The Ward still In Service

51snow.jpg (21462 bytes)In 1987, Engine 51 (the Ward) sitting idle on Universal's back lot was pressed back into service for the Yosemite Concessions Service (YCS) at Yosemite National Park in California. At the time, the Concessions Service was operated by MCA who also owned Universal Studios. That’s how the engine ended up in a National Park.  Now approaching 30 years old, the engine is still a first-line pumper at the Park and is staffed by a paid/on call crew of ten firefighters that have full time jobs within the Park. 

Originally on a $1.00 a year lease agreement, MCA sold the engine to YCS in 1993 for around $5,000.  A few minor modifications have been made to the engine and in keeping with its historical status, Engine 7 as it is now known, is running with license plate, YCS E51.

The following, graciously submitted by David Stone, the Manager of Security, Fire, and Life Safety in Yosemite, is an account of the Ward and its so-called retirement life in the beautiful Yosemite National Park.

“The 1973 Ward LaFrance Pumper Serial #80-811, formerly "Los Angeles County

Fire Department Engine 51" for the television series EMERGENCY! is currently in service in Yosemite National Park California as, DNC Engine 7.”

“The engine was originally owned and operated by Yosemite Park & Curry Company, and is now owned and operated by Delaware North Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc. (DNC), which is one of the largest privately held and fastest growing businesses in the world.”    

51waterfall.jpg (27235 bytes)The Crew of Engine 7

“In Yosemite, The National Park Service (NPS) is the primary agency for fire response.  Part of the DNC contractual obligation with NPS is to maintain a structural fire response crew of ten paid-on-call firefighters and one Type 1 structural engine.  The Fire House containing the engine is located at 9006 Village Drive, across the street from the Village Store.”   

“DNC Firefighters meet or exceed federal firefighter training requirements.  Engine 7 is paged out along with NPS on fire calls in Yosemite Valley. The Department averages twelve responses per year as an engine crew.  Defined protocols for specific incidents dictate the manner of response the engine will roll to when the fire page is activated.  The Engine 7 crewmembers have a variety of full-time jobs within DNC.  DNC firefighters also receive pay for their weekly training.”  

The Engine

“History of the engine in Yosemite is spotty, at best.  Information was lost during a major flood, and by the natural turnover of personnel.  Yet often, DNC receives bits and pieces of information about its history from former Yosemite firefighters and from visiting firefighters.”

“Arguably, this is one of the most photographed fire engines. During good weather, the engine is usually parked on the apron in front of the firehouse.  The firehouse receives a steady stream of visitors from around the world to take a picture of, or with, the engine.  As a result of the related patch trading that takes place, we have nearly 1,000 fire patches from around the world.  We display a large number of them inside the firehouse.”     

51snowside2.jpg (23003 bytes)“Over the years, some of the history has been stored electronically with no author information.  That information is often copied-and-pasted so many times, while being updated and modified that it is difficult to track the source of the information.  As a result, the information here is the best known at the time of this writing.  Nonetheless, everyone, past and present, has the best interests in mind when it comes to preserving the engine and the history of it.”   

“The only early history available in Yosemite on the engine is an excerpt out of the book entitled, The Paramedics, An Illustrated History of Paramedics in their First Decade in the USA, by James O. Page published in 1979 by Backdraft Publications.” 

“These models of Ward-LaFrance engines are apparently notorious amongst experienced firefighters for their stiff suspension and rough shifting automatic transmission.  According to an unnamed former LACoFD engineer who was assigned to E60/E260 (and possibly, according to conversation with this gentleman, the Ward may have also be designated E560 at some point) the Allison transmission in this series of engine was actually designed for a 100,000 lbs vehicle.” 

engineinstation.jpg (13316 bytes)“The following information includes passages from the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) engine maintenance and pump test records.”

“It was in service with LACoFD as Engine 51 until at least 4th quarter 1980 at Station 60 on the Universal Studios lot.  At some point it was renamed Engine 60, and became E260 around the end of 1983.  The last LACoFD maintenance records date is March 31, 1987.  Universal Studios was apparently responsible, at least in part, for E260 during some of its time with LACoFD Station 60.  A work order from "A&T Diesel" in Anaheim CA details a brake system overhaul billed to Universal Studios dated August 21, 1985.”

“On April 24, 1987, a lease agreement between Universal City Studios and Yosemite Park and Curry Co, (YP&C Co), both part of the same parent corporation, MCA, allowed use of the Universal's "Ward-LaFrance fire truck, number 260" for $1.00 per year.” 

