Friday, April 30, 2010

Pictures, a Phone Call, and Getting Over It

We're actually going to do those in reverse.

After re-reading the last post, seeing once again the oft-repeated apologies aimed to the Tacoma guys of days past for being essentially crazy back in the day near the end of it, I felt like those comments derailed the post. It's over. I'm just not going to do that any more. It was over twenty years ago. I was an idiot, I was lucky, some of the guys helped me, I'm way past it, and am now a veteran firefighter who has by now paid it all back. No more apologizing about it.

OK, then.

Last night I got an email from the current owner of one of 17's identical sisters in Florida. You can see a picture of that pumper in her new life here. It seems they might be willing to assist me in the work by sending along photos of their pumper, which theoretically has not been modified or abused as much as 17, so I can set things right and obtain proper matching equipment to replace missing things. That was Good News.

But that was just a precursor to today's out-of-the-blue phone call from the Tacoma Fire Department. Apparently.... apparently.... they may still have one of the other identical sisters in storage somewhere after all. The person I talked to thought TFD's was at the old Station 12, but I was at old 12's about a month ago on my own for this very purpose, and saw no apparatus in the building (though the old Truck 3, a 1980's Mack CF, is sadly rotting away in the weather out back). Still, the figurative door is open a crack that there may still be one of 17's sisters around, and now I know for sure that someone is checking into that for me and will help me arrange access to it -- if the rumor proves true. This may end up being Great News. We shall see. Fingers crossed.

Finally, another batch of pictures. The thumbnails are small because there are so many. Click on any of them for a big version.

I forgot to grab a picture of these before, but for some reason all of the tailboard clearance lights were removed except the corners. All three off the center, and both of the side lights. Did these disappear when the upper lights went away and someone put those amber ones on? Weird. Guess I'm looking for five proper-vintage red clearance lights now.

I was about to back her up from being out today, and asked my wife to spot me since the kids were around. Then I remembered all of a sudden the back-up horn buttons in the back. Before OSHA and whoever else declared the end of tailboard riding - even for backing into quarters - these pumpers had small horn buttons on the back for a riding spotter to signal the driver. How well I remember as a kid, Engine 8 would pull up, the officer would get out and go into the station, while the jumpseat guy would go back and jump onto the tailboard. the engine would pull forward across the road into position, the tailboard guy would give three honks to signal OK to back up, and the driver would acknowledge with three quick chirps of the air horn. When backed in, the tailboard guy would honk once for stop. If the tailboard guy needed you to go forward again, it was two honks, but that was rare.

Anyway, the memory suddenly splashed into my awareness and I went to check for them. Unsurprisingly, the buttons are gone. The picture above shows the hole on one of the sides in back where they used to be.

Here's the little speaker that the current parade siren is hooked up to. You can see that it is positioned effectively to freak out the guy in the jumpseat.

Another loose wire that went somewhere for something.

I thought one of the airhorns wasn't working, and checked the air lines, but they seem all intact. So I had one of my sons test the horns while I stood on the front bumper. To my chagrin, after reporting one of the horns disconnected, I have to report my error: They both work. But they are still out of tune and sound like delivery truck horns.

Another shot of the air line under the cab roof in back. This puzzled me. The air line is tapped here, but the tap is capped off now and goes nowhere. I cannot for the life of me figure out where a third line from the air horns would have gone, or why. To be clear, this is after the valve, so the capped tap shown would only get air while the horns were being blown. Anyone???

I have no idea what this access panel is for, there does not appear to be anything useful that can be seen or manipulated through here. But you get another view of the dashboard, including a better shot of the dash-top gauge with the broken housing.

I have no idea what this is for, either. It involves moving air for something. Another cooling air intake? It seems like every time I poke around on 17 I find something else I don't know about. This is a symptom of being a long time firefighter, too. After five years on the job, many think they know it all, but some of us spend every year realizing how much we still don't know, and it the more you learn the more you again realize you don't know. Seventeen years of this now for's kind of scary and sobering, actually.

And my parting shot, fueling at the local country store up the road from my place. Always creates a minor stir there when I bring 17 over for fuel. The owner is a firefighter himself for a neighboring district, so we always seem to chat about the latest goings on.

