A brief look at classic fire trucks

PROTECTING THE BUSH... The Leyland 1972 Tanker was in service at Beech Forest Fire Brigade, Victoria, from 1972 until the late 90s. Photo: Deanne Jeffers.

YOU cannot miss the modern-day fire truck with its blaring sirens, blazing lights and torrents of water.

Until the mid-19th century, most fire engines were steered and moved by men. This was until the introduction of horse-drawn fire engines, which considerably reduced incident response times. Reportedly, motorised fire engines date back to 1897, when police in France applied for money to purchase “a machine worked by petroleum for the traction of a fire-engine, ladders, and so forth.” By the turn of the 20th century, motorised fire engines had become the norm.

For several years firefighters would travel seated or standing around the exterior or rear of the truck. This arrangement was accepted but it was dangerous. Some firefighters lost their lives being thrown from the truck or by being exposed to the elements, such as smoke. Similarly, equipment such as hoses, axes, shovels, and ladders were equipped to the exterior of the truck for easy access. Sirens were originally a brass ball attached to the vehicle that would be rung by hand to alert people of danger.

The first pumpers used cisterns as a source of water. Wooden pipes would later be installed under the streets where a ‘fire plug’ would be pulled out at the top of the pipe and a suction hose would be inserted to access water. Modern systems use pressure to pump water, and today’s fire hydrants are kept under constant pressure to be most effective. Pressure was formatively triggered by the sound of a fire alarm, but this process was found to be ineffective.

The 1972 Leyland Tanker, one of three classic fire engines on display in Kialla’s Museum of Vehicle Evolution (MOVE), was in service at Beech Forest Fire Brigade, Victoria, from 1972 until the late 90s. Leyland Motors Ltd. was a British vehicle manufacturer of buses, trucks, and coaches. When the ’72 Tanker was sold, the vehicle was purchased by the Beech Forest Township Community.

Here it became the community’s fire truck until 2010, when it was then held as a reserve appliance.

Of MOVE’s fleet of classic fire trucks, a 1950s Chevrolet fire truck has been reserved for visitors to experience by climbing a top of or ringing the brass bell. Bring the kids or come down yourself and get a feel for history and how vehicles have changed our response to fire fighting.