Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Beginning

I grew up in Tacoma, Washington, just a few doors down from Fire Station 8 at South 43rd and "L" Streets. Although my sister had the 'bug' first, by the time I was out of elementary school, I knew that I wanted to be a firefighter when I grew up.

I started hanging around Station 8 all the time. I mean, ALL the time. I was an over-the-top Fire Buff... someone who just loves being around firefighters and firefighting. Without going into too much detail (because this blog isn't really supposed to be about me), let's just say that it is a miracle that I didn't get myself killed, the way I chased after calls in South Tacoma on my bicycle and often got a bit too close to the action.

I owe much to the patience of the firefighters of that time who kept me alive despite myself. Mel Smith, Milt Nelson, Joe Stiles, Brian Trunk, Kenny Faulkner, Mike Newhouse, Davey Jones, Don Hoffman, Jeff Hokensen, Ben Baltazar, Cornelius Winesberry, Lonnie Hampton ... these are a few of the names that come right to mind, but there were many others. Some patient, others not so much - but understandably so. Yeah you guys, I was pretty much hopeless, all enthusiasm and no common sense, but you all kicked me in the teeth and busted my balls enough that I eventually became useful as a firefighter later on.


Back in the day, Engine 8 was a 1970 American LaFrance 'Type 900' pumper, and being the first engine I became very familiar with, it is established in my mind as the embodiment of the romanticised ideal fire engine. Tacoma had eight of these engines, as well as three ALF truck companies (two 80' (?) Snorkels and a tiller-driven aerial), from 1970. Tacoma already had some 1964 Type 900's before this, and also eventually ran another ALF TDA (1972) and a couple of ALF Century Series pumpers with 50' Telesqrt booms (1976) before moving to other manufacturers in subsequent years.

Fast forward.

I have been a firefighter since 1993. There is a small set of firefighters and other fire buffs who own old fire apparatus, not unlike all of the many car collectors out there. It's just that fire engines require a bigger storage space. I had long wanted to pick up an old pumper, but had no specific schedule to do so.

A month or so ago, an old engine showed up on a used car lot near me. I stopped in to see it, a 1966 Mack Model 'C'. It was nice enough, had issues to be expected on a 45 year old truck, but nothing show-stopping. I was hemming and hawing about it. Money I could arrange. Storage I had already. But was this 'the one'?

While discussing it with my sister, she asked about the old '70 ALF Engine 8, which had been replaced in 1987 with a lime-yellow Spartan/Thibault pumper that lacked character (and a Q2B siren). She didn't remember what year it was, or quite how it looked.

When crafting my reply, I did a web search to find pictures of a 1970 ALF pumper for reference.

The 3rd result: A CraigsList ad posted only the day prior, offering one of Tacoma's eight 1970 American LaFrance pumpers for sale.

No. Way.

It would have been grand to get my hands on any late 60's or early 70's ALF, that would have been close enough. Really cool to get a '70 ALF, the 'right' year. But one of the eight 1970 Tacoma ALFs? Are you kidding? I have heard so many times from people who talked about rare or once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to buy the fill-in-the-blank, didn't jump on it, and forever regretted it. The implausibility of how this played out only encouraged my feeling that it was 'meant to be'. So, I followed the advice given, contacted the seller immediately, and picked it up a few days later.

As it turned out, this pumper was Tacoma Engine 10 in its last full-time assignment with Tacoma, from the district located just to the south of Engine 8's district. When Tacoma eventually sold it from their reserve fleet, it was picked up by Grant County Fire District #5, who owned it for the next thirteen years. Grant 5 painted it white over lime yellow (travesty!!), and it was serving as Grant 5's Engine 561 upon its second retirement. Old Engine 10 found its third career with Grant County Fire District #13, where it was serving as Engine 1312 when retired for the final time three years ago.

At least two private owners later, I now own her.

And that's the story of how this all got started.


  1. I am SO glad and happy that you're writing this blog. This is a one-of-a-kind story, especially since I have so much personal historical knowledge about you and firefighting (and fire engines!) as well. Go for it, Young Son!

    FJB3 - YourDad

  2. I too, am glad you are writing this blog. I am starting a blog titled "Flashpointz" and will be telling my story, as well, there. (And anything else I feel like blah blah blahing about.) You are doing a great job telling this story.


    Hotflash -your BIG SIS

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