Nothing can be related regarding American
LaFrance without first beginning in New York’s Southern Tier. The home
of American LaFrance from 1873 to 1985, Elmira and later an Elmira
suburb, Southport were once billed as the “Fire Truck Capital of the
World.” But, in January 1985, Figgie International Incorporated, the
parent company of American LaFrance announced the sacking of that
Capital. By June of that year, managers, designers, engineers, metal
craftsmen, machinists, mechanics, and assembly workers faced the demise
of one of America’s greatest companies.
After the closing, Figgie shipped the equipment and stock of the plant
to it’s facility in Bluefield Virginia. At 600 Mountain Lane, an eight
acre facility housing the Kersey Manufacturing plant, the means to
manufacture fire apparatus were deposited. This plant was the home to
the manufactures’ of mining equipment and aircraft towing tractors. The
American LaFrance Service Centers located in six areas of the country,
were spared the Figgie swan song.
In early 1986, Figgie announced that the facility in Bluefield would begin
producing American LaFrance fire apparatus. The newly designed “Century
2000 series” would be made by Kersey/American LaFrance. This design
retained the “signature” American LaFrance look of the Century series,
but was wider, lower, its windshield larger and nearly the entire body
was made from low carbon 304L stainless steel. The first of the line was
produced for a long-time American LaFrance customer, Albany New York.
This engine was a canopy cab, 1500 G.P.M. pumper featuring a 500 gallon
fiberglass water tank, 350 H.P. diesel motor, automatic transmission,
Akron foam system, it was painted American LaFrance red with a snow
white roof and was adorned with the city’s Tricentennial seal on the
Kersey/American LaFrance production centered on two models of the
Century 2000, the two-door canopy cab and a four door enclosed sedan
cab. The sales literature listed 120 standard items and a price tag of
$185000.00 for the standard model. The first few built were for long
time American LaFrance customers including Deer Park, New York who
purchased a pair of sedan Century 2000s.
During the first year of production a lower priced model was introduced.
The Pacemaker, built on a Pemfab chassis with an Pemfab canopy cab
attracted customers like Rialto, California, who purchased the initial
offering along with 3 more over the years. Pacemakers were offered in a
pumper configuration, along with Squrt models ending with East
Like the former great company that resided in Elmira, Kersey/American
LaFrance built what the customer wanted. Since it had the metal
fabrication equipment from the Southport plant, Bluefield turned out
several Century series fire trucks. Beginning with a canopy cab Century
for Clifton, New Jersey, the Century production included a 75 foot
Century quint for Wythville, Virginia and pumpers for West Meade,
Pennsylvania and Charlestown, New Hampshire.
Other oddities were the Century 2000 built for Haverstraw, New York
which featured a right side pump panel reminiscent of the 700 series of
the 1940’s and a raised roof Century 2000 built for Front Royal,
Virginia. Two Century 2000’s were assembled entirely at the Dunmore,
Pennsylvania Service Center, one for Dickson City, Pennsylvania and the
other for Middlebury, Connecticut. One of the biggest oddities was a
massive tandem axle, pumper/tanker constructed for Middlebury,
Connecticut which featured a ground foam system, along with a foam
turret mounted on the Century 2000 cab.
In addition to the Century apparatus built, Kersey/American LaFrance
produced several low profile Century aerial ladders for customers like
El Paso, Texas and Lakeview, New York. The Lakeview rig had to be the
most controversial unit produced at Bluefield. This low profile,
enclosed cab Century, 75 foot quint, dubbed ‘Big Fred” by the Lakeview
members was rejected by the Department at delivery. The vehicle was
returned to Bluefield where it languished in the parking lot until the
closing of the plant. The property of Figgie, and not part of the asset
purchase by Freightliner in 1994, it was moved around and offered for
sale to several departments before disappearing for many months. Figgie
finally took possession of the rig near Scranton, Pennsylvania and it
was sold to North Hampton, Pennsylvania.
As production continued in the early 1990’s, the Century 2000 was
clearly an East coast truck. With only one each going to California,
Washington, Canada and the Mid-West receiving a handful, the 2000
dominated from Florida to Connecticut. Multiple orders for the 2000 was
monopolized by Albany, New York, who purchased five pumpers and two
tractor drawn aerials, followed by East Orange’s three pumpers and one
rear mount Water Chief. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania acquired four 75’ Water
Chief II’s and Newport News Virginia obtained three pumpers. Other
repeat customers were of course Middlebury, Connecticut, then Waterbury,
Connecticut, Manchester, Connecticut, Pensacola, Florida, and
Parsippany, New Jersey.
The early 90’s also ushered in the acquisition of Hahn Fire Apparatus by
Figgie and Kersey/American LaFrance’s introduction of a newly designed
tilt-cab apparatus named the Patriot. Designed by A.D.I. of Ohio, this
apparatus featured a large, unwieldy Euro-style cab with seating for six
or ten. It sported a massive front bumper that would make a tow truck
jealous. Fifteen of these fire trucks were built, with four going to
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a black capped pair to Suffern, New York.
Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania scored the last Patriot which was the
second to last vehicle produced in Bluefield.
Also in the early 90’s, in search of an additional economical model, and
in an ironic twist of fate, Kersey/American LaFrance partnered with
Freightliner to introduce the “World Class” Freightliner pumper. A
one-off Freightliner chassis based modular-fiber-glassed bodied pumper
that drew little attention and was finally sold to Calabash, North
By 1994 Kersey/American LaFrance was bleeding red ink. At the middle of
the year’s first quarter, word had been sent down to the sales staff
that no new orders for any fire apparatus would be processed. By year’s
end the grim reaper that had visited American LaFrance’s Southport plant
had set sights on the Kersey/American LaFrance facility. In eight years,
the Bluefield plant produced some 151 pieces of custom fire apparatus.
By contrast, the Elmira/Southport facilities produced about 400 vehicles
per year. But, comparably; managers, designers, engineers, metal
craftsmen, machinists, mechanics, and assembly workers met the same
fate that be felled the Elmira/Southport workers.
In early 1995, the trade name, assets, inventory, and historical fire
apparatus collection were acquired by the Freightliner Corporation who
later began producing American LaFrance fire apparatus in Ladson, South
The cycle began anew not 10 years later when
Freightliner Corporation divested the American LaFrance holdings to
Patriarch Partners, LLC.
As of January 18, 2014CHARLESTON, SC -
American LaFrance, a fire truck maker that has been in business since
1873 and was based in Moncks Corner, closed for good this week.
According to several sources, employees were told at 5:00 p.m. Friday
not to return to work this week.
There are an estimated 150 employees at that branch of the company.
The company has released a statement confirming the closure, along
with sites in Ephrata, PA and Los Angeles.
The company blames its "unexpected current financial condition" for
the closure, but didn't offer specifics.