03 December 2010
THE AHRENS-FOX FIRE APPARATUS AND THE FDNY
Ahrens-Fox fire apparatus -- quality, power, impressiveness, longevity. These are all qualities associated with this brand of fire apparatus. These vehicles served many departments, not only in the United States, but throughout the world.
Although not the largest fleet of Ahrens-Fox fire apparatus to serve any one department, fifty Ahrens-Fox rigs protected New York City during a period that spanned six decades, beginning in 1915, and lasting into 1972. During this time period, the Ahrens-Fox apparatus fought some of the most spectacular and historic multiple alarm fires in New York's history. The fifty rigs included pumpers, both piston and centrifugal models, aerial ladders, and even an airport crash rig, converted from a pumper, and believed to be the only Ahrens-Fox airport crash unit in service anywhere.
New York City's Ahrens-Fox story begins with the delivery of six Model MK-2 piston pumpers in 1915. These vehicles were ordered on April 23, 1915 and were placed in service from October 15, 1915 through March 16, 1916. They were among the earliest motorized gasoline powered pumpers to enter F.D.N.Y. service, predated only by a 1911 Waterous 750 gpm piston pumper and two 1913 Nott 500 gpm rotary gear pumpers which lasted only until 1918. These six units carried AhrensFox serial numbers 801 through 806, had open cabs, right hand steering, solid rubber tires, chain drive, lantern-style lamps for head lights, hand cranked sirens and no windshields. Their front-mounted piston pumps were rated at 750 gpm at 120 psi pump pressure. At least one of these pumpers (803) was later retrofitted with a deck pipe while another (806) had an overhead ladder rack installed.
Before delivery of the 1915 order had been completed, another contract was placed with Ahrens-Fox on February 8, 1916, for two additional MK-2 pumpers identical to the 1915 models. Both of these, carrying Ahrens-Fox serial numbers 817 and 818, were placed in service on July 16 and August 16, 1916, respectively. Several of the MK-2 models remained in service into the late 1930's and one (817) remained on the roster as a training unit until 1945.
Over a decade would pass before another Ahrens-Fox apparatus would be placed in service in New York, with predominantly American LaFrance and a hand full of Robinson pumpers being purchased in the intervening years. This lone rig was a 1927 model HP-2 piston pumper carrying Ahrens-Fox serial number 744 and rated at 1000 gpm at 160 psi. It was tested for two days, June 1 and 2, before being placed in service in midtown Manhattan on June 4, 1927. This pumper was considered a showpiece and was assigned to the theatre district where it would be seen, not only by many New Yorkers, but also by millions of out-of-town visitors. It was also an open-cab model without a windshield, closely resembling the 1915 and 1916 pumpers in design but larger, and was the first F.D.N.Y. pumper to be equipped with pneumatic tires, having single, rather than dual rear wheels. It also had right-hand steering, which was common for that time period. Unlike other pumpers of this era being purchased by New York, it was never equipped with a deck pipe. Towards the end of its service life, the rear half of its ball-shaped air chamber was painted a dull red to cut down on glare from the sun, a common complaint from its chauffeurs. The HP-2 remained in service until the late 1940's. It was valued at $14,450 when delivered.
New York purchased American LaFrance, Mack, and Seagrave pumpers from 1928 through 1933 but returned to Ahrens-Fox for two 1000 gpm AHP model piston pumpers ordered on November 25, 1932. These two units were placed in service on May 24, 1933, and were high pressure open-cab models equipped with windshields, deck pipes, overhead racks for the scaling ladders, left hand steering, solid rubber tires, and had an overall length of 27 feet 3 inches. Other Ahrens-Fox innovations on these units included two running boards (one at the chassis level), a solid bar front bumper, fold down windshield, chromed hood vents, a spotlight, and four-wheel brakes, which was rare for that era. These "modern" items were placed on vehicles that also contained a mix of traditional features: spoke wheels, Dietz lanterns, and the fuel tank mounted atop the hose bed, to mention a few. They carried Ahrens-Fox serial numbers 4003 and 4004. At the time these were the largest Ahrens-Fox pumpers ever built. The solid rubber tires were replaced with pneumatic tires several years after delivery. When this was done, the dual rear solid rubber tires were replaced with a single pneumatic tire.
Following the two AHP models were four almost identical pumpers of the same capacity ordered under two separate contracts during 1933 and 1934 and designated NT-2 models. They were assigned Ahrens-Fox serial numbers 3410 through 3413 and were built at a cost of $13,850 each. These 1934 models were delivered with pneumatic tires, again having only single rather than dual rear wheels and, in a backward move, reverted to righthand steering. Both the 1933 AHP models and the 1934 NT-2 models remained on the roster into the late 1950's as spares.
