ELMIRA HEIGHTS, N.Y. (WETM) – The Elmira Heights Fire Department is rolling out a piece of history for Memorial Day. A restored 1938 Ward LaFrance fire engine will be taking part in Memorial Day parades in Elmira Heights and Horseheads.
“I don’t know if people are drawn to it because it looks different or just because they believe it’s a part of history, but it always attracts attention no matter where it goes,” said First Assistant Chief Jason Mitchell.
“How does it drive” asked 18 News reporter Nicolas Dubina.
“It’s a chore. It’s complicated,” said Mitchell. “There’s no power anything. The gears are not synchromesh, the brakes are about the only powered thing on it. It’s great responsibility knowing that if anything happens, there’s no more like it. When it was in operation you used to be allowed to ride on the sideboards and the beaver tail. If you had two in the cab, you would often see three or four men on each side plus another three or four guys hanging off the back on the way to the call. The older engines definitely lacked the amount of water moving capacity that the modern engines have. I believe when it was brand new, the pump on this truck could only move about 600 gallons per minute, whereas the other apparatus that we have are about 1500 gallons per minute.”
Elmira Heights used to be at the center of the fire engine industry. The Ward LaFrance Truck Corporation opened on Prescott Avenue in 1916. It stayed in business for more than 60 years before closing in 1979. The company’s founder, Addison Ward LaFrance, was a relative of Truckson LaFrance, who founded the American LaFrance fire engine company in Elmira.
“It was very important here in the village at the time,” said Mayor of Elmira Heights Margaret Smith. “This brings back part of that history, and it’s good for even the children growing up to learn that history and learn it through this firetruck right here. We’re excited to have it back in the village and participating in the parade. We’re all about the historic aspects of everything here in the village, and this is a big part of that.”
“It will come out for special events, parades, funerals, public relations events, the occasional joy ride on a nice hot summer day it’s here to be enjoyed,” said Assistant Fire Chief Mitchell.
To learn more about the 1938 Ward LaFrance fire engine and the history of Elmira Heights, you can visit the Elmira Heights Historical Society.
After the Memorial Day parades, your next opportunity to see the fire engine will be at the Elmira Heights Fire Company Car Show on Sunday June 11th. It will be held on East 14th street from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.