Thanks for coming along on the ride. What else will we realize that we don't know before the day is over?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Back in the Battalion

Not related to Engine 17 in the slightest, but amusing anyway.

I'd been gone from the Pacific Northwest for a long time, but now that I am back, it is nice to make up old connections again.

Sister has now joined the volunteer canteen/rehab unit run by the Tacoma Fire Buffs, is moving along nicely in her bid to change careers and finally get into the emergency services, and is currently hip-deep in EMT class. I had a chance to meet with several of the group members recently, and several seemed amused at the stories I shared of days gone by. It's easy to be amused today at things that were not amusing twenty years ago, though.

Accordingly, I recently got this memo from the group:
Tacoma/Pierce County Fire Buff Battalion

April 17, 2010

Subject: Frank (last name withheld by request)

Dear Sir,

It has come to this club's attention that you seem to have some past and present interests in the Tacoma/Pierce County Fire Buff Battalion. We are a very strictly run club, who not only play by the most serious and strictest rules, but create them.

Therefore your interest raised much discussion amongst our membership, at our last meeting on April 17, 2010. Needless to say some of the membership had met you in person. Yet others had to pass on important observations and insights, some were pro others con. So after several rounds of gut wrenching laughing, I, Cat Urbon, current President of the Tacoma/Pierce County Fire Buff Battalion called for a motion to be placed on the floor. Kenn Smith, long time firefighter, and newly retired (who remembers the crazy kid on the bike) put a motion on the floor to accept you into the club under the guidelines of and as Honorary Member, this motion was seconded by Bob Urbon. Upon voting you were unanimously accepted.

Furthermore you will be entitled to a copy of our monthly newsletter, allowed to respond to fires when in town (NO BIKE, RADIO OR SIREN PLEASE), and will be hereby nicknamed Sparky, Flash's brother. I would like to personally congratulate and welcome you into the insanity.

Cat Urbon, President

I don't even know what happened to that old bike. But I've got my own fire engine now, and they didn't say I couldn't bring that, so who cares?

OK, that was wry sarcasm, all right? Just making sure.

On a serious note, I once again repeat my thanks to Tacoma firefighters of days gone by who tolerated me and kept me alive until I became useful to the service later on, or at least not in the way any more.

If you had told me twenty years ago that I would eventually live in an active fire station and be provided in-service apparatus by the department to run calls - well let me tell you that running an active fire station (chores, maintenance, upkeep, etc) single-handedly while still holding down a full time job, it's a LOT of work - but nonetheless I know it is a very cool gig to have and I am very lucky to have been chosen and have the opportunity to serve my current agency in this way.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More work to come

I checked the electric hose reel rewind. It works. Hurrah!

I crawled on the ground under the cab to look closer at the hardware behind the leaking air from the brake pedal, which looks fairly straightforward. However, while under there, I took note of two unrelated wires simply clipped off and wrapped around other parts to keep them out of the way. No idea what they were for, where they go, but I suspect they are related to how many things in the cab don't work.

So, that curiosity got me to poke my head under the dash for the first time.

Mother of Hector, I wish I hadn't seen that! Oh man...... it is a jumbled mess. Looks like five or six amateurs, each with different ideas about how things are done, ran wiring to little projects here and there over the years, since 17's Tacoma days (I can't imagine the Tacoma Fire Garage techs allowing this!). Some stuff is hanging or wrapped around other stuff, some wires are clipped short, some terminals simply pulled out. Wires change colors between the butt splices, and are jammed through openings not intended for wiring. Relays and other widgets are affixed under the dash but with no wires attached at all. Wow.

New task: Rewire just about everything under the dash.

What a MESS.

Thanks for coming along on the ride, but hand me those wire strippers, will ya?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pictures of the work to come

Had 17 out for some pictures today, as requested by the new insurance carrier. Here's all four sides. I made these thumbnails, and all those to follow, small, because this post has a lot of pictures. Click any of them for a larger version.

As long as I had her out, I did a walk around to once again get my head around the work to be done.