Seagrave and Mack pumpers were purchased for several years before the next Ahrens-Fox purchase. The units delivered under this contract were the first of a model, perhaps most associated with New York, and were ordered on July 27, 1937. Two Model HT pumpers, serial numbers 3423 and 3424, actually purchased by the 1939 New York World's Fair, were delivered on April 30, 1938. These units had closed cabs, Hercules engines, Invincible deck pipes with 2-1/2 inch barrels, 1000 gpm pumps, subway straps and a windshield over the back steps. They also had a split front windshield with either side capable of opening independently and were quite different in appearance from earlier Ahrens-Fox pumpers. These same units were also delivered with three floodlights, a feature uncommon for New York pumpers. However, these were later removed. The pumpers had a wheelbase of 209 inches and an overall length of 27 feet 2 inches. The now common, but still unusual, Ahrens-Fox feature of single rear tires, rather than dual rear wheels, were again incorporated on these pumpers. A spare tire was carried on the left rear running board behind the rear fender.
The World's Fair also purchased three Ahrens-Fox centrifugal pumpers built on Schacht chassis, which were delivered on April 20, 1938. These units were designated SC models, had closed cabs, Hercules engines, Hale pumps rated at 500 gpm at 120 psi, carried serial numbers 9043 through 9045, and were much smaller than the pumpers being purchased by New York at the time, having a wheelbase of 168.5 inches and an overall length of 21 feet 9 inches. Their cost was $5700 each.
On January 7, 1938, New York also ordered twenty HT model piston pumpers that were virtually identical to the two World's Fair HT models. However, the pumps on these rigs, although also of 1000 gpm capacity, were slightly smaller in size with a different stroke and bore, while their Morse deck pipes, with three-inch barrels, were slightly larger than those on the two World's Fair HT pumpers. They had a wheelbase of 212 inches, three inches longer than the World's Fair units but were 27 feet 1 inch in length, one inch shorter than the World's Fair HT models. The three floodlights delivered on the World's Fair units were omitted on these pumpers. These units comprised the largest single F.D.N.Y. Ahrens-Fox contract and were delivered on May 21, 1938. All twenty were placed in service on June 25, 1938, less than six months after they were ordered. They carried Ahrens-Fox serial numbers 3425 through 3444 and were delivered at a cost of only $12,145 per unit, less expensive than the 1934 NT-2 models
Another order was placed with Ahrens-Fox on December 28, 1938 for six additional HT pumpers, which were delivered during June and July, 1939. The cost was only $11,880 per vehicle, $265 cheaper than the previous year's model. These were assigned serial numbers 3449 through 3454. Visually, the 1939 models differed from the 1938 models by having a belt driven friction siren mounted under the hood, rather than an electrically operated mechanical siren mounted in front of the pump and by the suction hose that was mounted beneath the scaling ladder, instead of above it as on the 1938 models. Otherwise, they were exact replicas of the 1938 order. Most of the HT models remained on the roster into the late 1950's.
The only Ahrens-Fox aerial ladders to be operated by the F.D.N.Y. were placed in service on December 14, 1940 and were delivered at a cost of $15,327 per vehicle. These four units were tillered rigs with open-cab tractors, belt driven mechanical sirens, a twelve-inch bell, were 63 feet long, with 85-foot, two-section wooden aerials equipped with spring-raised hoisting mechanisms. Their power plant was a six-cylinder Waukesha engine. They were designated Model W-85, carried serial numbers 2069 through 2072, and were the last aerial ladders to be built by Ahrens-Fox. It is interesting to note the large overhang of the aerial ladder at the rear of the apparatus, something that modern day tillermen do not have to deal with. The distance from the rear axle to the tip of the aerial was 17 feet 6 inches while the distance from the rear running board to the tip of the aerial was 11 feet 8 inches, a considerable distance behind the tillerman that had to be considered at every turn made
Each of these W-85 aerial ladders were delivered with quite a large amount of equipment that included: a 25-foot, a 20-foot and two 35-foot straight ladders, 16foot and 30-foot extension ladders, 10-foot, 12-foot and 15-foot roof ladders, and a 16-foot, a 12-foot and two 14-foot scaling ladders. All ladders were of wood construction. Hand tools included two 10-foot, a 20-foot, a 25-foot and six 6-foot wood hooks, four 8-pound flat head axes, a 3/4-inch bar cutter, a steel maul, two steel crow bars, a tin roof cutter, a Hale door opener, a twin cutter with insulated handles, two square shovels, two 4-tine pitch forks, a hydraulic jack and handle, a steel ram and wall cutter and a tool kit. Other equipment included soda and acid and foam extinguishers, four brass lanterns, 150 feet of 2-1/2 inch rope, an Atlas life net, and a sub-cellar pipe and nozzle. After delivery, the New York City Fire Department Shops installed a 1250 watt Homelite generator, a 250 watt and two 500 watt floodlights on each rig.
