In a recent online feature, author Ron Heal, our resident fire apparatus preservation expert, stated, “Looking ahead 50 years from now, one wonders if there will be a group of firefighters or fire buffs who will be in a position to preserve a vintage 2019 fire truck.”
This got me to thinking about apparatus designs and features for today and what about them will be unique in the future—unique enough that people will come to look at them at musters, antique fire apparatus shows, etc.
It’s easy to pick out unique rigs from our past. Who can miss the ubiquitous chrome sphere on top of Ahrens-Fox pumpers’ piston pumps, the unique cab for American LaFrance Century chassis, or the many iterations of the Mack CF chassis? It’s easy to quickly identify rigs that have been painstakingly restored and those that have been maintained but not necessarily brought back to “as new” condition. I love them all, to be honest. Nowadays, the 1981 American LaFrances I rode when I first joined the fire company would be considered antique. And, I’d love to own one of them myself. But, the cabs were enclosed and air conditioning added by subsequent owners, and I’m not sure I have the time or resources to reacquire one of the rigs and to reverse the modifications.
Now, in 50 years, I’ll be 95 years old, so I’ll be lucky to have my eyesight to pick out a 2019 rig. But beyond that, what will it be about today’s rigs that people will want to preserve? Will it just be the idea of saying, “I own a 2019 XYZ fire apparatus”? A fire company near me owns a 1949 Ahrens-Fox pumper. The fire company is the original owner. I don’t know what made the company decide to hold onto the truck. It is in mint condition, and just this past Independence Day I saw it in two parades. Another fire company local to me recently repurchased a 1976 Mack CF 600 pumper. Will fire companies today hold onto one of their rigs for posterity? Will they sell them to put money toward a future purchase and later buy them back? Will it even be feasible to do so? Maybe the question should be, “How will firefighters or fire buffs be able to preserve a vintage 2019 fire truck?” Storage has often been an issue for vintage rigs—and compared with today’s fire apparatus, today’s antiques are tiny. Storage issues will not become fewer.
There is no doubt there should be plenty of vintage 2019 fire apparatus around in 2069. The trucks we operate today are lasting longer than ever before and likely experiencing fewer problems as they age. What will the challenges of restoration be? There are fewer proprietary manufacturer components these days. Motors, pumps, etc., aren’t unique to the manufacturer. Parts should be available. There’s no doubt engine technology will continue to change and evolve.
What will future owners of and shoppers for 2019 fire apparatus think about what some call “blacked out” fire apparatus? How will they feel about the LED warning lights on the trucks? Will they care if the generators still work? What will it mean when someone says, “Now that is a classic 2019 rig”?
I believe there will be 2019 rigs in 50 years, and I believe they will look great. They should be easier to keep in service than today’s vintage rigs. The component manufacturers will still be around, and parts will be available. I believe people will look back at 2019 rigs and will require a historical context for why the fire apparatus in the 70-year-old-and-older section of a muster have self-contained breathing apparatus in the cab but some from 2019 do not. Maybe in 50 years we’ll have cancer eradicated, and we can say, “That’s what was known at the time as a ‘clean cab,’ and it was very controversial. We don’t need them anymore. They were a way to reduce exposure to carcinogens, but with the cancer cure, they fell out of favor.” When you think about it, that would be a great thing.
Most importantly, I believe there will be 2019 rigs around because the fire service is inherently aware of its history, and there is, I believe, a collective desire to preserve it. Go into almost any fire station and you’ll find pieces of history hearkening us back to the way things used to be done next to modern apparatus that embrace how we do things now. We always evolve, and we always remember where we came from.