Firetruck Escapes Broken-Down Retirement

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Neither blistering fires, daring rescues nor hair-raising dashes to the scene could keep Torrance's sturdy firetruck No. 103 from its appointed rounds.

But, at last, after years of faultless service, it began to look as if old age would force the Fire Department to turn the trusty red truck into a playground set.

The thought depressed the men who had served on it. So when the Los Angeles County Fire Museum Assn. offered to restore No. 103 to its previous glory and give it a new home, Torrance Fire Department officials jumped at the chance.

Now, instead of dismantling the 1954 Mack firetruck and putting the sad skeleton in a Wilson Park playground as the city had planned, fire officials will be able to give No. 103 a dignified retirement.

Museum officials are expected to pick up their prize within the next two weeks.

Admittedly a little bedraggled after sitting in the city's maintenance yard since being retired from reserve service about a year ago, the 23,000-pound engine once was the pride of the department.

"When it came out, it was the Cadillac of all apparatus," Battalion Chief Harlan Treskes said. "Now it's so old and obsolete, you can't even get parts to repair it anymore.

"Even though getting new (engines) with better technology is nice, there are a lot of memories and emotions that go with those old pieces," he said. "We're glad to see it preserved."

Nearly 25 feet long, the fire engine, with its 1,250-gallon-per-minute pump, fought such famous blazes as the 1958 Riviera Club fire, in which the swank beach club burned to the ground, and two fires at the same restaurant, which first burned as the Tahitian, and then went up again as Calamity Jane's.

No. 103, which spent its career based at the city's Calle Mayor fire station, also helped fight countless brush fires on the Palos Verdes Peninsula when those cities called for help.

Fire museum officials said they will move the engine to a county fire station in Paramount where they will restore it. The association hopes to get a permanent museum building for its collection of 17 vintage fire vehicles, which are now stored all over the county.

A small county building at 1320 N. Eastern Ave. in an unincorporated area east of Los Angeles serves as museum headquarters. It is open to the public on the third Sunday of each month from noon to 4 p.m. The building's size forces them to show only two or three engines and a few smaller displays of vintage badges, helmets and other fire paraphernalia.

The current collection, which rotates through the museum, ranges from a 1913 Model T fire engine to the 1973 Dodge paramedic van that was named Squad 51 in the defunct television series "Emergency."

Museum Assn. President Terry Lee, a captain at the county Fire Department's Lakewood station, said his group hopes to use the antique fleet as the basis for a future West Coast Fire Museum.

"All of these things at one point were so old they were worthless" but after a while "they start to appreciate in value because you can't find them anymore," Lee said. "We'd like to save one of everything so people can see how we've progressed."

Once restored, Torrance Engine No. 103 will be rotated into the museum's changing displays.

"For a time, Mack was the No. 1 fire engine," Lee said. "We're glad to have one."

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