At the conclusion of the 1939-1940 World's Fair, the Fair's five Ahrens-Fox pumpers (two HT models and three SC models) were turned over to the department. The two HT models were assigned as regular apparatus of engine companies. However, the three smaller SC models begin another chapter in New York's Ahrens-Fox history. These rigs were assigned as the second piece (hose wagon) of engine companies. One (9043) had an overhead ladder rack added to carry a portable 35-foot metal extension ladder, an innovation at the time. Another (9045) was equipped with a bank of eight manifolded carbon dioxide cylinders, each with a capacity of fifty pounds, and two hose reels, each having 1000 feet of one-inch hose to discharge the carbon dioxide. The conversion of this unit was accomplished by the Carbon Dioxide Fire Equipment Company of Newark, New Jersey, in 1941 and was "state-of-the-art" for airport fire protection at that time. The "new" crash truck was assigned to the LaGuardia Airport Crash Unit on April 19, 1941. When the New York Port Authority assumed responsibility for aircraft crash-fire-rescue at the city's airports, this rig was reconverted back into a pumper.
During February, 1941, five HT model pumpers, three from the 1938 order (3426, 3432, 3433) and two from the 1939 order (3449, 3452) were retrofitted with the unique feature of a hinged rear step. The rationale for this was to enable these pumpers to be placed in a vehicle elevator which operated from the center of the Queensborough Bridge down to Welfare (now Roosevelt) Island, located in the center of the East River. Prior to the construction of the Welfare Island Bridge, this elevator was the only practical method for responding units to reach Welfare Island. When compared to other contemporary pumpers, such as the 1937 Mack pumpers which were 26 feet 4 inches long, the HT models were almost a foot longer, having an overall length of 27 feet 1 inch (the World's Fair HT models were an inch longer). With the step in the folded position, additional clearance of slightly over one foot was provided.
The first permanently mounted ladder-pipe on any New York aerial ladder was installed on Ladder Company 45's W-85 aerial (2070) on June 12, 1942, and eventually led to the disbanding of the water towers when all future metal aerial ladders were purchased with lad der-pipes. This installation included tips of 1-1/4 and 1-1/2 inch in size and 3-inch hose. The ladder-pipe had a capacity of 600 gpm.
On January 9, 1945, while operating at a multiple alarm fire, a collapse occurred which killed several firefighters and virtually destroyed the tractor of Ladder Company 40's W-85 aerial (2072). The tractor was extensively rebuilt, the chrome radiator grille removed, the location of the Ahrens-Fox emblems changed, and body work completed. This resulted in a tractor still carrying Ahrens-Fox name plates but, one very different from its original appearance. The final product actually appeared to be an older model than it was because of its lack of "modern" styling.
After years of hard use, the Ahrens-Fox aerial tractors were worn out, although the trailers and aerial ladders remained in relatively good shape. All four of the original tractors were replaced during the first four months of 1962 with Ward LaFrance tractors which resulted in greatly extending the life span of these aerials. All four of these Ward LaFrance tractors had been used previously under late-1920's vintage American LaFrance and Seagrave aerial trailers. A 1947 Ward LaFrance tractor was placed under registration number 2072 replacing the rebuilt Ahrens-Fox tractor at Ladder 40. The other three original 1940 Ahrens-Fox tractors were replaced by 1948 Ward LaFrance tractors. These tractors were powered by six-cylinder Continental engines. The installation of these tractors actually resulted in units that were even slightly longer in overall length as the "new" tractors were slightly longer than the original AhrensFox tractors. The last Ahrens-Fox aerial (2070) remained on F.D.N.Y.'s roster as a spare and later as a training vehicle. It was finally disposed of on August 4, 1972.
The F.D.N.Y. unit most associated with Ahrens-Fox apparatus would have to be Engine Company 65, located in the heart of midtown Manhattan. Engine 65 was the only unit that operated every model of Ahrens-Fox piston pumpers on New York's roster at one time or another. Starting on January 1, 1916, with an MK-2 (804), Engine 65 next received an HP-2 (749) on June 4, 1927. This apparatus was replaced by an AHP (4003) on May 24, 1933, which in turn was replaced by an HT (3432) on June 25, 1938. The HT remained in service at Engine 65 until replaced by a 1947 Mack. Ahrens-Fox pumpers served Engine 65 continuously from 1916 to 1947, but the story doesn't end there. In May, 1951, after several years of requesting that their Ahrens-Fox be reassigned back to them, Engine 65 was assigned an HT (3423) which had been assigned to Engine 71 and was one of the two HT models purchased by the World's Fair. It was necessary to assign Engine 71 a pumper with a shorter turning radius when that unit switched bays in its firehouse as a result of Rescue Company 3 having been relocated there.
Most apparatus historians assumed that this was the end of New York's Ahrens-Fox story but, several years later, an interesting development occurred. In the late 1950's, a 1938 HT model (3427), having been deemed as surplus, was turned over to the State of New York to provide fire protection at the Otisville State Hospital in upstate Orange County. This had been common practice over the years and many former F.D.N.Y. apparatus had been turned over to other city, state, and even federal agencies for fire protection at various institutions. In most cases, these rigs served several years until the respective institution was able to obtain a newer apparatus. This apparently was the case in Otisville. Fortunately, however, this HT was somehow preserved a little longer than expected. During the late-1970's, this rig was "discovered" and moved to the New York State Museum in Albany where it is currently on display with several other pieces of fire apparatus, as the only surviving example of an F.D.N.Y. Ahrens-Fox.