Salem (NJ) Fire Chief Seeks Help to Restore Antique Fire Apparatus

Salem Fire Chief Fred Ayars is trying to save a piece of the department’s and the city’s history, and he’s asking for just a little help to do it.

About two years ago, he bought a 1940 American LaFrance 561 Close Cab fire engine that was originally purchased by the city for Washington Fire Company in 1940.

The old truck still runs, but Ayars wants to fix it up so it can be a symbol of pride for Salem.

He recently started a donation page on to raise some money for the project. He put a goal of $20,000 but only because he had to.

“It was tough for me to start that page, because I own (the truck),” he said. “The city and the fire company are in no position to go buying antique fire trucks. … Although I know it’s more of a community project since, when it’s done, we’re going to donate it to the Salem Fire Museum, and it will become part of the department.”

He said any amount of money donated would be greatly appreciated, but he knows, in the end, it’s going to be on him to finish the project.

“Just in the last two days I’ve raised $500,” Ayars said. “I would be ecstatic if it ended there. To think that people gave me $500, I’m just totally amazed by that generosity.”

A few friends have offered to help in order to bring the labor costs down. However, Ayars said there are some things he can’t avoid.

“Just to get the motor overhauled is $5,000, and I have to ship it to Texas,” he said. “That’s not paint, it’s not gold leaf, that’s not electrical work. That’s just the motor, and it’s $5,000 right off the top.”

Ayars plans on rehabbing the frame and doing some body work while the truck is stripped down and the motor is out for repairs.

The truck has a long way to go before it’s fully restored, but it’s nothing compared to how far it’s gone in its 75-year lifetime.

The truck came to Salem on a rail car along with a twin truck in August 1940, Ayars said.

Washington Fire Co. got the closed cab version and the old North Bend Fire Co. got an open cab, but essentially, they were the same truck. It was purchased for about $8,000 and remained in service with Washington Fire Co. until 1965 when it was sold to a fire department in Georgia.

From there it was sold to a department in Parnell, Missouri.

The American LaFrance trucks weren’t Ayars’ original targets when he started looking to buy an antique engine, but he was surprised by how close they ended up years after they both arrived in Salem.

Ayars’ dream truck was a 1957 Seagrave owned by Union Fire Co., his father’s company.

“I have a picture of myself sitting on the fender of the ’57 Seagrave wearing my dad’s captain’s helmet and sitting with my pet dalmatian,” he said. “So I started searching … but the last time that truck was seen was when it was heading north on 295, and it broke down on the side of the road. They said it was a pile of rust, and they think it was headed for the scrap yard.”

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