Durham Fire Department buys a piece of its past

May. 18, 2014 @ 04:03 PM

It served Durham with distinction for 27 years, and almost fell off a bridge when it was 6 years old.

But the 1949 American LaFrance fire truck that was replaced in 1976 has returned, a little worse for wear but still striking a handsome pose.
The Durham Fire Department and its union bought the ladder truck two weeks ago after it had changed hands several times during the previous 38 years.
It’s destined to become a shining jewel in the department’s future museum, to be housed at Station One on Morgan Street downtown.
For the moment, it’s at the Fire Department’s training center on East Club Boulevard, awaiting the loving care it needs to run again.
The person who was instrumental in bringing the American LaFrance back to Durham is fire Capt. Sean Boone.
A former South Carolina firefighter who bought the truck at auction sold it to the department for $2,000, about half a million dollars less than it would cost to build today.
The goal is to restore it to its former glory, and use it in parades and the museum, Boone said.
“I was very excited when I saw the truck,” Boone said. “It still says ‘City of Durham’ on the side.”
Like a war veteran, the truck saw plenty of action in its day, and nearly lost its life in service.
On July 31, 1955, the truck’s steering malfunctioned and nearly tumbled off a bridge at Avondale Drive and Trinity Avenue during a fire call.
“The front of it was hanging off the bridge with three firefighters,” Boone said. “One of the firefighters was thrown from the truck, but survived.”
The truck was fixed and returned to service for another 21 years.
When the museum opens in the lower level of Station One – which could be as much as two years away – the LaFrance will join the department’s two other vintage trucks: a 1902 American LaFrance steamer and a 1935 Ahrens-Fox pumper.
Boone hopes the museum will be a big draw for school groups and other Durham residents.
“We’ll have stuff we’ve collected over the years,” said Boone, who hopes others with fire items from the past will donate them.
The museum will display photos going back more than 120 years. Other exhibits will include a “call box” that residents once used to alert the department to fires, and old rule books that detailed how firefighters should dress and present themselves in public.
“In the old days, you didn’t go outside without your tie and hat on,” Boone said.
Durham Fire Chief Dan Curia said he’s happy that the American LaFrance has come home.
“I think the sentiment in our department is that we really need to embrace our history and know about our past,” Curia said. “The fire truck is a tangible reminder of the city of Durham’s growth. The better we understand where we came from as an organization, the better we can guide where we go.”

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TO DONATE

To donate items to the future fire museum, call Capt. Sean Boone at 919-560-4242.