Our featured 1951 Ford F7 is one of the final vehicles to serve the Chicago Fire Patrol, which began in 1871 and ended in 1959. In case you are unfamiliar with the CFP, now is a good time to mention that the organization led the charge in protecting personal property of home and business owners during fires.
The CFP, separate from the local fire department, was funded by insurance companies through assessment contributions of the policyholders within the city of Chicago and surrounding communities. All annual costs to maintain the patrols—including salaries and pensions—were paid by the insurance companies, even though the patrols worked closely with the Chicago Fire Dept.
Once a building fire was extinguished by the fire department, the patrol was tasked with removing the water from the building; patching holes in the roof the firefighters made for ventilation purposes; covering furniture, office supplies, and personal property with tarps to protect them from further damage—just to mention a few responsibilities. The CFP would also pull additional hand lines, fight fires, and perform “preventive” salvage during the fire suppression phase, preventing damage as the fire progressed.
This was done to ensure no further damage would occur; thus the insurance companies would not have to pay out additional money for claims. This practice saved the insurance companies millions of dollars throughout the 88 years of service.
The patrol was also trained in the maintenance and repair of fire sprinkler systems. These systems posed a great threat in causing water damage, and the patrol was trained to secure the systems using a sprinkler head shut-off tool, which prevented further damage from an open sprinkler head. Patrol members were also trained to spot evidence of arson while completing salvage operations, and CFP staff would report findings to the fire department attorney of the Chicago Fire Dept. The office of the fire department attorney would be equivalent to the modern-day fire or arson investigator.
Unfortunately, insurance underwriters ceased funding the patrols in June 1959. The decision was based on a number of circumstances, one of which was the cost. The chief of the insurance patrols, Fred Kempf, believed it would be more cost-effective for the city to absorb the patrols and create salvage companies. The city would not agree to this, and the patrols were eventually disbanded; however, some members of the patrol did become firefighters with CFD and other agencies within the area.
CFP work did not come without hazards and dangers. Tragically, 21 members lost their lives in the line of duty, and countless members were injured as well during the patrol’s eight decades of operation. The last death in the line of duty occurred Jan. 12, 1951, when a wall collapsed on 25-year veteran patrolman Patrick T. Milott of Patrol 5 on Orleans Street. He was rescued and transported to a local hospital but died later of his injuries.
This 1951 Ford F-7 holds a very special meaning to its current owner, Keith M. Seafield of Pembroke Pines, Florida. Not only was it one of the CFP’s last trucks, it was operated by Seafield’s grandfather, Capt. Michael J. Kinsch, who served the patrol for 34 years, ending his career as a battalion chief with the Chicago Fire Dept. Seafield followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, starting his 35-year career as a firefighter with the Sunrise Fire Dept. in south Florida. He now works for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue as a lieutenant paramedic at the Miami International Airport on a quick-response vehicle.
Seafield has coauthored a book with Michael A. Pack titled History of the Chicago Fire Insurance Patrol 1871–1959. He dedicated the book, as well as the restoration of the Ford, to his grandfather, “Iron Mike,” as he was known to his friends and coworkers.
The truck made its way back to the family in 2008. Seafield was in contact with the staff of the Fire Museum of Greater Chicago, which had his grandfather’s truck in its collection. The museum was downsizing its collection and offered to sell Seafield the old ’51. The truck had been retired after responding to more than 22,000 fire alarms in its 30-plus years of service and more than 60,000 miles. He paid $800 for the old Ford and another $1,000 to ship it via a flatbed from Illinois to its new home in Florida.
The restoration took nearly five years, and Seafield said he thinks he has put about $25,000 into the truck. His wife Gloria said she would rather have purchased a boat.
“The truck is just as big as a boat and we would have used the boat more often,” she said.
In its day the truck was equipped with salvage covers, ladders, hand tools, hand pump extinguishers, shovels, and pike poles, just to mention a few tools of the trade. The Ford was also one of the first trucks equipped with a Motorola radiophone, even before CFD’s frontline engines were so equipped. The trucks and equipment were inspected and maintained to a very high standard by the patrol’s members at the beginning of every shift. The CFD designed and produced fire extinguishers like the one shown on the tailboard of the ’51.
The black-over-red paint scheme followed that of the Chicago Fire Dept. Those colors are still used by the CFD. According to prevailing theory, the color black was picked by the CFD because their trucks ran underneath the overhead trains, which would leak oil from high above.
There is an unusual historical meaning behind the green and red lights on the front bumper. When Albert Goodrich was appointed fire commissioner, he brought with him a strong family tie to the steamship industry, and he decreed all CFD apparatus should carry a red light on the left (port) side and a green light on the right (starboard) side. Such warning lights had allowed safe passage during inclement weather and travel throughout the modern maritime industry. The green lights also represent the fallen CFD firefighters.
Seafield recalls the hardest part to find for the restoration was the fire bell for the front of the truck. A simple rope runs through the firewall on the officer’s side of the cab to operate the bell. A local fire captain, Sean Logan, was surfing the web when he came across Seafield’s website dedicated to the restoration of the Ford. Seafield posted that he was looking for a bell for the truck; Logan emailed Seafield a fire memorabilia collector’s email address. After a brief exchange of emails and $500, the bell was shipped to Florida.
The F-7 has the original Lincoln 337ci flathead gas engine with a 5-speed manual unsynchronized transmission. There is neither power steering nor power brakes, so driving the beast takes some muscle.
Seafield proudly displays the Ford at local events such as fire musters, parades, and shows throughout the South Florida region. He is also a member of the Florida Antique Bucket Brigade, where members come together to show their apparatus and share in the pride of ownership. (One of Seafield’s highlights of using the truck was picking up sons Ethan and Gavin from school. How many kids had a dad picking them up in an old fire truck?)
So, as you sit on the sidelines watching a local parade in south Florida and you see this beautifully restored Chicago Fire Patrol truck cruise by in all its glory, remember the men who served this organization and prevented millions of dollars in property loss And remember the love of a firefighter who not only restored this truck but restored the pride of a grandfather who served the citizens of Chicago for 34 years.