Fire runs through Robbie Smith’s veins, fueling him with purpose and passion. It gave the child a goal and the man a mission. “I absolutely love firefighting,” says Smith, who served for 23 years as a firefighter at stations in Missouri. “I want to get kids excited and bring them into the fire department at an early age. I want them to know that firefighting is an amazing career.”
And what better way to excite than with a working, kid-sized pumper with a customized grille, roll-up doors, aluminum ladder, hose and compartment covers, reflective chevrons, engine hand throttle, working head and tail lights, pressure gauges, trim ring, a tank level monitor display, and a fire truck seat?
|Several companies contributed to Smith’s project. Following is a list of companies and the
equipment they provided for the miniature fire apparatus.
“When you hear the clang of the bell and whining of the siren, when you see the fire engines go by, it stirs up feelings,” says Ken Menke, president of PowerArc Warning Lights. PowerArc was one of several companies that donated equipment for the project (see sidebar). “Every firefighter will tell you that they got excited by fire trucks when they were little,” Menke says. “It’s at the heart of all children.”
To reach those hearts, Smith spent more than 10 years and 3,500 hours designing and developing a miniature fire engine that accurately represents the industry. He wanted to honor the men and women who are willing to risk their lives in service to others. “We lost a brother on an early morning grass fire,” he says, referring to his time in the fire service. “This [fire engine] is in memory of our fallen brothers and sisters. Everywhere I travel and display the truck it reminds me of the sacrifices made.”
Smith plans to display the nearly completed minipumper at trade shows, parades, county fairs, and anywhere kids and future firefighters can be found. He introduced the truck at the 2013 Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in R⋅O⋅M Corporation’s booth in April. One month later, Smith showed the truck in Grovespring, Missouri, at the 10-99 Products “Cruise-in,” a fire apparatus and tow truck display for kids.
He says the response so far has been “overwhelming in such a great way,” with many long-time firefighters calling it amazing.
|(1) Robbie Smith fabricated the chassis by hand. He stored the golf cart/fire
engine in his garage during the 10-year project. (Photos courtesy of R⋅O⋅M
The idea came to Smith in 2001 during his time off from the station. He had what he calls a spontaneous idea to build a fire truck out of a golf cart and display it in parades and public events. He sat down, drew a design, and scaled it to just under half size.
Then he called James Holloway, owner of South Central Golf in West Plains, Missouri. Holloway appreciated Smith’s passion and wanted to help. He donated a Cusheman golf cart and the entire drive train. Then he watched in amazement as Smith hand-crafted the chassis. “Every piece of that chassis was fabricated,” James says. “There were no molds or kits. Everything was cut out, fitted, and welded by hand. The fabrication was unreal.”
As Smith’s dream started to take shape, he began calling companies that provide equipment for fire apparatus. First on his list was R⋅O⋅M Corporation. Cindy Preston, a customer development representative, immediately sensed his passion. “Just talking to him, you could tell his love for the fire industry and how he wanted to share that passion with kids,” Preston says. “I could visualize it. It was exciting, and I wanted us to be a part of it.”
R⋅O⋅M offered to donate a set of roll-up doors for Smith’s project. It was a good start, but more was needed. So Preston reached out to contacts she had in the industry. “Once the ball gets started, you don’t have to give it much of a push,” she says. “Robbie didn’t need help. He had the dream.”
|(2) Robbie Smith introduced his golf cart/fire engine at the 2013 Fire
Department Instructors Conference in in R⋅O⋅M Corporation’s booth.
That dream appealed to Brad Turk, eastern regional sales manager for Rosenbauer America. “Robbie wanted to promote fire safety and the brotherhood to get kids excited about working as firefighters,” Turk said. Rosenbauer donated a grille, effectively turning Smith’s fire engine into a Rosenbauer Commander custom chassis.
One by one, other company representatives were drawn into Smith’s dream and offered to donate and, if necessary, customize equipment for the golf-cart-turned-fire engine. “Robbie’s sincerity came through. You could see the purity of this project,” Menke says.
Menke wanted PowerArc Warning Lights to be a part of that excitement. While acknowledging the opportunity for publicity, he says he donated emergency warning lights for the pure art of the project. “It may be the size of a toy, but it has the heart of a full size fire engine,” he says.
With the pumper nearly complete, there is one very important personal touch that pays homage to another life-changing event in Smith’s life. “See the truck number on the door-1407? That’s my daughter’s birthday,” Smith says. “I had just put it on the engine, and she came outside and looked at it. I said, ‘What really important thing happened on 1407?’ And she just started crying. She loved it.”
Smith says he plans to build more miniature fire engines but refuses to sell this first one. It’s too close to his heart.
Fire professionals who missed taking a picture of the truck at FDIC 2013 can see it again next year. “Robbie accepted the invitation to display in the R⋅O⋅M/FRC booth at FDIC 2014,” says Don Fishel, vice president of sales and marketing for R⋅O⋅M.
KASHA STOLL is a public relations consultant for R⋅O⋅M. She is an award-winning journalist and corporate writer.