Mechanically, these are the issues I know of that one can't easily take pictures of:
  • There is a minor but audible air leak while the brake pedal is pressed. - had this one explained in the comments.
  • Major crack in plumbing from tank to pump, tank cannot carry water.
  • Pump will not engage, prior owner indicated a (minor?) actuator problem.
  • Engine surges up and down for about 15 seconds after a cold start. - also had this one explained in the comments.
  • Primary air system leaks, takes about two minutes to build pressure to release the brakes.
  • One of the air horns is not operating, the other is not tuned correctly. - turns out both work, but both are out of tune.
  • Left windshield wiper operates only one direction. If you put it back and turn it on again, you get one swipe.
  • The compression/retard brake pedal has no effect, and does not act to slow the pumper.
  • Rotating red light on the roof sometimes stalls and will not rotate. Being replaced anyway, so no big deal.
  • Officer's side spotlight power is tied to the same source as the high beam wig-wag flasher. Wig wags off = no officer's spotlight.
And then here are the visual items requiring attention of various priorities:

Capped outlet for Stang water cannon visible over the crow's nest. Just under that, a capped outlet into the hose bed, and right there in the forefront, a capped outlet at the rear step. The left side rear outlet is still in service, though.

Not sure why someone put amber DOT clearance lights back here, as they should be red. The directional alternating flashers used to be here, but Tacoma removed them and installed newer style 360 strobe lights (amber on the right, red on the left) around 1985 or so. The flat bracket just above the clearance light is a TFD custom job, installed to hold those new strobes. Unsurprisingly, the strobes are now also gone, skyped by a previous owner to use somewhere else.

Argh. Tire chain damage. This body/paint area is the worst of the entire pumper.

Rust on the tow hooks. Not hard to fix. There's incidental rust elsewhere, of course.

The Krang. A nice ALF Owners Network member sent me a clearance light to replace the one I sheared off. From the sounds of things that I've heard while figuring out how to fix this, it probably won't be too hard to handle. Also obvious here is the scratches and rust on the fender kick plate, and the naked pedestal waiting for a Federal Q2B to once again be installed.

A pathetic amount of booster hose, and an equally pathetic booster hose nozzle. The more I am around 17, the more I think she must have been relegated to mostly grass fire duty before her final retirement.

Hose bed needs a new oak tray. I forgot again to test to see if the electric hose reel rewind is operative.

Dashboard is a bit rusty, along with gunk from previous sundry things glued/taped to the dash, and the defrost air vent directional vane insert is missing from the officer's side.

Other side of the dash. Ladder rack down indicator light is missing. More rust. And one of the dash-mount gauges has a broken housing (but still functions).

Fuel gauge occasionally opts to tell me there is fuel, but usually doesn't. At best, with a full tank, it once told me I had a quarter tank.

I don't know what used to be in this blank hole. The little black box on the lower left is a momentary siren controller, connected to a wimpy electronic speaker mounted behind the left jumpseat. My guess is that it was intended to be used for parade sound effects. It makes four authentic sounds depending on the button pushed, but you have to hold the button down to keep it going. It's main use now is startling the yeebers out of a passenger in the left jumpseat. It will go away at whatever point I obtain and reinstall that Q2B.

I don't need to describe what here is non-stock. Several of these toggle switches now go nowhere or do nothing. The console light in top center comes on when it feels like it.

AO's spotlight does not work at all, and would be hard (impossible) to fully manipulate with that major piece of the controller handle missing.

This is not a maintenance issue, but a neat tie to 17's Tacoma past that I only noticed for the first time today. This is (or rather, was) the phone number to the Poison Information line at the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma. The age of this label is given away in that the first two digits are letters instead of numbers (BR2-1281 = 272-1281). This label is affixed to the inside center of the cab roof.

Hah! The hydraulic ladder rack works perfectly. Just need some ladders so it doesn't look naked.

All rear tail light, back-up light, and brake light lenses are cracked like this, though thankfully all are still intact with no gaping holes.

Missing a few widgets here on the pump panel.

So...... that's what I'm up against. It's so, so worth it, though.

Thanks for coming along on the ride. Don't forget to read the previous post below, still seeking your thoughts and opinions on the painting project.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A bit of a situation, opinions sought

I really don't have the funds to paint 17 red right now. I could possibly go further into debt to get it done, but that is not fiscally responsible. Still, my fellow firefighting friend Art seems ready to do the job and give me a pretty reasonable deal on it. For sure, I can and will do everything I can to bring the costs down, by removing trim and attachments, masking, etc.

