What you’re looking at on the left is the Kearny Fire Department’s Truck No. 1, a 1920 American LaFrance model. Although the photo apparently was taken near the South Kearny firehouse, Truck 1 in the ‘20s, as now, was stationed at the KFD’s Midland Ave. house.
Unfortunately, we do not know the identity of the driver, but we have learned a lot about the vehicle. That large semicircular thing on the side is a life net. It unfolds into a full circle, 10 to 12 feet in diameter. Someone trapped on the upper floor of a burning building would jump into it, trusting in the strength of the 8 to 10 firemen who would be holding it far below.
The truck also is equipped with hoses, fire extinguishers, axes, ladders of varying heights, life belts to be secured to the ladders, a battering ram, a sledgehammer, and long metal hooks that were used to pull down plaster ceilings (hence the term “hook-and-ladder” truck). Behind the driver is the bell that would be rung when returning from an alarm and below it is a row of leather helmets. And where would the crew sit?
They wouldn’t. They’d stand on the side platforms and hang on as the truck raced to a fire. At right, is the current aerial ladder Truck 1 at its Midland Ave. home. It was made by a company called E-1. American LaFrance, launched in the mid-19th century, was for generations the premier manufacturer of fire apparatus in the U.S., but, like other businesses, it eventually fell on hard times. On Jan. 20, 2014, it announced it was ending operations.
– Karen Zautyk