Orange County (CA) Fire Apparatus Restored

A 1957 Orange County Fire engine was recently restored by the California Fire Museum. It was primarily used by volunteer firemen before being taken out of operation in the early 1980s.

The history of Orange Count’s fire and rescue operations can be told many different ways, but it’s on property owned but the Santa Margarita Water District that it’s communicated through decades of vehicles: The first-run engines that were dispatched for major emergencies, the second-run trucks sent to squelch brush fires, and rescue vehicles like the 1957 GMC Rescue Panel recently restored by the California Fire Museum.

“Panel trucks were used around the country, but not this exact style,” said Don Croucher, vice president of the not-for-profit California Fire Museum. “The dual wheels and bigger body was unique to Orange County.”

Faded red, faded orange and often encumbered with rust, the trucks are stored on the rare piece of donated property that can accommodate a bunch of historically significant, if decaying, trucks that were long ago put out to pasture, having served the community for years saving lives.

They’re separated into a bay of “stuff we’re going to restore” and “stuff that’s halfway decent we can use for events that is still running.” The 1957 GMC Rescue Panel truck was in the latter camp before getting a $4,600 paint job financed with a donation from the Orange County Fire Services Association. It was one of the easier jobs on the California Fire Museum roster as it prepares for its Orange County debut.

The 1957 GMC Rescue Panel started its service at the Newhope Volunteer Fire Department station on Figueroa Street in Santa Ana, where it was often used to transport medical aids, such as oxygen and resuscitators, to traffic accidents, much like paramedics do today. It spent most of its career at the Donheny Fire Station in Capistrano Beach.

The rare rescue panel trucks entirely built by GMC, the O.C. trucks were characterized by extra-long bodies riding on dual wheels in the back that were so wide, they necessitated punched-out fenders. The first such trucks were used by the county in Westminster, starting in 1952. The 1957 now owned by the Fire Museum was used as originally intended through 1972, when it was restationed to the La Palma Police Department, repainted black and white and eventually pressed into service as a SWAT vehicle.

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