Saturday, March 22, 2014

American LaFrance - down for the third time, and out.



The iconic American La France fire engine company closed its doors in January ending a long down- hill slide.
The historic company, which traced its roots back to the days of hand pumps in the 1830s, began building trucks in 1907 and continued as a major supplier until the 1980s. A takeover by Daimler through Freightliner in 1995 seemed to breathe life back into the company, but it was  not to be. In 2005 a New York investment firm bought the company and drove it into bankruptcy in 2008. Although the company was re-organized later the same year, it was much reduced and continued to shrink as orders dried up amid claims of poor quality and lack of customer support.
The closure also seems to have included the Ladder Towers Inc business (LTI)

American LaFrance had a Canadian manufacturing division in Toronto which assembled apparatus under the name LaFrance-Foamite. It closed in 1971.

Halifax Fire and Emergency Services and its predecessors have had a few LaFrances over the years, and continue to have three trucks on the roster.

02-305L is my neighbourhood's aerial device. It answered an exhaust fan fire this morning around the corner from my house, prompting this posting. It has a 110 foot LTI ladder and 1750 gpm pump.It also has a 25 imp.gal. foam tank. A handsome looking truck, it dates from the Daimler/Freightliner era, and  is entirely reliable. (2014-03-22, Morris Street at South Park)



A pair of quints, 01-143Q and 01-144Q round out the current  ALF roster. They carry 28 meter LTI ladders and 1750 gpm pumps.

LaFrance's Canadian output, was indistinguishable from the US units, except for the name "American" which was dropped in deference to Canadian sensibilities.

Kentville, Nova Scotia ran this LaFrance pumper, photographed in 1981. An evolution of the older "bathtub" cabs, its yellow paint had faded somewhat from the original hue.  
 
 
I have posted other photos of LaFrance apparatus on this site, most recently the Caribou, Maine department, November 18, 2013.
 
Here are a few retired bathtub models, photographed in Pierreville's back yard (I was lucky not to be shot when I took these):
 

I believe the upper photo shows two former Toronto units.
 
LaFrances were the best selling apparatus for years and countless numbers of them have been preserved by department all over North America.
 
Seattle, WA has this 1907 , 700 gpm steamer in its collection, pulled by a 1916 Seagrave tractor,
 
Pinellas Park FL preserved this chain drive triple combination pumper/ladder/foam car, their first piece of mechanized equipment, dating from 1925.
 

 Pictou, NS has preserved this unit dating from the 1920s.
 
 
Stratford, ON has two preserved LaFrances. In the background is a 1914 (some say 1915) chain drive  triple combination, and this massive open cab pumper from the 1940s.
 
As a child growing up in Stratford, I remember these well. The big gas engine in the pumper, with no air cleaner  probably did not need a siren - it was loud enough on its own. The smaller triple had a hand cranked siren that kids were allowed to operate on fire hall visits. It is virtually identical to the Pinellas Park unit.
 
 
Now back to  some more working apparatus:
 
Brasher Winthrop in upstate New York ran this classic pumper tanker in its rural and village service. The massive pump panel was a wonder to behold. (1986 photo)
 
Portsmouth, NH had this aerial unit well fitted with ladders and outriggers, but seemingly without wheel chocks. The mechanic working under the truck must believe more in brakes than in gravity. (1988 photo)
 
Windsor, NS's 100 ft aerial was in Truro for servicing in 2003. Note the special low rise cab built to fit a smaller low fire hall. When Freightliner took over American LaFrance, there was a huge dealer support network.
 
Trying to break in to the lower price market, Freightliner developed the Metropolitan chassis to compete with Spartan. It was a short lived experiment, but they did eventually come up with the Condor, which is still produced by Freightliner.
 
One last look down nostalgia lane:
 
This ALF that was Halifax Fire Department's ladder #3, running out of University Avenue station in 1971. Photo on Morris Street at Queen, in front of my house at the time.
 
The next #3 aerial was also a American LaFrance rear mount, also running from University Ave, seen here at the Victoria General Hospital (1990 photo).


A 1957 American LaFrance 1000 gpm pumper was removed from regular service in 1982, and became Spare Engine #4. However it was brought in to work the Dalhousie University Law School fire, August 16, 1985. The fire, started by lightning, was virtually across the street from the University Avenue fire station. Note the black and white cop car.
 
 
.

4 comments:

  1. Quick correction - Windsor's aerial is a 1989 and originally served Uniondale, NY. Also, HRM operates four Freightliner FL112 1800 gallon pumper/tankers with ALF bodywork.

    Carbonear, NL had a 1978 ALF that I think was ex-Halifax. It was in service until a few years ago.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Another quick note - the Kentville truck was a 1961 900 series.

    Great post, BTW. And perfect timing - I was trying to determine whether the name plate read "Lafrance" or "LaFrance."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Halifax also has 3 pumper tanker's on frieghtliner chassis,and one custom pumper

    ReplyDelete
  4. I loved the 1957 rebuilt Halifax rig so much I had to kitbash one in 1/87 scale on a 900 chassis, love the old Halifax pics.

    ReplyDelete