A wayward part of the American emergency vehicle scene, rescuing people from burning buildings, rescuing Cats from trees, this is the American LaFrance Eagle fire truck of 1997.
First, a little backstory on American LaFrance, which was one of the oldest manufacturers of fire apparatus in the United States. Founded in 1873, the company first built hand-drawn or horse-drawn fire engines, but would later move to steam-powered engines in around 1903. The first motorised fire apparatus for the company was in 1910, known as the ALF Type 5, which was a very archaic but quite useful piece of kit. As time trundled merrily on and small cars were developed into trucks, ALF followed suit, and upgraded their vehicles to greater size and more capacity to tackle the blazes of America. However, as the 1980’s came to a close and the recession of 1992 hit, the company ran into financial dire straights. Rescue came in the form of Freightliner, a subsidiary of Daimler AG, who, at the time, were on a major spree of buyouts to help structure their company.
Under Freightliner ownership, the company developed in 1997 the Eagle and Silver Eagle fire truck range. The Eagle range of fire engines used custom chassis developed by American LaFrance and were powered by 500hp Freightliner engines carried over from the Century series of trucks. Design of the engine was also very traditional, styled to look comparatively retro with decorated chrome grille and lights. Top speed of the fire truck was in excess of 100mph, but of course trying to get a fire engine up to that speed in regular traffic is a little ambitious. The Eagle came in a variety of rigs and setups, including a Ladder, a Pump, an Airport Crash Truck, and, on some early models, an articulated Ladder rig with separate trailer.
The Eagle units proved highly popular among the many hundreds of fire departments in North America, and have also been exported elsewhere to places such as Latin America and Canada. The Eagles were able to see off many former ALF products, namely the Pioneer series from the 1960’s, and the Century series of 1974.
However, in spite of the Eagle’s success, the Freightliner parent company had been slightly too ambitious with its buyouts and was now facing financial trouble. In a bid to stop meltdown Freightliner sold American LaFrance in 2005, and the loss of their strong parent company led to ALF’s bankruptcy in January 2008. But, in spite of their ailing financial situation, ALF was able to claw back and resume production of the Eagle series and later Metropolitan series of 1999, thanks largely to a revised business plan and the closure of extraneous factories, with production being based solely at ALF’s two remaining factories in Hamburg, New York, and Ephrata, Pennsylvania, although truck cabs were built at Summerville Plant, South Carolina. Eventually though, in face of a still upward climb from bankruptcy, American LaFrance announced a cessation of operations in January, 2014, and on the 17th of that month one of the oldest American emergency vehicle companies slipped into darkness.
As mentioned, the Eagle is still a popular sight across the United States, Canada, and Latin America, being the first responder to all kinds of emergencies. It was fire engines such as the Eagle that were the first to arrive at the World Trade Center on September 11th during the devastating attacks. Although something of a mundane vehicle the Eagle fire engine, this humble hero in red of the city streets is still upholding its solemn duty to the people.