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Birmingham receives historic fire engine

By Kevin Elliott

A historic 1924 American LaFrance fire engine purchased and owned by the grandson of former fire chief William Olsen will be donated to the city of Birmingham and will be kept at Birmingham Fire Station 2 for the public to view.

The fire engine was purchased in 1924 as the first water pumping fire engine for the then village of Birmingham by Chief Olsen, said current Birmingham Fire Chief Paul Wells. Olsen bought the truck after a devastating fire at the Field Building in July 1923, in which the city of Pontiac was called upon to help pump water from the Rouge River.

The fire engine served Birmingham from January 1924 as a first-line fire engine, then placed on reserve status until 1960, when Olsen’s son, Merritt Olsen, purchased it for his private use. The family spent thousands of hours over the years tracking down spare parts and restoring the fire engine to its original condition. It has been used in countless shows and parades, and has been a mainstay at the annual Birmingham Fire Department Open House.

“This fire engine was purchased by Chief Olsen, and now his grandson, who restored it over the years with his father, has been gracious enough to donate it back to the city of Birmingham where it can be used to show off our history,” Wells said. “It was the first pumping apparatus that the city did buy, and it’s one of the nicest restored fire trucks I’ve ever seen.”

Chief Olsen’s grandson, Bill Olsen, said it is time to give the engine back to the city to preserve.

“It’s a piece of equipment that my father purchased when I was four-and-a-half, and I have grown up with it,” Olsen said. “It has been restored and is in wonderful condition. It’s just time that something else happened to the vehicle and there is no better place than for it to go back to the city of Birmingham, it’s first builder.”

The fire engine will be kept at Station 2, positioned along the west wall of the apparatus bay centered in the large picture window where it will be visible to the general public. The engine will be used for parades and special events, with its presence underscoring the positive message of the fire department, as well as serving as an aid in fire prevention education and history.

Olsen plans on driving the fire engine for the last time on Sunday, May 15, at the Celebrate Birmingham Hometown Parade, with the city taking possession of the engine in June.

The Birmingham City Commission on Monday, April 25, voted unanimously to accept the donation of the fire truck.


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