By Ron Heal
Joliet (IL) Fire Department Chief Joe Formhals is looking for some help. He contacted Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment after reading our feature on vintage fire apparatus. Joe has been with the department since 1992 and has served as chief since 2008. Throughout his career, there has been one piece of fire apparatus on the equipment roster that dates back to the summer of 1951. That rig is an American LaFrance Series 700 open cab midmount 100-foot aerial ladder truck.
The aerial ladder truck is currently parked at Joliet Fire Station 10 on the city’s west side. It has been several years since the rig even participated in a community event or a parade. The main issue is that there are very few on the job able to drive the standard transmission that requires double clutching. Currently, only the fire department mechanic can drive the truck.
Retired Fire Chief Larry Walsh served as chief from 1991 to 1998. He recalls that the 1951 aerial was in reserve at that time and had to be pressed back into service when one of the in-service rigs failed. He also remembers that a few years prior to that, the LaFrance underwent a substantial refurbishment that included a new paint job and new gold leaf and striping. Current Deputy Chief Ray Randich is compiling as much of the history of the Joliet Fire Department as he can, which includes many newspaper stories that have the ’51 LaFrance aerial working at many fires during the first 20 years the rig was in service. He also notes that those times saw a much heavier fire load than is common today.
Find This Rig a Home
This brings us to these chiefs’ concern—there is getting to be no room in the barn (firehouse) for the vintage rig! Add that the department is down to only one driver, and that 50 feet of space in a fire station on the apparatus floor is indeed coveted. In short, the chief is looking for a good home for the truck. Formhals assures that the rig is in good running order and still looks good for all of its 60 plus years.
Formhals very much would like to find a good home for the truck. Ideally he would like to see the rig go to an area museum that features vehicles and is open to the public to come and see a great piece of firefighting apparatus that represented the start of modern cab-forward design. Although he prefers an area museum, Chief Formhals would entertain inquiries from museums further afield—all in an effort to find a good home for the rig. Finding space in museums is not an easy task, especially when it comes to aerial ladder trucks requiring at least 50-foot of parking space. Several museums in the immediate area have been contacted, and all share the same need for more space.
Here is a chance for some museum-type organization to obtain an aerial truck. Formhals does not even mention a price. However, the organization would need to arrange for transportation. If you are a qualified museum or know of such an organization and have an interest in this beautiful piece of apparatus, contact Chief Joe Formhals, Joliet Fire Department, (815)724-3510 (during regular business hours Monday through Friday), or [email protected]
The chief assures me that there is a backup plan and that he and Deputy Chief Randich are committed to the preservation of the 1951 American LaFrance aerial.
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RON HEAL compiles the “Apparatus Showcase” and “Recent Orders” departments monthly in Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.