The 1942 American LaFrance
ALF Pumper, 1942 (SAFB Fleet Number 59)
Historic Fire Engine No 0018 (originally HFEAA)
The LaFrance Manufacturing Company was established in 1872 by two brothers, Asa and Truckson LaFrance. Just one year later, they had constructed their first rotary steam fire engine which was to be used locally by the City of Elmira in New York. By 1904, after many name changes and mergers with key American fire apparatus manufacturers, the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company (ALF) was formed. Though the oldest of these manufacturers dated back before the mid-1800s, the latest ascribed name served to remind us of the two largest companies represented, specifically, the American Fire Engine Company of Seneca Falls and the LaFrance Fire Engine Company of Elmira.
The newly formed ALF soon began specialising in motorised appliances and became well-known for their quality products. Funnily enough, it has been noted that some of their later units were so expensive to produce that the Company almost went broke. In 1927, they joined forces with fire extinguishing giants to form the American LaFrance and Foamite Corporation, thereby further expanding their range of offerings. It is undeniable that the Company’s history is inextricably linked with the development of firefighting appliances and equipment in America.
“The American LaFrance people – go about their work with fantastic zeal. They consider fire their personal enemy and are prepared not only for long-range battle (apparatus) but for hand-to-hand combat, turning out extinguishers…”
The above was quoted in ‘… About American LaFrance, Yesterday… And Today…’ (1970) by American LaFrance
Although the American LaFrance was well-known for its local and international exports, the brand did not gain support in Australia for the longest time. Preference was typically given to British manufacturers or local adaptations of American fire apparatus. However, this soon changed when Word War II took hold. During this period, Australia became a beneficiary of the US Lend-Lease aid program whereby thousands of vehicles were supplied for military and civil defence use. The vehicles were leased to the Australian Government and then allocated to individual states based on their requirements.
A total of fifty-eight ALF ‘Type B-601-CO’ pumper chassis and seven ALF ‘Type JOX’ aerial ladders formed the civil defence order. Of these, fifty ALF pumper chassis were supplied to New South Wales and eight to Victoria in 1943. All ALF models supplied were powered by their revolutionary V-12 petrol engines. Each state was then tasked with fitting bodywork and other parts before they were commissioned into service at the local level.
As the ALF Pumpers were surplus to the needs of the New South Wales Fire Brigades (NSWFB; now known as Fire and Rescue NSW), a few were returned to the US Authorities in the same year that they were received. By 1945, a further four had been transferred to the South Australian Government in Adelaide. These units were initially allocated for civil defence duties as was intended, but they later came under the control of the South Australian Fire Brigade, with some remaining in service until the early 1970s.
That is where the Museum’s 1942 ALF Pumper comes in. You might know that the Museum’s 1940 Diamond-T Pumper was driven from Adelaide to Sydney by members of the Historic Fire Engine Association of Australia (HFEAA). But it was not the only vehicle to make the four-day trek to Sydney. The 1942 ALF Pumper joined the Diamond-T in its journey, driven through the cold winter of 1971 by individuals keen to preserve these beautiful vehicles for their historic value. Please feel free to check out this post on the history of the 1940 Diamond-T if you would like to learn more https://www.museumoffire.net/single-post/a-diamond-in-south-australia
The 1942 ALF was a top-of-the-line model, powered by the mightiest engine produced in America at the time. This V-12 overhead camshaft petrol engine was one of the most distinguishing features of the ALF units sent to Australia during the active period of the Lend-Lease program. Like the Diamond-T, the unit was previously utilised by the South Australian Fire Brigade. There, the 1942 ALF Pumper was allocated Fleet Number 59.
In the late 1950s, the unit was refitted with a forward-facing body (as opposed to the outward-facing ‘Braidwood’ style) by Freighter-Lawton. This modification allowed for increased locker space for carrying essential firefighting equipment and hose. Up until 1971, when the appliance was acquired for preservation purposes by the HFEAA, it was used in the City of Adelaide as a reserve/training unit, and it was one of the last four remaining appliances in operation at the time. Following its arrival in Sydney in 1971, the 1942 ALF Pumper took up residence at several homes before it was officially transferred to the Museum of Fire.
-Story by Laura Anderson, Museum of Fire Curator