Look Out For The Fire Wagon . . . . No, Really!
By Jeff Livingston, Historian
Originally published in the Akahele I Ke Ka'aahi
Bob Paoa gave me a copy of this photograph from the collection of John Knaus of a rail fire truck taken during or shortly after World War Two at Lualualei.
I had never seen this photo before and was driven to find out more information about this unique rail vehicle (I think Bob does this deliberately to me). After some months and numerous lengthy searches on the internet I stumbled across www.firetrucks-atwar.com and there under the heading of "Old Navy" I found this picture. These are "builders" photos of a 1934 Pirsch rail fire engine built by Peter Pirsch & Sons of Kenosha Wisconsin for use at the then new Naval Ammunition Depot at Lualualei. Check out the "USN" on the side and the black pin stripping!
Correspondence with the Fire Trucks at War web site owner, Mr. Ted Heinbuch, a U.S. Military Fire Apparatus Historian and former U.S. Army Firefighter yielded yet another outstanding photo and more detailed information.
Mr. Heinbuch had previously received information that the truck was equipped with 24 in Budd wheels, specifically built similar to a railroad wheel and were fitted with Firestone 5.50 x 24 pneumatic tires and tubes and that the "engine" was painted "Hamilton Red". He provided this further information from the Pirsch archives:
The "Model 21" designation appears to have been assigned by Pirsch for any rail fire truck as another rail fire truck built in 1943 for the Naval Ammunition Depot at Hawthorne NV. carries the same model number. The significance of the 16R engine is unknown but may be a "Continental" which manufactured a 6 cylinder model 16R engine. The wartime color of the truck is difficult to determine but it is known that following the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor both the Army and the Navy began over painting their red fire trucks. The Army went with olive drab and it is thought the Navy painted their trucks gray. It is interesting to note that the ammunition depot moved from Pearl Harbor to Lualualei in 1934 and in addition to this fire truck, which was ordered in 1933, the Navy also ordered two 35 ton Atlas diesel electric locomotives, NAD #1 & #2 in 1933. These were the first diesel electric locomotives used in Hawaii and are assumed to have been replacements for the compressed air 0-4-0 Porter locomotive used at the old ammunition depot on Kuahua Island in Pearl Harbor.