Protecting West Van's fire history
As retired West Vancouver fireman Rick Titcomb proudly stands in front of a red 1949 antique fire truck, it’s clear protecting the North Shore’s history is more than just a hobby.
The 63-year-old truck once scrambled down the streets of West Van to fight house and forest fires, saving people and their belongings.
The sight was similar to today, except that the fire truck topped out around 70 kilometres per hour. “And that’s with a good wind behind,” Titcomb jokingly tells The Outlook at the North Shore Antique/Collector Car Show at the Auto Mall on Aug. 26.
“It could keep up with traffic on Marine Drive but I wouldn’t want to take it on a highway.”
Titcomb belongs to the West Van Fire Service Museum & Archive Society, a group of mostly retired firefighters who want to protect equipment once used in the area.
After spending 32 years on the fire department, Titcomb realized the importance of preserving and restoring old fire trucks for future generations to see.
“They’ve changed a lot from today,” he says, looking at the small red truck that shows decades of wear after serving West Van.
It could only carry two people in the front, but a third could hang off the back while standing on the bumper.
“It was actually a nice ride, but that was before we had speed bumps. That would have been very uncomfortable,” says Titcomb as he opens the door to show the inside of the truck full of different levers and buttons. The firemen of the day had to take off their boots and heavy pants to squeeze into the tight quarters.
“There wasn’t any air conditioning like they have today. The only way to get air was through the windows.”
Since the six-decade-old truck is in pretty good shape, the society has decided to keep its original paint instead of restoring it.
“It was first painted green; they all came like that. We painted it red once it got here,” says the retired firefighter while he shows spots of forest green paint peeking through.
Even though the old fire truck was much slower than fancy new ones today and pumped out three times less water, says Titcomb, it was certainly built to last.
Jeeps were also used to fight fires in West Van, adds Titcomb, as he walks over to a red 1947 Willys Jeep. After the Second World War, an Ohio-based company tried to find new markets for their left over Jeeps by switching them from army vehicles to miniature fire trucks. Most were sold to small rural communities near mountains or forests.
“It was difficult to drive because it was so cramped,” says Titcomb, adding that the small jeep with 919,000 miles on the odometer wasn’t taken out of service until 1989.
The jeep was first used to fight fires on Hollyburn Mountain and later at Lighthouse Park. Its last call was a car fire on the upper-deck parking lot of Park Royal North. To this day, it’s still the only West Van fire truck low enough to fit under the heigh restriction barricades at the mall.
The West Van Fire Service Museum & Archive Society has spent upwards of 6,000 hours completely restoring the jeep with a shiny new paint coat and new wheels.
“They’ve obviously changed a lot from the high-tech trucks used today. We work hard at preserving these trucks because everyone should be able to see them,” says Titcomb.