The year 1983 was big. The final episode of M*A*S*H aired to 125 million people, the first commercially available mobile phone was introduced to the public and the video game Mario Bros. was released. That same year, a 1983 American LaFrance fire engine joined the Richardson Fire Department’s fleet of support vehicles. Few people would have likely guessed that it would still be a part of the Fire Department nearly 40 years later, but it is, and the public has a unique opportunity to see it each year at local special events and parades, such as the annual Christmas Parade.
Known originally as Engine 4 (named for the Richardson fire station at which it was located), the 30-foot-long diesel vehicle came equipped with a mid-mounted 6-cylinder engine and was capable of pumping out 1,250 gallons a minute.
“I rode on that truck to fight my first fire in Richardson in early 1994, on Amherst Drive,” Assistant Fire Chief Gene Senter recalled. “It was one of our last, what I would call, ‘analog’ engines. After it was taken out of active service in 1996, many controls on the new fire engines were computerized—no more turning dials or flipping levers to tell the engine what to do.”
It was also one of the department’s last “open air” fire engines—new firetrucks have been completely enclosed since the ‘90s, including seatbelts for every position (no more firefighters hanging off the back or standing on top!) Other improvements over the years include increased engine horsepower, increased pumping capacity and greater overall reach, with some trucks now equipped with 78-foot ladders.
While most fire engines are sold at the end of their “useful” lives to recoup costs, Engine 4 was “rescued” by the community it had long protected. Thanks to the generosity of the Citizen Fire Academy Alumni Association and the Richardson Fire Fighters Association, in partnership with the City, it was lovingly repurposed in 2008 to become RFD’s first “caisson,” a vehicle that’s used during funerals. The makeover, done by the Texas Fire Museum, took 18 months with adjustments including: restoring the finish, rebuilding the engine, removing stored equipment to make the vehicle lighter, adding two rows of bench seating on top and mounting a large silver bell at the front right corner of the cab. Today it is still RFD’s sole fire engine caisson and is used by the RFD Honor Guard at firefighter funerals, tasked with transporting fallen active duty or retired firefighters to their final resting place.
Driving the historic Engine 4, whether for funerals or community events, is an honor and a privilege, especially for Senter and any of the 10 other RFD employees remaining who once fought fires with it.
“That’s definitely a nostalgic experience for me,” he noted. “I’m always happy to show it to the community that helped support its restoration and continues to support our department in so many ways.”