The Accessible Fire Truck

Dennis L. Rubin describes a “labor of love” that brought smiles to the faces of a group of special children.


In early 1996, I had the wonderful opportunity to be appointed to the position of fire chief (the local fire God, as some would call it). Among the various and sundry duties of the position was the chance to develop a public education/public information program. The City of Dothan, AL, had several...


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In early 1996, I had the wonderful opportunity to be appointed to the position of fire chief (the local fire God, as some would call it). Among the various and sundry duties of the position was the chance to develop a public education/public information program. The City of Dothan, AL, had several program components, but all needed to be revitalized and there was much room for improvement.

The fire department owned a children's safety house and a 1942 Ford pumper in the line of public education tools. Both were in need of much repair. The work to restore both props was a labor of love and it was truly a pleasure to be a part of the restoration process team.

The children's safety house was completely overhauled inside and out by many capable firefighters. They brought tools from home and coupled with their many great ideas, the semi-portable teaching laboratory was ready to host children throughout the "Wiregrass" (south Alabama) region. The only expense was about a $5,000 investment to rebuild the axles and wheels; neither was designed to a roadworthy standard.

The real treat and challenge turned out to be the complete refurbishing of the 1942 Ford pumper. This "war baby" model had been neglected for decades. The engine had to be overhauled, the tires were dry rotted, the rims had rusted completely through and the paint job looked horrible. With an infusion of about $10,000 and a tremendous effort by the city's vehicle repair shop, the "Butthead" pumper was reworked and reborn.

The finished product touted four coats of fire-engine red paint, brand-new tires, and wheels and axles, among other critical repairs. Once completed, the hosebed area was converted into two long aluminum park benches for about a dozen children to ride upon the shiniest truck in the fleet. Each space set aside for a child was equipped with a new seatbelt, which added another practical teaching dimension to our "Harm Prevention" training. Children were allowed to climb aboard, find their seat, buckle up and hold on tight for a siren-filled, red-lights-flashing ride into fire prevention history. Actually, kids of all ages seem to want to ride on our fire truck.

But what about the disabled children? Shortly after "Parade 1" debuted during our National Peanut Festival, a second request was received for the chief's favorite truck to appear for the kids. This time, the event was the annual Special Olympics opening ceremony. Even though this was a police community event, the police department wanted our presence to help with the children and to show off this beautiful truck. This program was a great fit for the fire department. We had the resources to help with medical support (typically we see a half-dozen "bumps-and-bruises" cases during the regional games) and the fire truck is loved by all types of kids.

On that cool October morning, a significant customer service/public education opportunity was presented to me. Among the dozens of Special Olympians was a young lady who was wheelchair bound. Based on her enthusiasm and sheer determination, she was not going to miss her chance to ride on the fire truck. With the help of four firefighters and four police officers, we were able to get her over the grab rail bar. The total body lift at such a height was difficult for everyone (including our guest). The idea of the "Accessible Fire Truck" was conceived and planned from that point until completion a few years later.

Move the clock up a few years and all of the needed pieces and parts came together to let us place our Accessible Fire Truck, known as "Parade 2," into service.

Our 1958 American LaFrance was screaming for some tender loving care. Interestingly, this amazing hunk of Elmira steel had been repowered with a 6V71 Detroit Diesel engine and matched to a HT70 Allison automatic transmission in the mid-1970s. Soon after the mechanical refurbishment work, the apparatus was assigned to our regional airport fire station. On a positive note, this operation is a very-low-run structural fire response agency. On the negative side, the truck received a new (and somewhat embarrassing) white paint job. When we started on the Accessible Fire Truck journey in earnest, the raw material was of excellent quality.

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