WAYNE, NJ – Its Fire Prevention month, and you may have seen a beautiful, cherry-red antique fire truck around town since it's the showpiece for Packanack Lake Fire Company #5 (PLFC5). Or maybe you saw it leading the children’s Halloween parade each year or carrying Santa around the community of Packanack Lake during Christmas time. It could be you saw this pristine firetruck from a bygone era as you passed by the firehouse on the corner of Lake Drive West and Osborne Terrace, where it is displayed proudly in a glass-fronted garage.
This ‘apparatus,’ as firefighters call their fire trucks, started and ended its journey here in Wayne.
PLFC5 is an all-volunteer unit that was formed in 1942 by six “Packanackers,” and was originally called Fire Company 4½ by the rest of the township, because they were not officially recognized as a Fire Company for their first four years.
Their first apparatus was a 1926 REO Fire Truck purchased for $125.
“The truck was a hand-me-down and old at the time,” said PLFC5’s President Mark McGrath, “but it was the best they could get.”
A 1927 Ahrens Fox Pumper was added and then a 1925 LaFrance Hose Carrier replaced the ’26 REO. The Ahrens Fox had great difficulty with the hills around the lake and the LaFrance was constantly jarring off some of its own parts, but the company was moving forward, and the local community was grateful for them.
When the company was officially recognized in 1946, their first order of business was to get a new firehouse. They’d been working out of part of a bath house that had been re-purposed and before that, a supporter’s garage that was only big enough for their original apparatus. The firefighters had to climb over the hood of the truck to access the vehicle.
In 1948, PLFC5 moved into their new firehouse. The dedication was a high point in the young company’s history.
Thanks to fundraising efforts by the Packanack Lake Ladies Auxiliary and the generosity of the local community, in 1951, the company purchased their first new apparatus: a ‘51 Mack Model 75-A Pumper that could pump 750 gallons of water per minute, and the main character in this story.
“The ‘51 Mack served Company 5 and the Packanack Lake community from 1951 to 1966, before it was replaced with a larger pumper truck,” said McGrath. “At that point it was time to move on to a newer fire truck and they sold this one.”
After leaving Packanack Lake, the ‘51 Mack saw service as a fire brigade pumper for the General Electric plant in Lynn Massachusetts. It then made its way to Vermont, residing at a sawmill for a few years, where they just used the pump on the truck. At some point, another volunteer fire company took ownership and used the truck for a time.
“Then it was retired and it sat out on a farm for years, just going to hell, rusting and damaged,” said McGrath.
A sad end for a fire truck that had served the Packanack Lake community for fifteen years.
But it was not the end!
In 2005, a collector in Vermont bought the truck with the idea of restoring it. “He said it was going to be his retirement project, but he ended up finding another truck in much better shape, and never got around to the ’51 Mack,” said McGrath.
Then, in April of 2007 the collector, who needed room in his garage, tracked down PLFC5 as the original owners and called to ask if they wanted the truck.
It was a shock to PLFC5 that fifty-six years after purchasing their first-ever modern apparatus, and forty-one years since it had been sold, the truck was available to them.
“We weren’t looking to restore an antique, but we were not going to pass up on getting our original fire truck back,” said McGrath. “It’s a piece of our history.”
PLFC5 started a series of fundraisers to restore the truck. “We did some beefsteaks and some barbeques, and some other fundraising and over time we got the money needed to completely restore it,” said McGrath.
In 2013, the restoration began, and in 2016, the fire truck came home to a celebration. “The whole thing has been an amazing story and the truck is fantastic now,” said McGrath. “We use it in all of our fire prevention and community programs and the kids love it.”
On Saturday, October 19 PLFC5 will be holding their annual “1951 Mack Beefsteak,” which will include: Food, Beer, Soda, Raffles, Music 50/50 and Door Prizes.
“Proceeds from this Beefsteak will help us with the continued upkeep and maintenance of the truck,” said McGrath.
The event starts at 7:00pm and will be held at Packanack Clubhouse at 52 Lake Drive West.