“YP&C.'s old Engine 7, a 1937 Seagrave pumper, was sent to the LACoFD Museum, to be used as a display or parade engine.  As part of the preparation for the concession company's change of ownership and name, the engine was sold by Universal City Studios to YP&C for $5,500.  According to the vehicle title, ownership transferred on June 29, 1993.  DNC acquired the engine with the Yosemite contract later in 1993.”   

“The engine was received from LACoFD/Universal Studios completely stripped of all ladders and other equipment.  Mileage at delivery to Yosemite was 27,432.6.  As of December 31, 2003, it was 34,600.” 

“When the engine arrived in Yosemite, the firehouse had to be raised four inches to accommodate the engine.  The engine has less than one-inch clearance on top, and three to six inches on each side to the mirrors on each door.”

“The 500 gallon water tank was replaced in 1995 by Hi-Tech in Oakdale, California.  The old tank had begun to leak, and upon removal we discovered a significant (1-2" thick) growth of what were obviously ocean barnacles in the tank.  Apparently Yosemite's very high quality fresh water did not agree with them, as they were all dead.” 

“Working in a national park requires considerable thought before making changes to a natural and historic environment in many areas of the park.  We take the same view with modifications to the engine.  The engine configuration remains essentially unchanged, other than minor modifications to the hose bed, seating, and installation of a light bar.  With respect to the historical nature of the vehicle, operational concerns must obviously take priority.”

ypatch.jpg (14655 bytes)“In April of 1999, the upholstery in the engine cab was replaced.  The existing and presumed original coverings had torn past the point of economical repair.  The removed upholstery is being retained due to its possible value of the engine eventually is restored or displayed.  The original material was matched as closely as possible, and the heat-embossed design was duplicated by hand stitching.  In May 1999, two external mast-floodlight assemblies were added.  These are invaluable during various nighttime responses.  Installation was competed in a manner to make restoration simple.”  

“During the late summer and early fall 2000, we completed an overhaul of Engine 7. This was the first major overhaul of the engine since its arrival in Yosemite. We met our goal to upgrade equipment and vehicle configuration to meet new equipment and response requirements/standards, and to reduce the failure rate of the vehicle.  Historically some type of mechanical impairment or outright failure of the vehicle occurred during 5-10% of our attempts to use it, including at least once annually during an actual alarm response.  Most of these failures were attributed directly or indirectly to lack of regular detailed preventative maintenance and routine replacement of aging seals, hoses/lines, etc.  These issues were successfully addressed with the help of the DNC Garage staff and an outside contractor.”

“Among some of the tasks completed are:

bulletCoordinated ongoing diesel/drive train repairs that required several days with contracted diesel maintenance shop - diesel engine head repaired, a number of hoses/fittings replaced, but were non-standard sizes and were most easily addressed by removal and physically matching them to the replacement parts at the supply point.
bulletThe fuel system completely cleaned out to solve a continuing clogging problem.
bulletA diesel exhaust filtration system installed.
bulletReplacement of the aged and cracking tires.
bulletPerformed extensive repair and upgrade of the electrical system, including:
bulletInstallation of relays/switches and hook-up of floodlights purchased and mounted on the vehicle in 1999 yet never made operational.
bulletReplacement of the batteries.
bulletInstallation of a 12-volt trickle chargers and wiring to support five 12-volt handheld flood-spot lights.
bulletRewiring of moveable spot lights in cab to more appropriate switch/control.
bulletInstallation of electrical distribution block in right-rear cargo bay to support above handheld lights and eventual installation of onboard handheld radios and chargers.
bulletThe water tank was resealed.
bulletUpon assembly of the hose bed, the bed was reconfigured to accommodate the newly purchased 1 3/4" attack hose.
bulletInstallation of three new crew seats with integrated SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) storage racks in the Captain's seat, and the two rear-facing crew seats.

There was also substantial discussion regarding changing the rear taillights and replacing them with the newer LED style lights now popular on newer vehicles. After consideration, it was decided to leave the current original equipment style lights on the Engine for historical preservation.”

“For fans and friends of Engine 51, rest assured it is in good hands and treated well by firefighters who care for it and take honor in responding to calls with it.  The contract with NPS currently expires in 2011.  At the end of the engine’s service life, every intent is to reunite it with Squad 51.”   


David Stone
Manager of Security, Fire, and Life Safety
DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.
PO Box 578
Yosemite National Park, California 95389-0578

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