Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Monday, February 15, 2010


In the summer of 2008, the Saint Paul Fire Department celebrated the Centennial birthday of Fire Station 18 on University Avenue at St. Albans Street. The station had been in continuous service for 100 years, and we felt it was a fitting time to celebrate this venerable station and the crews that had served the “Frogtown” neighborhood for so many years.

The day and the celebration were “picture perfect.” Warm sunshine and smiles prevailed over a crowd that topped 500 people. Antique fire apparatus, live fire demonstrations, historic equipment displays, and lots and lots of veteran firefighters and their families made for a very special event. Stories from the “old timers” and the neighbors who had lived near the station for decades helped “fill the gaps” in our corporate memory of station life and department history. For many members of our department, the celebration was like opening a treasure chest of our past and finding precious memories inside.

This weekend marked another occasion to “open the treasure chest” and marvel at some of the really intestesting and historic roots of our department. The occasion: the delivery of “Engine 29” to our newest fire station (Station 1 - still under construction at Randolph Avenue and West Seventh Street). Engine 29 is a 1924 Ahrens-Fox NS2 pumper that originally was delivered to the Department in 1925 after a railroad journey from the Ahrens-Fox factory in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The new fire engine originally served as Engine 11, but was subsequently moved around and renumbered as the needs of the citizens dictated changes in our apparatus fleet. Engine 11 remained in service from 1925 to 1930. It was then renumbered to Engine 8 and served until 1939. It served as Engine 4 and again as Engine 11 until 1951, when it was finally moved into a reserve status and served until 1969, ultimately retiring as Engine 29 – the designation it carries to this day.

The rig has been stored in a warehouse in Hastings, MN for the last decade or more, and was recently rennovated to be a static display in our new fire station. Originally thought to be a 1925 model, we discovered during the restoration process that it was, in fact, a 1924 model. The reason for the confusion? It was delivered to the City in 1925, and was shipped with another Ahrens-Fox rig – this one a 1925 model. The 1925 rig ended up going to Red Wing, MN.

The Ahrens-Fox brand of fire engine was manufactured from 1852 until 1977. The brand was so popular and performed so well that they were known as the “Cadillac of Fire Engines.” Their performance was legendary: they held world records for the greatest flow in gallons per minute, highest pump pressures, furthest and highest fire streams, and the longest time running without a mechanical failure. The Ahrens-Fox had a distinctive appearance, highlighted by the large chrome spherical air chamber located on the front-mounted water pump.

On Saturday morning, Engine 29 arrived via flatbed truck, and was gently lowered down a set of steel ramps through a large window opening in the side of Fire Station One. Crews then pushed the rig into its final display position.

On- and off-duty Firefighters came to participate in the event. Crews from Engine 8, Ladder 8, Ladder 10, Engine/Medic 10, Engine/Medic 9, and headquarters staff watched as the rig slowly made its way into the building and into place. The fire crews took plenty of pictures and posed near the rig and in the driver’s seat of Engine 29. I think we all felt a visceral connection to our past and to the men who used these machines so bravely for decades and decades in our City.

There has been talk - for awhile now – of forming an Antique Apparatus Group in Saint Paul Fire….I think it’s high time we did. There are precious memories still laying in wait in that warehouse in Hastings, including:

• A 1918 Seagrave water tower
• A 1931 American LaFrance open cab pumper
• A 1935 Peter Pirsch tractor-drawn aerial tower (85 feet ladder)
• A 1938 Ford pumper
• A 1951 Mack open cab pumper
• A 1962 Mack Canopy cab pumper
• A 1963 General Safety engine

And of course, we have our antique steamer and our 1916 Seagrave Ladder Truck (Ladder 2) that was featured at the Centennial Birthday celebration of Station 18.

These antique rigs are precious memories of bygone days perhaps, but they also serve as vivid reminders of the rigors of our work and the ingenuity and creativity needed to combat the hazards faced by firefighters. Looking at Engine 29’s open cab, and its running boards and tailboard where the “old time” crews faced wind, driving rain, and freezing snow, I marveled at the “toughness” needed by firefighters from the 1920s and 1930s. Then I looked up and beyond the antique rig to the stair way above the display area. There, in rough assembly, were the crews from Ladders 8 and 10 and Engines 8 and 10. I saw in their faces the same toughness and dedication – the same pride and tradition.

I thought how perfect this was: the enduring toughness of the antique, renowned for its legendary performance, backed by the men and women who are still delivering legendary service through their own toughness and dedication! I was immensely proud of the firefighters gathered around Engine 29 on Saturday! They came with a sense of curiosity and interest, and found some of the very best of traits of the Fire Service reflected in the chrome. They, like me, marveled at the enduring strength and beauty of a venerable rig, yet found within themselves those same qualities – the qualities that will long be reflected and remembered - their dedication and service to this City and its citizens.

Station One will be completed within the next couple of weeks. Once we formally pass all final inspections on the new station and the attached Fire Headquarters building, the crews from Station 1 and Station 10 will take up residency in the new Station. Later in the summer, we’ll have a big open house for the Station and the Headquarters building. Until then, please feel free to drive by and take a look at the new building. And be sure to peek through the windows on the very corner of Seventh and Randolph to see Engine 29: proud, strong, beautiful, peaceful…..

I hope all Firefighters can ultimately retire in a similar fashion: in health and peace and harboring fond memories of legendary services rendered.

Thanks for joining me “On Scene” for the arrival of Engine 29!


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