic Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 on First Street, between Main and Market in Louisville, Kentucky. The Chief Director was an innovative way to dispatch firefighters to the scene of a fire. The statue, which once had legs and boots, was attached to a long, iron pole. When a fire was reported and its location determined, the pole was rotated so that the Chief Director pointed to the fire.

The Chief Director was used from 1835 until 1858, when the city disbanded the volunteer companies in favor of a paid department. The Chief Director was moved from its original home to the cupola of the Veteran Fireman’s Historical Society at 413 First St. As years went by, the Chief Director was forgotten and his absence went unnoticed until sometime in the 1940s. Workers on the roof of a building across the street noticed a man lying next to the copula on the roof of the historical society. They alerted the owner who investigated and found the Chief Director lying next to his perch. His wooden boots had rotted and given way, causing him to fall unseen onto the roof. The Chief Director eventually made his way to his current home at the J.B. Speed Art Museum on Third Street.

A Truck of Many Colors

by Mark Dalton

There have been many builders of fire apparatus throughout the United States. Among the big, well-known companies are American LaFrance, Mack, Pierce, and E-One. On the list of smaller companies is Imperial Fire Apparatus.

In 1962 Ralph Aspling founded Pemberton Fabricators in Pemberton, New Jersey. In the beginning, the company made copper parts for the recording and communication industry. (Among their customers was electronics giant RCA.) Then, in May 1967, Inductotherm acquired the company. Henry M. Rowan, CEO of Inductotherm, asked Aspling if he could make a trailer with various firefighting equipment for a friend. This would be the start of a new venture for Aspling.

While picking up parts at Hale Fire Pump—a company that has been producing fire pumps for more than 100 years and is known today as Hale Products—Aspling met Jim Partridge of Hahn Motors, which manufactured custom and commercial firefighting apparatus from 1916 through the 1980s. The two men became close friends, and in 1969 Partridge was hired to be the sales manager of the fire apparatus division. Partridge named the new division Imperial Fire Apparatus.

In 1970, Spec. No. 1/500 rolled off the assembly line and was designated a mini-pumper. Manufactured for the Linfield Volunteer Fire Co. in Pennsylvania, the truck was built on a 4×4 Dodge W-500 chassis with a 177hp gasoline engine, a 500gpm pump, and a 500-gallon water tank. In just a matter of months, Imperial received orders for fire engines, several heavy rescue trucks, and ladder trucks. After production of these apparatus, Imperial soon realized that the profit margin for its custom fire trucks was limited. Imperial executives decided to produce only chassis and supply manufacturers such as Fire Trucks Inc., Pierce Mfg., and Pierreville Fire Trucks.

In 1985 Imperial incorporated the first tilt-and-telescope steering column used in fire apparatus. Imperial also developed the first enclosed, four-door, 10-man tilt cab for use in large metropolitan departments. The 10-man cab was not designed for comfort by any means, but was instead developed for firefighter safety.

The Imperial name later changed to PemFab, which was then acquired by the Fire Cab Co. In July 2000, it ceased production of all fire trucks. PemFab was considered to be an area-specific fire truck. Most of the trucks it produced served in the northern part of the U.S., including New Jersey, Maine, and Pennsylvania. Only a few made it as far south as Florida, showing up in Lauderhill, Kissimmee, and, in the case of this story’s featured fire truck, Forest City.

On Jan. 26, 1972, Fire Chief William “Bill” Kinley of the Forest City, Bear Lake Fire Control District began taking bids from various apparatus manufacturers for a new fire engine. Imperial Fire Apparatus won the bid, and on Oct. 27, 1972, the Florida company took delivery of Engine 5, an Imperial D-12 engine, at a cost of $45,000. The truck came equipped with a 318hp, turbocharged Detroit diesel engine; a synchromesh 5-speed manual transmission; a Waterous CMBX, 1,250gpm midship pump; and a 750-gallon water tank. Engine 5 also carried several ground ladders, two sections of hard suction hose, three mounted self-contained breathing apparatus, and various hand tools, such as two cab-mounted axes and two pike poles.

In 1974, the Seminole County Dept. of Public Safety in Sanford, Florida, was formed to serve the unincorporated areas of the county. Many local volunteer departments, including Forest City, were consolidated into the newly formed department. During this consolidation, Seminole County acquired various fire apparatus, including the 1972 Imperial D-12. By 2000, Seminole County had 13 fire stations and continued to grow with the addition of the City of Altamonte Fire Dept. in 2002 and Winter Springs in 2008. The last department to consolidate was Casselberry Fire Dept. in 2015. The Seminole County Fire Dept. is now one of the largest fire departments in central Florida, running more than 30,000 calls annually from 19 fire stations and using more than 30 pieces of frontline fire apparatus and 20 Advanced Life Support ambulances. Interim Fire Chief Mark W. Oakes currently oversees the department’s 384 employees.

“The fire service has many time-honored traditions, and this fire engine is part of Seminole County Fire Dept.’s history,” Chief Oakes said of the D-12. “The Imperial was in service when SCFD was formed in 1974 and has become part of our tradition.”

In 1985, Engine 5 was repainted lime yellow and white and was re-designated Engine 131. The Imperial D-12 served Seminole County for the next 16 years. In 1990, Engine 131 was placed in “reserve status” and used as a spare when the newer frontline engines were placed out of service for routine preventative maintenance, which is common practice throughout fire service today. Engine 131 sat unnoticed for many years at Station 13 before the decision was made to refurbish it.

“When it was refurbished and re-painted its original red color, it was renamed Engine 5 to honor its original assignment to the Forest City Volunteers,” said Battalion Chief Bryon Chaney who oversees the truck’s needs and is rather protective of it.

“There’s only a handful of firefighters that I let drive Engine 5,” he said. “Most of our younger guys have never experienced a manual transmission truck, and it requires a special touch that they are just not taught anymore.”

Today Engine 5 is housed at the new Station 13, which serves Forest City, and is a proud symbol of Seminole County’s young history in the fire service. Engine 5 is used at local parades, ceremonies, and other special events held throughout the county. Chief Chaney plans to add hose and other era-specific equipment to the truck and would like to display it at local car shows and other events. As a firefighter with the Deltona Fire Dept. in Florida, I have it on good authority from Chief Bill Snyder that Chief Chaney and Engine 5 have an open invitation to be our guests at our annual open house held in October.

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