A fire truck's return to service

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Leighton Lucero
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

“It is customary that the ‘Last Alarm’ be sounded for our brothers and sisters who paid the supreme sacrifice. For having selflessly given their lives for the good of their fellow man, their tasks completed, their duties well done, to signify, they are returning to quarters,” said an unknown first-responder.

“Everywhere I have gone it is the tradition when a firefighter dies, they are taken to the grave on a fire truck. We refer to it as their last ride,” said Sean Quinby, 4th Fighter Wing fire chief.

After being at one too many firefighters' funerals, Quinby experienced firsthand the challenge of placing the casket on top of more modern fire trucks, adding difficulty in providing a last alarm and ride to those who have devoted their lives as first responders. Whether they sacrificed their lives in the line of duty or not, they deserve to be honored with these long-standing traditions, said Quinby.

Modern fire trucks have a design and technological density that makes it more difficult to continue this tradition safely. The practice is even illegal in some states. However, older models of fire trucks have the perfect design to continue this tradition.

In 2019, Quinby, the 42-year Air Force Fire Prevention veteran, was given a vintage 1942 Ford Maxim fire truck. The truck had a faded red body and rims, an almost cartoonish bulgy body, rounded edges and lights and a flat hose-bed similar in both height and size to a funeral hearse. After doing some research, Quinby learned that it happened to be the first fire truck to ever serve at a local Army airfield at the beginning of World War II. An airfield that is known presently as Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Since its inception, the seasoned fire truck had a diverse past before reaching its most recent owner.

After the end of World War II, it is unknown if the truck was sold or given away. When the airfield shut down, everything had to go. The truck ended up in the possession of the Goldsboro Fire Department where it was operational for a couple decades. From there, it went to the Dudley Volunteer Fire Department; after serving for some time, one of the Dudley assistant fire chiefs took ownership of it. The Dudley assistant chief would own it for a number of years, using it in parades, hayrides and other similar events.

Years later, retired Master Sgt. Albert Dixon, a friend of Quinby, stumbled upon the broken fire truck on a Wayne County farm. The farmers had attached a large water tank to it for spraying crops. Not being made for this workload, the fire truck quickly degraded and ultimately broke down. Dixon offered to purchase the downtrodden truck, when the offer was accepted, he took it to his garage for minor repairs so he could show it off at parades and other events.

“Dixon had shown the truck at several parades in the early 2000’s,” said Quinby. “I used to tell him whenever I saw the truck that if he planned on selling it I would love to buy it.”

By 2019 Dixon started realizing he was getting too old to maintain the truck. Rather than letting it waste away and deteriorate on his property, Dixon decided he would prefer to donate it to the Air Force because of its rich heritage.

“Come to find out gifting a vehicle to the Air Force is a long and drawn out process,” chuckled Quinby.

After difficulties with logistics, regulations, standards and differences in opinion on how the fire truck would be used after donation, Quinby was gifted the truck instead. He then began planning for its future use.

“I thought about restoring it and making it look like it did back in 1942, but then it just sits there and gets looked at,” said Quinby begrudgingly. “I wanted more than that, I wanted it to continue to serve.”

Quinby has taken on the project of rebuilding the vintage fire truck into a funeral coach for firefighters, providing fallen firefighters the dignity and honor they deserve during their last alarm and last ride.

His truck has deep heritage in Wayne County serving the community and military alike for over 80 years. When broken and beaten, it has risen from the ashes time and again to continue its service. Again it rises, this time back to its initial calling, to be in service to fallen firefighters, providing an honorable and tradition-fueled farewell.

It’s as if the truck fell into his hands just for this purpose, said Quinby with eyes glistening as he envisioned the future of his fire truck.

“Instead of sitting in a museum, this is the best way for it to continue to serve.”