But here's the deal. I have discovered that a former Tacoma firefighter who will for now remain un-named, but with a long history at Tacoma Station 8 when I was a kid, still engages in his old moonlighting job and hobby, doing pinstriping and vehicle lettering, with real paint, by hand, the old-fashioned way. It would be sweet poetry to get 17's original markings restored by him, but getting 17 red has to come first. At least the outer cab and body. The cab interior, jumpseat interior and hosebed can wait if necessary for this to happen.

I don't know how much longer he'll be doing this. I don't want to wait years to get it done and miss this opportunity. Certainly I can probably find someone else to do the job if he can't or doesn't want to. Still... it is a neat situation - with an expiration date.

So... looking for opinions. Do I go into further into debt and get it done? Ignore the sentimental side, and stay fiscally smart? Is it pretentious of me to consider allowing donations (I've pointedly avoided this so far), in order to move this along?

I'm glad you're all along with me for the ride. If you could share your thoughts with me now, I would appreciate it very much.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sisters of Engine 17

Thanks to the community at, I have been able to secure photos of two of Engine 17's identical Tacoma sisters, and can finally share closer detailed examples of what she looked like before being painted white over lime green. However, in both cases, the pictures were taken late, so the period touches such as hand-lettered numbers and doors are long gone.

First we have a unit placarded as Engine 7, but if you look at the lower rear compartment you can see where the large decal "16" was either painted over or removed. Engine 7, as I recall, had one of the sisters at the same time Engine 16 did, and they were both replaced close together, in 1989, I think. If I had to guess, extending myself way into conjectureland, this photo is from around 1990, after both rigs had been replaced, and for whatever reason the new E7 was out for maintenance and old E16 was filling in as a reserve rig. There is evidence of body or paint damage, as the AO's compartment and left rear fender are a darker shade of red, as is the nose between the skirt and windshield. This pic does show, however, the Stang cannon and alternating red lights above the windshield that have disappeared from Engine 17. No idea where this rig is today, or if she still exists.

Photo Credit: "Big Dave"

Second is another of the sisters, but I have no idea which one she ever was. The owner of this photo indicated that the picture was taken around 2000, in Seattle. So, ten years ago, one of the sisters was accounted for there. What caught my eye quickly was that the hand-painted yellow trim lines are still on the rear compartment doors, when as far as I knew they had been removed from all the rigs when decals went into vogue. The Stang cannon is gone, the crosslays are empty, the Q2B is gone and replaced with something else. The silver paint over the rear wheel is not original, and the front bumper is pushed up slightly. The pump panel, however, has been "over-restored" with a sheet metal backing that is not original, and as far as I know was never done on one of these sisters while in Tacoma. I wish I knew the disposition of this engine.

Photos Credit: "Brian Birmingham"

Last up is an unrelated treat that also came up at FirePics. This is the 1976 American LaFrance Century Telesqurt that replaced my Engine 17 in 1976, and is the 17 that I remember from my childhood. Since this engine was #17 and bought in 1976 ("17, 76"), she was given distinctive bicentennial markings that included the blue stars on the roof and Squrt, and a "17" on the back of the Squrt circled with blue stars. I love the blue-painted electronic siren on the roof, I had forgotten that touch, and I had also forgotten (or never noticed before) that this engine also had yellow trim lines on her compartment doors like the 1970 batch. If you recall my interpretation of Station 17 history earlier in the blog, you'll remember that Truck 5 was supposed to have been started up there, but never happened. In 1976, this engine, along with Engine 11 (the other side of south Tacoma), were given Telesqurts, and I can only surmise that this was a compromise for never getting Truck 5 in service. No idea where this rig went after her Tacoma service.

Photo Credit: "Big Dave"

With the arrival of the new 17, my Engine 17 was reassigned for the first time, and would respond as Engine 9 for the next four years until being replaced by a Mack CF (one of Tacoma's first lime-yellow apparatus), and then would move to Station 10 for the next seven years to wrap up her Tacoma front-line career.

Bits and pieces...... bits and pieces.